Although winter holds a sense of dread for me, I can't help reminiscing of a time when the first snow was greeted with a degree of excitement -- I'm talking childhood and pre scleroderma!
My gran used to build the fire high and there was always a pot of something warm in the kitchen. I can see it now, clothes airing by the fire and the lovely warmth they provided as you slipped them on. The bread would be rising at the front of the fire too and the smell was, well just wow! I smile to myself thinking back to those years when I was cared for and had no responsibilities, except for a Guinea pig and a cat. I merrily skipped off to school with a friend and if there was snow on the ground we slid and threw snowballs along the way.
The school smelled of old wood and polished floors, but the warmth hit you as you walked through the doors. The old headmaster stood beyond and greeted each pupil one by one, slapping the occasional child across the ear for an untidy uniform, over zealous behaviour or a tie knotted loosely. The doors closed and if you weren't in school by then, there'd be someone to pay!
There was fidgeting as the snow fell, each child eagerly waiting for the mid morning bell. The boys whispered making plans and the girls moaned fearing their fate. Of course the teacher knew this and delivered a stark warning to all before leaving class -- "No snowballing."
The bell rang and chairs scraped across the floor. Everyone pushed and shoved through the door and coats and hats were whipped off the cloakroom hangers so fast that they only managed one arm whilst the other dragged the floor. "Splat!" The first snowball came and hit the wall. Everyone ran for cover and quickly gathered up handfuls of snow -- soon it was all out playground war.
I can see their faces even now--- bright red with runny noses, and little Gerald was purple. His glasses crooked, hair wet through and looking a proper mess by the time we went back in. The teacher stood, chalk in hand scowling at everyone.
"I hope you can all write now and if you're cold then it's your own fault."
The end of the day as the lights went on at 2pm. Soon we'd be on our way home and when the bell rang we left school like ants leaving the nest.
I knew when I arrived home that there would be a warm fire. I passed many houses along the way with smoking chimney pots. The smoke rose straight into the sky you could almost climb it and everyone young and old spoke to you along the way. I walked through the door and was greeted with hugs, it mattered that you'd come home and you were sat in front of the fire with a warm mug of cocoa or malted milk. My gloves steamed and my fingers tingled. My gran would disappear into the kitchen and come out with a piece of warm home made bread drenched in butter, and that to me is just what life is all about!
I used to kneel on the couch looking out of the window. My gran lived in town. Many people walked by her house on their way to and from work in the cotton mill. Some used to knock on the window as they passed by and some used to pull funny faces at me and they made me laugh. The butcher across the road used to beckon me to pick up an order which was waiting for my gran. You could cross the main road in no time at all because in those days cars were a luxury and you didn't see very many. I'd get a sweet from the butcher and his favourite phrase was.
"Get that inside you -- what sticks to your fingers, sticks to your ribs"
The old ones had a phrase for almost everything. My grandad used to say "If you go into town on New Year's Eve you'll see a man with as many noses as days left in't year."
It took me a while to work it out and I always looked out for this man with hundreds of noses. How silly was I?
When the festive season came round there was so much joy in the household. Everyone was welcome no matter who you were. The table was packed full of food and my grandad used to hurry home with little tangerines and chestnuts from the market. You never saw these at any other time of year so they were special. He'd sit there plucking a turkey or goose which he'd carried, almost dragged home and it was huge. My gran always said "How am I going to get that in the oven" But she always did!
The festivities lasted a whole week and by the end of it you were sick of turkey, chocolate and loose bowels from eating too many tangerines. The TV was black and white and the radio was still favourite in my gran's houshold! I played with my toys, my gran knitted wooly jumpers and grandad went to the pub.
Back to the reality of today. Those houses where my gran and grandad lived all of their life is now a car park. The shops although still standing are nothing more than charity shops -- no butcher. The road is busy with a constant flow of traffic and people pass by without a stare or greeting. Gone have the coal fires, the school and the old mill where all the people worked. Gone too have the values of the old ones and the foundation of a loving family who had nothing but gave all they had none-the-less.
Tangerines, you can have all year round. Frozen turkeys or ready dressed fresh ones. No one bakes bread any more. Children don't play outside -- computers instead! Teachers are shown no respect and toys are nothing if they don't involve sitting down or being competitive.
We had nothing, but y'know we had everything we needed. Ask me if children are better off these days and I will say no! because my childhood was special in lots of ways and they don't make them any more!