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Peter Sampson: Cold comfort

PUBLISHED: 15:59 23 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:12 20 February 2013

Peter Sampson: Cold comfort

Peter Sampson: Cold comfort

In the globally warmed future we may look back nostalgically at bygone winters of snow, ice and sub zero temperatures, says Peter Sampson

In the globally warmed future we may look back nostalgically at bygone winters of snow, ice and sub zero temperatures, says Peter Sampson

Illustration by LUCY ROBERTS

Readers of a nervous disposition should turn over to another page now. What follows will send a chill up your spine and set your limbs to shivering. So be warned.
Ready? November has arrived (I did tell you) and the rough beast of winter is lurching over the horizon towards us, slavering icicles and fog and frost, hungry to make the roads treacherous with black ice and to freeze the pipes in the downstairs loo. After youve scraped the dried mud of a wet autumn from your wellies, going out to the garden at once convinces you its time to zip the Barbour up tight over three sweaters as the grass crackles underfoot, while trying to start the car in the morning too often produces whirring, whining noises from the starter motor, a dull thump and a string of despairing profanities.
The other day, to take my mind off the prospect of the coming winter, I dipped into a splendid book I came across recently. Its called The Little Book of Suffolk and its by local writer Carol Twinch, whos collected just about every conceivable fact, story and legend to do with the county and put them together in a way thats both informative and lively. (Did you know that the prosecuting counsel at both of the Peasenhall murder trials was a son of Charles Dickens? Or that the Orwell Bridge is in fact two bridges side by side? And Id never heard of the earthquake, 5.2 on the Richter Scale, that hit Ipswich in 1844 and did damage all the way out to Framlingham.)

Since those days, weve become so snugly comfortable in our centrally heated TV rooms when did you last have chilblains? that everybody throws a hissy-fit each time we get a couple of inches of snow.

By chance, the first pages I opened describe what happened to Suffolk in that infamous winter of 1946-47. It was enough to freeze the blood.
The whole business started in December 1946 and in February 1947 snow fell on every day except two. Beccles had 15ft deep drifts of the light, powdery stuff, the Waveney was solid with ice a foot thick and cars were able to drive across Oulton Broad on the ice. Temperatures never rose above 5C for the whole month. Pack ice threatened to block the Channel as blizzards raged everywhere. Potatoes froze and were ruined in the clamps and some farmers resorted to pneumatic drills to get their root crops up.
Everywhere, electricity was cut off for three hours in the morning and two in the afternoon because of the shortage of coal for the power stations (this was long before Sizewell and nuclear power came into existence), radio broadcasts were reduced and TV suspended altogether. Farm animals starved or were frozen to death; men were laid off work in their thousands.
Then, in March, when the thaw eventually did eventually arrive, it brought the worst gales for a century and 100 square miles of East Anglia and its wheat fields were flooded.
All this happened, of course, when the Second World War had only been over a few months. Things were hard enough for people without the weather playing its vicious tricks on a cold, exhausted and hungry populace. In addition, for years life in Suffolk had already been hard enough for those who worked in agriculture, as most Suffolk people still did in those days. This was a last twist of the knife.
So 1946-47 was a real winter. Even the cold of the 1962-3 season didnt cause anything like such havoc, if only because food and coal and decent housing were rather more available by then.
Since those days, weve become so snugly comfortable in our centrally heated TV rooms when did you last have chilblains? that everybody throws a hissy-fit each time we get a couple of inches of snow. The authorities leap into hasty action at the first whisper of a denuded anticline, whatever that may be, and issue menacing warnings about the impending weather, while the TV people in Norwich issue desperate pleas for us to send them our photos and films whenever theres a frosty field or snow-sprinkled road junction anywhere in East Anglia.
Still, I suppose wed better get any excitement we can out of winters while we still have them. With global warming gathering pace, the future wont have winters.
Instead, our coastal Sandlings will have spread across the whole county to link up with Newmarket Heath in one arid stretch that only a camel could find congenial. In Bury, the Angel Hotel and the abbey ruins will be half hidden under drifting sand dunes, the deep lane down to Flatford Mill will be purple with bougainvillea and therell be mango and jacaranda trees in Lavenham market place. Dates and figs will crowd our gardens rather than clematis, while water will be ferried in from the Lake District by mule train once a week for distribution to the patient queues of people with buckets.
Fearsome stories of snow and ice in Suffolk will make us sigh nostalgically for the good old midwinter days.
By the way, theres an unexpected but rather comforting footnote to the distress of that post-war winter. In June 1947, only three months or so after the winters horrors, temperatures reached 90F/32C and there were 280 hours of sunshine in August that year.
Winter may be almost here but theres hope yet. Cheer up.


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