Another of the articles I wrote for Best of British magazine.
Winter is almost upon us once again. I wonder what the next few months have in store for us weather-wise?
Looking back, I can’t remember many
bad winters over the last forty odd years, none that match the winter of 1963
at least. It stands out in memory as the worst (and best) winter I have ever
experienced; I was nine at the time.
We kids welcomed the snow and all
the extra time off school. We made snowmen, toboggans from bits of old wood or
old pram parts and the most lethal pavement slides you ever saw. We had one on
our road that would carry you a good twenty five yards. Adults hated us for
making them; as I said, they were lethal. Once a fresh covering of snow had
landed there was no telling it was there until an unsuspecting adult tried to
negotiate the pavement. I can remember my father getting a letter from the
milkman saying we would have to pay for any more breakages ourselves. The slide
was there for almost three months so you would think he’d have remembered where
it was after his second or third fall.
In the early 1960’s we moved from our old Victorian slum to a brand-new house on a brand-new estate in Kirk Hallam, Ilkeston. I was about seven at the time
The old house, which was tied to my father’s job at the iron
works, had been flooded. We lost just about everything; the waters had come
half way up the stairs.
The flood struck at 8.am on Sunday 4th December 1960. The
normally placid Nutbrook stream, swollen by heavy rain, burst its banks and
flooded the Ironworks and the bottom half of Crompton Street. The water carried
a hidden danger in the form of highly flammable, Benzoline oil that sat on the
surface of the water. I didn’t know until years later that the oil had been a
problem. I remember my father sitting on the sill of the upstairs window of our
house as he smoked and chatted to the people next door. Cigarette stubs were
flicked into the water at regular intervals.
We were rescued by the fire brigade who took us all to a
community centre where we slept in sleeping bags on the floor for a few nights.
It was a major adventure for us kids but not so much fun for
the parents or the older members of the community. I could have slept on a
clothes line in those days but I doubt some people there got a wink of sleep.
We were fed soup and sandwiches by the Salvation Army.
Before the evening meal we all had to stand and sing ‘I’ll be a sunbeam.’ My
father, a reluctant Christian at best, would move his lips like a poor ventriloquist
then burst into song on the final line of the chorus.
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam;
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
A bloody fine sunbeam am I.
During the day we played Beetle, Draughts, Snakes and Ladders and Monopoly. The older residents must have been sick to death of Ludo, but they gritted their teeth and played on. I think they’d have done anything to keep the more energetic kids on their backsides, sat at chairs and tables instead of hurtling around on the parquet floor.
It began with a trivial moment of carelessness, but the shockwaves that reverberate from this seemingly insignificant incident, spread far and wide.
Ed and his heavily pregnant wife Mary are on an errand for Ed’s ailing father before the pair depart for warmer climes. But the winter of 1962 comes early and one innocuous event and a hastily taken decision will have devastating consequences for the family of young Rose Gorton. Mary’s already fragile mental state is put under further stress while Ed tries to make sense of events that are spiralling massively, Out of Control.
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