This is one of my most vivid early memories, even though it is from 45 years ago. With most of the UK currently blanketed in snow, it seems a good time to recall my first snowman!
Our family, Mum, Dad and I, lived in a three-room flat, that took up the first floor of a converted Victorian house, in the South East London suburb of Annerley. We had lived there for just over 4 years, after leaving a cramped bed-sit in Paddington, in 1963.
The front window, in the bedroom, overlooked the small garden and the road. There was only light traffic on Haysleigh Gardens, as it is a side road off the larger Annerley to South Norwood road, and there were few parked cars as hardly anyone in the road owned a car. With the house split into three flats, including one in the basement, I rarely played in the small garden, as it didn’t really feel like our garden. It was also fairly unkempt, as can be seen in the background of the photo.
Having started school the previous September, I was 5 years old. I can only presume that there had not been any significant snowfall in the previous year or two, as I have no memory of snow before January 1968, and was too young to remember the severe weather of 1963! It is difficult to recall what time of day it started to snow, but I believe that I came home early from school and my Dad come home from work early too. With the daylight fading by 3pm, due to cloud cover and with the snow falling heavily Dad suggested we build a snowman. Not really knowing what he meant, I immediately agreed anyway, as I was always ready for any kind of game he wanted to play. Looking back I realise that when it came to snow my Dad was just a big kid at heart, and this was to be the first of many memorable snowmen that we built together.
Mum, was much too sensible to go out into the freezing cold and falling snow, I think partly because she always felt the cold much more. Dad, a carpenter, was used to working outdoors in all weathers and seemed impervious to the cold. I can remember Mum making sure we were both kitted out with winter woollens. For me that included woollen gloves and a fashionable green woollen balaclava, similar to the modern snood, hand knitted by Mum of course! With that done she was quite content to watch us from the window, smiling and waving occasionally, whilst preparing the warm clothes for us to change into when we came back indoors. She would have socks, jumpers and trousers laying on the fire-guard, in front of the coal fire, to warm them through, drying out any dampness. “Airing them” as my granny used to say.
Once we were downstairs and out in the garden Dad worked quickly, making a large snowball on the ground, which he began rolling around on the path and the small patch of grass. Quickly it grew into a substantial ball of snow, that he declared was just right, and positioned it on the snow covered grass by the fence. He repeated the same actions three more times, with me helping to roll the heavy balls of snow. They were each placed on top of the previous ones, until they formed a small column, almost up to my shoulders. Next, he formed a more round, slightly smaller lump of snow, and planted it firmly on top. After that he tried his best to smooth the column down, adding handfulls of snow, so that it looked more like a single body of snow. Finally he added a couple of rolled tubes of snow to the sides to form two arms.
Immediately he had completed that work he nipped back indoors, leaving me briefly to admire this strange white statue, reappearing a few minutes later with several small lumps of coal and the knitted wool tea cosy from the kitchen! Mum would have words to say to him about that later, but at that point she didn’t know it was missing! The tea cosy was placed on the head of the snowman and quickly the eyes, nose and mouth were created using the lumps of coal. Then Dad produced one of his old pipes from his jacket pocket and stuck it into the face of the snowman. So just like Dad the snowman was a pipe smoker! By the time we had finished it was too dark to take a photograph. Flash was a costly and unreliable thing to use with the basic Ilford camera we had. So, the next morning, I posed proudly with the snowman for four photos, although by then one of the arms had fallen away. The photos all survive intact, apart from one, which was savagely cut with scissors to feature in a school story project a few years later, loosing the white borders common on any photo from that era. The photo above is the best of those, which I scanned a few years ago and have cropped and slightly enhanced the colour using the free software Photoscape.
In the background of the photo is the row of houses, in which we and many other families lived. We moved before the end of 1968 and the whole row was demolished by 1969, to make way for a group of bungalows for the elderly. Below is a screen capture from Google Street View of Haysleigh Gardens in 2012. The bungalows on the right are where our home once stood, and the road in 2012 now seems to be filled with cars! Much has changed in the forty-five years since that snowfall of January 1968, but I still recall, with great affection, my first snowman!