Snow! What is it good for?

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Twice in my life I’ve been snowed in. Both times that this occurred was when I was a young boy and Iived in a small town west of Cardiff called Cowbridge. This wasn’t your 21st century “Oh a little bit of snow has fallen and has brought the entire country to standstill snow.” Oh no, this was full on nobody coming in, nobody going out of the entire town and it was epic fun!

Obviously school was closed for the duration and we had to listen to local radio to see what was going on and it turned out that for the first time ever our local commercial station (CBC) was doing a better job at this than BBC Radio Wales. What you have to understand is that this was a time when listening to commercial radio was an act of class war, nobody where we lived listened to it but we were pretty sure that the people on the council estates elsewhere in the town did and so it was that for one brief period the working and middle class of Cowbridge were united in their need for information about what schools were closed (all of them) and if we were going to starve to death. In houses all throughout Cowbridge people tuned into CBC (A lot of us for the first time ever “You mean this radio station has commercials on it? How novel!”) and we got the information we needed all soundtracked by Supertramp, Sad Café, Mungo Jerry and some ex-hospital radio DJ who had got his big break the previous year when the previous DJ fell down some stairs after the CBC Christmas party and died three weeks later.*

Nearly all of us went sledging down The Three Fields every single day that we were snowed in – I had a purple parker at the time with faux fur on the hood which held up well in the snow and I had a sledge which I’d got for Christmas from Roberts’ Sports in town – my Dad used to get a 10% discount there as he helped to build Cowbridge Squash Courts and is an honorary life member of the squash club – and that was my pride and joy. Not only was it speedy on the snow but it would go hell for leather when we went sledging on the sand dunes at Merthyr Mawr too. The real hardcore sledgers went down Constitution Hill on the ice, those of us who weren’t so stupid/brave went in the field nearest to the road and aimed for a gap in the hedge at the bottom which led to the banks of the River Thaw with the aim of turning our sledge over and bailing out before we went into the river and drowning – several people who were new to the area thought we were not very good at sledging and by trying to impress us with the sledging skills managed to carry on into the Thaw necessitating a rescue before they got swept down the river all the way down to the power station at the mouth of the river in Aberthaw.

I lived in a cul de sac called Mill Park which was right next to the Three Fields yet my proximity to this sledging paradise was not enough to stop me from sledging down the cleared paths on the road – I imagined myself to be full on bob sleigher on my plastic orange sledge until I was told in no uncertain terms that my actions were causing the cleared path to ice over and causing people to fall over and I was also told that this could quite possibly lead to someone either dying from one of these falls or at the very least they’d require hip replacement surgery and that would be down to me. I haven’t Googled to see if a plastic sledge sledging on a cleared path can cause such a thing to happen but maybe I should so that my children can be prepared if such a situation every arises in their childhood.

The other thing I need to tell them is that if they ever find themselves in knee deep snow then what they shouldn’t do is stand still for too long – I made this mistake and literally got frozen to the spot, there is archive footage out there** filmed on our cine camera showing me stuck in my boots whilst someone – I presume it was my Mum or Dad – heartlessly stood by and filmed me during my torment and it was only when my sister Cathy stepped in and came to my rescue that I was freed from my ice prison but seriously, I could have died.

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By far the best thing ever that happened when the snow hit was the arrival of an RAF Sea King helicopter with emergency supplies of food, milk and other stuff for us as we were in danger of running out of essential supplies. This bit of our “snow in” got us on the telly too – we all went over to Cowbridge RFC to await the helicopter and what will always stay with me is that as the helicopter flew in to land my Mum waved the thing down onto the ground – I was seriously impressed though looking back now on her selfless act I have reached the conclusion that I’m pretty sure that the RAF pilot would have been qualified enough to land his craft in the middle of massive rugby/cricket pitch without a mother of two in her thirties being there to help with the landing procedure. We unloaded all the supplies and then the dads pushed the supermarket delivery trolleys down to the supermarket in town and of course all us kids sat on the trolleys on top of the boxes of food and cigarettes down there too – we had a great time which got even better when we watched the local news later that day.

It was on whatever HTV called their Welsh news programme at the time, Wales This Evening, Wales at 6, This is Wales, Welsh News Now!, What’s Going On in Wales At the Mo, We Couldn’t Give a Toss What Happened in England Today  – anyway it was on that and we got to see the film shot from the helicopter and there in pride of place accompanied by the sound of the helicopter rotor blades and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkeries was my Mum guiding the copter down – I was so proud.

Well I’m sure you can work out what happened next – the thaw came, the snow melted, CBC went bust and we all went back to school with stories that would last us – well okay me – for years to come and then rather fantastically it all happened again a couple of years later and it was just as much fun.

*Not sure if that is in anyway true so don’t quote me on that.

** “Out there” in this case means the cine film that my sister and I got transferred onto a VHS videotape for my parents’ 25 wedding anniversary back in 1992 – some dodgy bloke in Canton did it for us and he gave us a discount for cash.

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