Sunday 20th January, 1963

Alec to his parents:

Dear Mum and Dad

Many thanks once again for weekly letter. I am afraid that the oil in this machine is frozen and I am having the most difficulty with sticking levers. Must reply to your comments first before putting in my own.

Your letter arrived on Friday O.K. this week. Our last to you went on Sunday as we collected the girls so that it would have gone away from the box on the first post at 8 a.m. on Monday. How your Council men can move the snow beats me. Ours this end is so hard packed, smooth, and frozen that it would be impossible to move it. Note the arrangements about temporary stabling of your car outside the shed and the difficulty you had in getting it out from garage. This machine is beginning to thaw out a little in the warm room and I am able to proceed a little faster. Have you been able to get any more coal yourselves? Another hurrah for the gas heater. Our thaw such as it is (or was) was about the same duration as yours; one hour daily. I think it did a little good, as those places which had been reduced to just a thin covering of ice on the pavement became clear, and there were a few rare occasions when I saw pools of water. If you have iced snow on your roof I think you may be lucky if the thaw, when it comes comes from above, and not from the heat of the house. I do not think iced snow will slide.

Your circumstances with the house plumbing noted. We have had a hard time of it here. This week when I got home I found water coming out of the hot tap in a trickle, and suspected the supply had frozen from upstairs cold water tank. Sure enough when I got up into loft (in about 5 seconds flat) I found not a drop of water in cold tank, the ball valve stuck again and no water moving in downpipe. We let the fire in boiler out instantly, and stopped trying to draw water from hot tap. I connected the hairdryer to a long length of flex, attached it to light socket in the toilet and took the free end into the loft*. For about twenty minutes I played the dryer on to water inlet pipe, the ball valve, the outlet pipe, and the elbow bend where it goes through the ceiling, and got it all sorted out. We had, all the time, the paraffin heater under the open loft hatch where it had been all day. Nevertheless, within 10 minutes of going downstairs for my meal, the whole lot was frozen solid again. Apart from leaving the hatch door open and heater burning continuously below night and day, the position remains the same today. The wind here has been been directly from the East, and a water tank is within two feet of the eaves on that side of the house. I have packed the gap between the eaves and the tank with old clothes, rags etc, put a piece of wood completely over the top of tank, and the rug you gave us over that, but still it remains frozen solid.**

We have stopped using our dining room, and disconnected the fridge in the kitchen as being a waste of time and money. We now put meat, eggs, butter lard etc. on the table in the dining room and run for it. Things were better on the roads at all last night. It started snowing again at about 4 p.m. and seems to have done so for quite some time as there is a substantial fresh deposit over everything. All reasonably well this end, but could do with the bath.

We have no news of the effect of the new rating yet on our property or on 155. Doubt we shall hear of the latter at all now. Move went fairly well on Wednesday. At number 17, the removal men arrived at 1.00 p.m. and were gone by 3.00 p.m.. Peter must have been a tower of strength at the West Drayton end and I think it must have knocked him up as after he brought Mr and Mrs Baker over at about 5.00 p.m. he retired to his room feeling quite sick and queer. However he is as right as a trivet now. Managed to get a few plugs on electrical gadgets for them on Wednesday, and we all went over on Saturday (yesterday) and today they’re putting up curtain railways and runners, and putting a few more plugs on etc. We did our shopping after we got back at approximately 4.00 p.m., and June popped into the local Do-It-Yourself shop and ordered £5 [about £114 in 2023 currency] worth of Cosywrap, the fibreglass rolls that you lay in the loft. You get five roles for that sum and should cover most of the loft. Have put the rolls up there already, and shall lay them in position after finishing this letter. The idea of course is to keep the house heat below the layers of fibreglass so that careful siting is required to include as much of the plumbing as possible yet leave good access in case of bursts etc.

Thanks for the Mercury again and picture. The winter of 1927 I would have been four, and some time early in in 1928 before going to Clevedon I went to Cross Keys for a short while. I do not think the Tiverton snow which I remember could have been 1928 as I was six then and would have remembered it more clearly. I think it must have been winter of 1926 when I was four. I seem to remember snow at Westbury so it would have been the same here. (Query the same year as doing the transplanting in the front garden?)

Yes these boilers keep on exploding, and each day there is a new report about them in papers.

Paddington shed is still set the same way as you say about Bristol. All the shed roads have an allocation and are drawn and amalgamated into complete outgoing trains by the capstans.

Yes I could have done with a sausage on a stick, for all we saw were two very sticky, gooey looking cakes that we could not bear to rob the children of.

Our primulas still O.K. but as very dry this morning I took them out into kitchen and gave them a bath. Will bring them back in here when some of the surplus water has gone. Yes we had snow on Wednesday but it held off while I was driving to and from number 17. Car still going quite well and if anything since the antifreeze the starting behaviour has improved. I wanted to send mag and letter together, but did not have an envelope big enough. The office issue too are too small so have got a supply from stationers.

When we were around at 17 yesterday, Roy arrived with Christopher. He said he had spent the morning in his loft assisted by his neighbour attending to a burst pipe. Snowing again now as I look through the window. This machine has spent the week in the cold dining room and has taken an awful long time to de-freeze. Your flagons of cider would freeze as the alcohol content is only at about 7%. The wine at anything from 14 to 25% alcohol according to whether a wine yeast or bakers yeast was used should not freeze.

On Friday we took Susan back to Mount Vernon to have her appointed check-up on her eyes. I did not see specialist but according to my reporter he said she should be able to see better than she does. Another visit booked for three months’ time.

Another side effect of the freeze-up is the ritual of thawing the false teeth out of the cup each morning.***

Doug next door fell down in the week, and in putting hand out to save himself, dislocated his wrist and broke a small bone into the bargain. I must say people are adapting themselves well to the cold. The only time I feel really cold is going to and getting up from bed. It is also a job keeping warm in bed, at other times I do not notice the cold much even though there is frost inside the house in the form of ice in bottom of bath and hand basin.

Well there it is again for another week. I gather you are both pretty well apart from the cold. Now we are at the end of January it cannot be long before we get some better weather.

Sad about Gaitskell, I think he was the pick of the bunch. He should have been a Liberal. Probably would have been if they have been more prospect in the party when he started up. Well best of luck from us all, roll on April.

Love from us all, Alec

*For younger readers – yes, this dangerous-sounding practice was perfectly possible back then: there were connectors which would plug into a light-socket if you took the bulb out. (See for a discussions of these.)

**It’s difficult to remember that in those days there was really no such thing as insulation in houses, either under roofs or on pipes. You just ordered more coal and made the best of it.

***This was a time when people had their teeth removed, even when there was nothing wrong with them, and got false teeth, because it would be cheaper in the long run. Benevolent parents sometimes used to pay for their offspring to have all their teeth removed for their 21st birthday or similar milestones. Bearing in mind that dentistry in those days was often painful and unpleasant – even more so than it is today – there is a certain logic to it, but it’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or taking a sledge-hammer to crack a nut. If my personal experience is anything to go by, Alec’s own teeth should have been absolutely fine until his seventies at least, whereas they’d all gone long before his fortieth birthday. The very definition of a false economy IMHO, paying to replace something you got free of charge in the first place which wasn’t giving you any trouble!


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