Talk about Newsnight

Ethical Man - Justin Rowlatt

Who remembers winter?

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 12 Jan 07, 11:07 AM

snowman_203.jpgDo you remember snow? It’s that cold wet stuff you used to trudge through in the olden days.

I was reminded of the stuff – not by the weather of course – but as I looked through some super-8 footage of my family that my dad shot. It’s been collecting dust at my parent’s house for years. I dug it out because we were looking for images to use in the Ethical Man series.

I built the snowman with my sisters in January 1968. The shots of us sledging are from January 1971. It is beginning to look like my kids will be lucky to ever build a snowman in our garden.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that we used get great drifts of snow every year but we’d certainly get enough to sledge down Parliament Hill on every few years. You haven’t been able to do that for a while.

This year there’s barely been a decent frost. The country may have been battered by some powerful storms over the last couple of days but one thing has stayed steady, the temperature - this winter remains resolutely warm. Average temperatures in December were 1.7 degrees centigrade above average and the Met Office is already predicting that 2007 will be the hottest year on record.

You don’t need to be a meteorologist to discern the changes. Instead of frost and snow we’ve got bulbs sprouting in the garden and the neighbour’s cherry tree is already in blossom.

The weathermen say that the clement weather is down to a combination of global warming and El Nino and are saying that it may not last. (According to David Parker of the Met Office: “El Nino has a tendency to make cold snaps more likely in the second half of winter.”)

Here at Newsnight we’ve devised a plan that is guaranteed to bring on that chilly weather. We want you to give us your images of how winter used to be. Send your clips, pictures and assorted snowy ephemera to with "Winter Wonderland" in the subject heading. And try not to make the files too big...

A couple of days ago my colleague Paul Mason described Jeremy Paxman’s “famously quizzical eyebrows” as resembling a pair of squirrels. At the very least the prospect of more of your footage on the programme should keep them out of hibernation.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 08:17 PM on 12 Jan 2007,
  • Anthony Adams, Atlantic Canada wrote:

Interesting point you are making, but, I wouldn't put away your snow shovel just yet! On this side of the Atlantic, although we are significantly further south than you, our winter weather is very severe (for the most part although we did not have any snow last winter and have not yet had any this winter). But, with the slowing of the "Gulf Stream" which is the heat engine from the Caribbean and which regretfully by-passes Canada's Maritime Provinces trapping the Labrador current in a diversion directly upon us, you get to enjoy the most lovely of conditions! Well, certainly conditions in the winter that don't "freeze the nuts off of the Hillsborough bridge" like winter here in "Canuckville."
But don't despair, a 30% reduction in the strength of the Gulf Stream, as is projected for a time in the not to distant future (refer BBC World News), England and the "Continent" will endure up to a 5 (five) degree drop (celsius)in your average annual temperature. Over here we can only hope that the Labrador Current gives Spain a little nudge. This could happen should the Gulf Stream weaken enough to allow the northern ocean currents to glide southward or even towards England! Our hope of course it that the Gulf Stream will suddenly turn the Maritime Provinces into a perfect sauna!
Seriously, the jury of the new-ice-age is still out; the whole situation can turn-on-a-dime. I hope being facetious can keep us all from freezing to death. In the meantime, keep the snow shovel just outside the front door.

  • 2.
  • At 11:53 PM on 12 Jan 2007,
  • Gertrude Guggenheim wrote:

December 8 2005: 6:00 PM .* It started to snow. The first snow of the season and the wife and I took our cocktails and sat for hours by the window watching the huge soft flakes drift down from heaven. It looked like a Grandma Moses Print. So romantic we felt like newlyweds again. I love snow!

December 9:* We woke to a beautiful blanket of crystal white snow covering every inch of the landscape. What a fantastic sight! Can there be a lovelier place in the Whole World? Moving here was the best idea I've ever had. Shoveled for the first time in years and felt like a boy again. I did both our driveway and the sidewalks. This afternoon the snowplow came along and covered up the sidewalks and closed in the driveway, so I had to go out to shovel again - doubling the pleasure. What a perfect life.

December 12:* The sun has melted all our lovely snow. Such a disappointment. My neighbor tells me not to worry, we'll definitely have a white Christmas. No snow on Christmas would be awful! Bob says we'll have so much snow by the end of winter, that I'll never want to see snow again. I don't think that's possible. Bob is such a nice man. I'm glad he's our neighbour.

December 14:* Snow, lovely snow! 8" last night. The temperature dropped to -20. The cold makes everything sparkle so. The wind took my breath away, but I warmed up by shoveling the driveway and sidewalks again. This is the life! The snowplow came back this afternoon and buried everything again. I didn't realize I would have to do quite this much shoveling, but I'll certainly get back in shape this way. I wish I didn't huff and puff so.

December 15:*
20 inches forecast. Sold my van and bought a 4x4. Bought snow tires for the wife's car and 2 extra shovels. Stocked the freezer. The wife wants a wood stove in case the electricity goes out. I think that's silly. After all, we aren't in Alaska.

December 16:
Ice storm this morning. Fell on my rear on the ice in the driveway putting down salt. Hurt like hell. The wife laughed for an hour, which I think was very cruel.

December 17:* Still way below freezing. Roads are too icy to go anywhere. Electricity was off for 5 hours. I had to pile the blankets on to stay warm. Nothing to do but stare at the wife and try not to irritate her. Guess I should've bought a wood stove, but won't admit it to her. God I hate it when she's right. I can't believe I'm freezing to death in my own living room.

December 20:* Electricity's back on, but had another 14" of the darned stuff last night. More shoveling. Took all day. Darned snowplow came by twice. Tried to find a neighbour's kid to shovel, but he said he's too busy playing hockey. I think he's lying. Called the only hardware store around to see about buying a snow blower and they're sold out. Might have another shipment in March. I think they're lying. Bob says I have to shovel or the city will have it done and bill me. I think he's lying.

December 22:* Bob was right about a white Christmas because 13 more inches of the white shit fell today, and it's so cold it probably won't melt till August. Took me 45 minutes to get all dressed up to go out to shovel and then I had to pee. By the time I got undressed, peed and dressed again, I was too tired to shovel. Tried to hire Bob, who has a plow on his truck, for the rest of the winter but he says he's too busy. I think the asshole is lying.

December 23:* Only 2" of snow today. And it warmed up to 0. The wife wanted me to put Xmas decorations over the front of the house this morning. What is she...nuts??? Why didn't she tell me to do that a month ago? She says she did but I think she's damn well lying.

December 24:* Today 6". Snow packed so hard by snowplow I broke the shovel. Thought I was having a heart attack. If I ever catch the son of a bitch who drives that snowplow, I'll drag him through the snow by his balls. I know he hides around the corner and waits for me to finish shoveling and then he comes down the street at a 100 miles an hour and throws snow all over where I've just been! Tonight the wife wanted me to sing Christmas carols with her and open our presents, but I was busy watching for the damn snowplow.

December 25:* Merry Christmas. 20 more inches of the god damned slop tonight. Snowed in. The idea of shoveling makes my blood boil. God I hate the snow! Then the snowplow driver came by asking for a donation. I hit him over the head with my shovel. The wife says I have a bad attitude. I think she's an idiot. If I have to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" one more time, I'm going to kill her.

December 26:* Still snowed in. Why the hell did I ever move here? It was all HER idea. She's really getting on my nerves.

December 27:* Temperature dropped to -30 and the pipes froze.

December 28:* Warmed up to above -50. Still snowed in. THE BITCH is driving me crazy!!!

December 29:* 10 more inches. Bob says I have to shovel the roof or it could cave in. He's putting me on!That's the silliest thing I ever heard. How dumb does he think I am?

December 30: * Roof caved in. The snowplow driver is suing me for a million dollars for the bump on his head. The wife went home to her mother. Another 9" predicted.

December 31:* Set fire to what's left of the house to get warm. No more shoveling.

January 8:* I feel so good. I just love those little white pills they keep giving me. Why am I tied to the bed?

  • 3.
  • At 08:51 AM on 13 Jan 2007,
  • Jeanette Madden wrote:

We moved to Australia in Sept 2005, but our last Christmas in England (2004) was spent in Macclesfield deep in snow. My children went sledging AND built a snowman. That's only two years ago, NOT in the 60s. Now we're stuck in a very cool, cloudy but dry Aussie summer. To those who claim that what they see at present predicts the future, I can only say: "One swallow doth not a summer make". Enjoy your fuel bill savings in the UK while it lasts.

  • 4.
  • At 03:57 PM on 13 Jan 2007,
  • Carole Young wrote:

I love winter snow and ice!! Not the destructive kind but the pretty kind!! It kills off certain germs and is 'normal' for this time of year - what we get all year round now is WEIRD!! Believe it or not, I killed a bug crawling across my lounge carpet this morning!!!!!

  • 5.
  • At 04:12 PM on 13 Jan 2007,
  • Kit Regan wrote:

It seems like only a year ago we were building snowmen and having snowball fights. Hold on it was! We are having a mild Winter. Enjoy it while it lasts.
If snow falls in February will you be asking for images of those mild winters of yesteryear?

  • 6.
  • At 07:17 PM on 13 Jan 2007,
  • Jayne Dawson wrote:

Well we live in the french alps about 10mins drive from a couple of excellent ski resorts. We are suffering from serious lack of snow this year, but since moving here in 2003 we think we have been spoiled by the last few years of superb snow and skiing conditions. The locals are staying optimistic and forecasting alot of snow in Feb and say that it is not that uncommon to experience the mild winter we have so far had.
I loved the blog by Guggenheim, some of its rings so true especially the romantic view on snow at the beginning (just like us when we moved here) and that the reality after a while is something completely different especially when we live here and snow clearing/ice/pipes freezing is very much part of life for the whole season! But we have noticed that the relatively mild, gloriously sunny weather here in the alps has been bringing us a different type of clientele (we run a b&b). Those who love the alps and like walking, taking in the fresh air and the wonderful mountain views. So there's always a good that comes out of a bad.

  • 7.
  • At 08:00 PM on 13 Jan 2007,
  • Jenny wrote:

How far north would one have to move to enjoy the sort of winters we had in the 1950s and '60s? With today's insulation and heating systems, and transport, and communications, and healthcare, it would be great. I miss snow. It was OK for children back then, but for those working, and taking care of us, it probably wasn't. Carrying coal and ash, extra paraffin heaters, cars that wouldn't start, draughts, no option but brave the ice and fog to get to work, frost-damaged crops...

I was at school during the great freeze of 1962-3 when there was snow on the ground from Christmas through to March. It had been very frosty for weeks before too. I remember it starting to snow at Christmas, to everyone's delight, and how sick of how grubby everywhere looked many were by the time it went. Unfortunately my family had no movie camera; we had chosen the quality of slides. But the speed of amateur colour movie film then would have been too slow to capture much of many of those winter days. That winter was the first time our cameras were loaded with 400ASA Ektachrome, but mostly everywhere was to too dull and colourless to bother. There's quite a good page recording how it was in Windsor, west of London, a lot further south than I was, from several perspectives, here:-

  • 8.
  • At 09:02 PM on 13 Jan 2007,
  • Adacadus wrote:

Post #2 is brilliant!

I get the impression that seeing snow like that is one of the things to be done before you die.

My uncle moved to Sweden a couple of years ago, and can't skate or ski to save his life, so he cycles through the snow.

They all think he's nuts.

  • 9.
  • At 07:15 AM on 14 Jan 2007,
  • Lisa Richards wrote:

Hi Justin,

Well, having grown up in the same part of London as you, albeit a few years later, I only remember it snowing a couple of times. Once, in the 1970s, we got a few inches and all the kids at primary school scraped together every flake in the playground to make a snowman that was a couple of feet tall (it was pink and grey and lumpy with grit - not pretty). But generally snow was a rare occurrence in London in those days.

However, last year my mother-in-law in Plymouth had snow - in a part of the country that almost never gets really cold weather being near the sea and in the Gulf Stream.

But aside from that, I have a question for you - as the wind turbine turned out to be a lot of bother for not much result, would your time have been better spent looking into and installing a solar hot water system? Given the orientation of your house on a hill with no overshadowing buildings, a solar hot water unit would seem to be an ideal way to save energy. And perhaps if you had given a solar company as much free promotion as the wind turbine folks you could have got one of those for free instead!

  • 10.
  • At 08:02 PM on 14 Jan 2007,
  • Julie Venora wrote:

I can't say I miss snow at all.I just absent myself from the UK every winter,usually to South Africa.

  • 11.
  • At 01:27 PM on 15 Jan 2007,
  • Joe Palooka wrote:

I remember very well those two awful Winters. Mike and Bernie.

  • 12.
  • At 10:49 PM on 16 Jan 2007,
  • Wendy,Knightsbridge. wrote:

I don't know how you can be so flippant,no.2.I hate the thought of all the cuddly polar bears dying out.They make wonderful rugs that you can hang from the ceiling.

  • 13.
  • At 06:30 PM on 17 Jan 2007,
  • Rose Browne wrote:

Global warming seems rather too theoretical from where I am sitting.I live close to the Channel and it is absolutely freezing here,and probably will be for some time.Perhaps things seem different in a nice warm studio?

  • 14.
  • At 09:47 PM on 17 Jan 2007,
  • Occam wrote:

How ironic that in 'sunny' California, where Governor Schwarzenegger announced swinging CO2 reduction measures, they are experiencing a terrible freeze. Nearly $1B of the citrus and other fruit harvest has been ruined, electricity is being cut-off because of ice on power lines and Schwarzenegger is seeking Disaster Aid.

Perhaps we should look a but further afield than just our own neighbourhoods.

  • 15.
  • At 04:09 AM on 18 Jan 2007,
  • Fanny wrote:

It is not just the Atlantic provinces of Canada that have been snowless. Here north-east of Toronto I was sadly staring at the pink sprouts of my rhubarb last Sunday. Finally on Monday we managed to accumulate two inches of ice pellets (this is not hail), freezing rain and snow and an overnight temperature of -20C.
Areas of Northern Canada which rely on ice roads to truck in supplies over land, lakes and tundra have had to fly the stuff in. The permafrost is melting and infrastructure is being destabilised.
By the way, I remember the winter of 1962-63. I was scheduled to have my driver's test a couple of days after Christmas and it was cancelled because of the snow. (My Canadian friends laugh when they hear that!)
The winter of 1946-47 was worse. We lived in Reading a mile from the Thames. When the snow finally melted, the flood water was lapping the curb in front of our house. People on the other side of the road had it in their houses. All this with the misery of postwar rationing of fuel and brownouts.

  • 16.
  • At 11:08 AM on 18 Jan 2007,
  • Occam wrote:

Absence of winter of not, in some parts of the World, some in the science of meteorology seem to be forgetting one of the fundamental characteristics of science; that of disagreement and debate.

From U.S. Senate Committee Environment & Public Works -

"The Weather Channel’s most prominent climatologist is advocating that broadcast meteorologists be stripped of their scientific certification if they express skepticism about predictions of manmade catastrophic global warming."

A clear case of if you don't agree with me, I'll do my best to silence you. Disgusting.

  • 17.
  • At 12:06 PM on 27 Jan 2007,
  • Linda Colston wrote:

It's not the good old fashioned winters I miss so much as the British Summers.The ones where Wimbledon was usually cancelled and you didn't have to worry about stocking up on ice cream or wearing a bikini and you didn't risk death from heat exhaustion if your train got stuck in a tunnell.

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