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U3A Writing: Snow

Snow brought exciting, enchanting times to the boys at a boarding school, as John Ricketts reveals.

At school the coming of the snow was greeted with great joy. When we looked out of the windows at the feathers falling from heaven we knew that, providing there was enough, the whole routine of the school would be disrupted.

For one thing we were a school which took outdoor activities seriously. Every afternoon from one thirty to three fifteen everyone who was not playing rugby went for a three, five or seven mile cross country run. Snow would stop all that. Other activities would have to be found. The school believed strongly that the devil would find work for idle hands and so would not allow the boys to do nothing when team games were out of the question.

In the rafters of the out houses was a collection of sledges and toboggans, many of which had names on them though there were always a few which were unclaimed. There were also several pairs of skis and even a pair of snow shoes. God knows where they came from! The whole lot was got down and lined up on the tennis courts. The first in the pecking order tended to get the best equipment but I was lucky. I happened to have been in detention when the snow came and I was detailed to the work party which got the equipment out. When none of the prefects was looking a friend and I secreted one of the unclaimed sledges. We found it after all the older boys had taken their choice and quickly painted out names on it.

A few hundred yards from the school there was a ten acre field which sloped from the road at the top to Valley Wood at the bottom. It made a wonderful run. The only trouble was pulling the sledge back up the hill. Because I had a sledge I never learned to ski, though many of the boys did.

Of course everything had to be competitive. We raced sledge against sledge, sledge against toboggan and sledge against skier. Good skiers always won but we wiped out everyone else. The best was when the snow froze. Then the runners did not sink into the snow but skated on the top. By the times we got to the bottom of the run the speed was breathtaking. After giving the sledge its initial impetus with a run, you jumped on and lay flat facing forward. You steered by the braking action of your toes, right one down to go left and left one down to go right. Sometimes we rode in tandem. One lay down while a second pushed and then jumped on top of the first who was the driver. The greater weight meant greater speed but also less control. Many were the times when we finished in a heap half way down the slope.

Sometimes the snow was too deep for sledging and then we had a snow battle. The school was divided into three houses. One house was sent out and given an hour too build a snow fortification, usually on a hill top. They raised their flag on top and laid in a armoury of snowballs. When their preparation time was up the other two houses attacked with the idea of raising their own flag instead. As the two attacking houses were rivals who did not want to see the other side win they rarely worked together. There was always a close fought and often bloody encounter before the bell was rung calling us back into school for afternoon lessons. It was only then that we felt our bruises, our freezing ears and noses and our tingling fingers.

I remember one occasion when the snow had lasted for several days, The roads were all blocked and the school had run out of bread. The owners of sledges were summoned and told to go down to Oakamoor and collect boxes of bread which had been ordered and which would be ready for us when we got there. We went down the run and into the woods . The path through the woods was fairly clear because of the trees but when we got to the road again there was several feet of snow. We struggled on until we got to the edge of the small town where we were met by the bakerís van. The cartons of bread were packed on the sledges and we set off back. It was up hill and hard work all the way. The only consolation was that some of the load was currant bread, a couple of which were lost on the way. It was dark before we got back and people were starting to get worried.

On another occasion we were detailed to make certain that the local people were all right. We found one old lady completely snowed in with snow right up to the eaves of her house. We dug a tunnel to her front door. She seemed amused that we had made so much effort.

ďIíve a nice fire and plenty of wood and coal. Iíve plenty of stuff in the larder and I bake my own bread. I could last out a siege here, thank you anyhow.Ē

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