A memory written down in 2013, but of a winter time fifty years earlier.
In 1963 my birthday fell on a Sunday, just like this year. Sunday 20th January.
And this year it has snowed too. But not like that year. As the Liverpool Echo recalls:
“Many think back to January 1963, said to have been the coldest month of the 20th century. The temperature fell below freezing on December 22, 1962 and, incredibly, hardly got past zero until early March 1963. That winter, mini icebergs appeared in the Mersey and it was safe to skate on park lakes. In the more rural areas of Merseyside and West Lancashire, snowploughs had to be used, as snow was higher than hedgerows with drifts still visible in the April.”
For these months most football matches were either called off. Or played in conditions that wouldn’t even be considered today.
Getting the ground ready was severely hard manual labour. But as you can see here, done with no more equipment than Sarah has on her allotment.
And for reasons I no longer recall, 1963 was the year my parents suggested I invite my friends to a birthday party at the house.
Now birthday parties then weren’t the big production numbers I understand they are these days. With competition between friends for who can come up with the most original and flashy venues, and limousines to get everyone there. (I even heard a horror story recently of a mum MC-ing her daughter’s sixth birthday with a full PA and lighting rig.)
So anyway, I invite half a dozen mates from school. Moan about my younger brother’s best mate Billy being invited too. And wait for the big day to arrive.
And when it arrives, even by the standards of that appalling winter, it’s bad. New snowdrifts are piled upon snowdrifts that haven’t melted since the end of December. And even getting to the front gate requires a spade and an hour’s hard labour. Even so, our mother is out in the kitchen all afternoon getting the food ready for a party of a dozen people, all in.
At the appointed hour I’m watching the gap in the snow by the gate to see the arrivals. Who don’t arrive. Billy from the same street arrives of course. But he doesn’t count. He’s not my mate after all.
So, disconsolately, we start. Family of five: Mum, Dad, eldest (me), plus younger brother and sister. And Billy, uncomfortable about being glared at by me.
Then, after several minutes of uneasy silence and forced jollity, a knocking on the front door, which our Mum goes to answer. ‘Hello Mrs Hughes, is the party still on? I had a bit of a job getting here, sorry I’m late!’
Miracle of miracles. It’s Barry Ward. Liked by everyone and the guaranteed life and soul of any party he’s ever been to. To get here Barry’s had to battle through a mile of snowdrifts, cross the swing-bridge over the canal, negotiate two major roads and cross the hilly disused farm behind the library that will soon become a shopping centre. On his own. In the snow. Five days after his own ninth birthday. Kids were plucky then. Barry anyway.
And he won our mother’s heart that night. Always one to judge people’s characters by how much they ate, that night Barry ate for England. Making up for everyone who didn’t turn up, keeping us all entertained, and even making Billy feel welcome. Before wrapping himself up, and cheerily disappearing into the snowy night.
So well done Barry. And I hope 15th January 2013 was a warmer day for you than its equivalent 50 years ago. Happy Birthday to us.