eeping warm in the 40s and 50s when I was growing up was a very different story to the way we take central heating for granted today. We only had a coal fire in the living room of our 3 up 3 down mid-terrace in Coronation Road. At Christmas Dad would light a fire in the front room and along with the bowls of fruit and nuts, Dad's Whisky and Mum's Sherry us kids were allowed to sit in there. Even so the room still felt cool as it was damp from rarely being used and the door opened straight out onto the street, nevertheless it was still a great treat for us as the room was always kept for best.
We used to keep a Goldfish on the sideboard, in a cut glass, large fruit bowl of Mum's. I think we won the fish at the fair. Now and again it would jump out of the bowl and we would find it floundering on the lino - I think the water was so cold it couldn't stand it.
If, as happened quite often, we ran out of coal, Mum used to light the paraffin heater. I recall getting up to go to school at Freddies on a bitterly cold Winter's morning, when our breath came out in a white mist in the bedroom, and running downstairs to huddle around the paraffin heater. My Sister Kate and I shared a double bed in the back bedroom and we would roll up pieces of newspaper and pretend they were cigarettes. As we blew out our breath looked just like smoke to us, that's how cold it was in our bedroom.
Going to the toilet was an experience in itself. The lavatory was outside and there was no light, so we had to take a torch. I would always leave the back door ajar and ask the family to listen for me as I was worried the bogey man would get me. We seemed to have so much snow then it seemed to me as if it was nearly up to the window sill and Mum had a job to find the dustbin in the garden in its white hat and overcoat. The icicles that hung from the windows and doors were like great big spears, we would break them off, if we could reach them, and suck on the glistening ice.
I can't recall the snow ever stopping us from attending school, or keeping my Dad from going to work. There would be a coal fire burning in the class room and one day a stray dog that we called Mickey followed me into the class. The teacher let him stay and he snoozed in front of the fire until home time.
The little glass bottles that held our free school milk were kept outside in crates until after playtime and there would be ice in it. We would have to catch our breath as we drank it through a straw.... it was so cold.
The things us kids liked about Winter was being able to have snowball fights, making a snowman, and most of all making an ice patch to slide on. It's a wonder we had any bottoms left on our shoes as we scuffed them along the hard packed snow to make our own ice rink. The best one we made was on the slope of the side road that went of Coronation Road. We really thought we were skaters as we skimmed along one leg in the air. No matter how cold it was we were still outside having a whale of a time.
Dad used to have a problem with the pipes freezing - the cold water pipe and the outside lavatory - but he always managed to thaw them out somehow.
I can picture him getting the coal fire going in the living room; he would hold a sheet of newspaper in front of it until it started to scorch. Sometimes it caught fire and he quickly threw it on the coals. One day he came home from work with a large metal cover, a foreigner, as he called them. He had put a handle on it and he replaced the newspaper with his foreigner and it soon got the fire going brightly. I have wondered since how he smuggled that out of work, it definitely wouldn't have fitted down his trouser leg as some of his foreigners did.
I can still taste and smell toast made on an open coal fire, with a toasting fork.... delicious and real best butter or pork dripping, makes my mouth water thinking about it.
Somehow it doesn't have the same effect when it pops up from my toaster.... happy days never to be forgotten.