Here’s a wintry episode from my novel Lucky Portbraddon.

Ismène and her hew boyfriend James are travelling to his grandmother’s house up on the moors to spend Christmas with his family.  The weather is atrocious, snowing so hard there is almost no visibility; they have just turned into the long drive heading up to the remote house when the car skids off the road. They are sliding down a bank towards a large pond when fortunately the car stalls. They decide to abandon it and climb up to the track and walk to the house.

James was shouting something but the wind swallowed his words. On hands and feet they slipped and scrambled up the bank. Creeping along the main roads, Ismène had described it as a white-out, now it was a grey-out, the light leaving what had been the day.

James pulled her upright and for a moment they clung together. He started to say something, but there was a sudden tremendous buffeting gust and they tumbled into a drift. She floundered in the snow, blinded and lost, screaming his name. Her mouth was full of snow but she knew he must have slid down towards the pond! The pond!

Afterwards she wondered how she’d had the courage, but it was pure instinct. She stumbled after him, past the mound that was the car, its door open, the light on.

He was lying face down, arms outstretched above his head as if he’d been trying to save himself as he slithered down the bank. Only his top half was visible, his legs were under the smashed ice of the water.

She grasped him under the arms and tried to heave him out but she only succeeded in nearly toppling herself in. Shouting his name she tried to rouse him; he thrashed his legs as if trying to swim and she heaved again and pulled him a foot from the water.

Later she couldn’t remember how long she’d struggled, it seemed like one long recurring nightmare…

In this bitter cold and in their light clothes there was a real danger of something serious happening, something as serious as… death. Hysteria took hold and she began to giggle uncontrollably – something as serious as death! She was shaking with laughter and James seemed to be laughing too but of course he wasn’t, he was shivering with cold.

 Ismène shouted at him, hitting his shoulders, trying to wake him to make more effort to help himself. She struggled and pulled, moving him by mere inches.

“James, I can’t do this! I’m going to the house to get help!”

She didn’t know how far away it was but she began to crawl up towards the road. She glanced back and James was gone. She slithered down and straight into the water; it was only knee deep and warm and he was floating face down.  She grabbed him, adrenalin kicking in and she heaved him onto his back and hauled him up the bank.

She began to cry… She couldn’t leave him, he was unconscious, he’d die, freeze or drown… But if she stayed she’d die too. She lost track of time… a few minutes… hours? It was completely dark now…

In a rage she began to hit him, thumping him with her fists, yelling at him. This is ridiculous! I don’t want to die! It’s Christmas!

“Help!! Someone!! Help!!” she screamed.

She pulled at James again and moved him a few inches but she could no longer feel her hands and feet, her limbs seemed strange attachments no longer belonging to her. Her thoughts were slowing and she couldn’t think of what to do. She tried to be logical, snow piling thickly on her shoulders and head… soon she’d be invisible. The light from the car veiled in snow was fading… Someone passing wouldn’t even see them, see the small mounds in the snow.

If I stay here I’m going to die. James is going to die anyway, but I’ll die with him… If only I can get to the house …

Tears began to trickle, warm, then cold, then icy…

She pulled at James again; if she could just get him out of the water, wedge him safely somehow… but it was hopeless.  Ismène stood and immediately fell over, got to her feet and screamed for help… then sunk back to James who had slipped again.

They’d met on a night out with mutual friends… Instant attraction, instant relationship, instant love? Did she love James? No, actually, but maybe one day…

She was very weak now and becoming sleepy. She tried to take James beneath the arms with the blocks of wood she knew were her hands… She pulled him but could no longer tell whether she was shifting him. The ice on the surface of the pond was covered with snow falling relentlessly in feathery lumps.

 Ismène yelled again but her voice was tiny… There was a rabbit in a clown’s costume. But it was a dream, a delusion… A dog wandered around looking for its head, glasses perched on the end of its curly tail.

People were singing… People… There were people.

“Help! Help me!!”

And there were snowmen walking across the pond, they were playing music or maybe they were just singing ‘Last Christmas’… It would be her last Christmas….

 Ismène was hallucinating, and she knew it. She bent her face to James but couldn’t feel his skin against hers, her cheeks and nose and mouth numb. Was he unconscious? Was he dead? How could it happen so quickly?

Oh for fuck’s sake if I’m going to die let me die now, don’t drag out this misery! She shouted, or maybe the words were only in her head. If she slid into the water… She was no longer cold, there was no pain… James slipped an inch and somehow she dragged him back.

The snowmen were back, walking through the night towards her, still singing…

One of the snowmen was bending down, brushing snow from her face, lifting her into his arms… But it wasn’t a snowman, it was Orson Welles.

Then more people were with her and lifting her and carrying her up to a warm car. She tried to say something about James, tell them about James, but her voice was frozen in her throat.

If you want to know what happens next, here’s a link:


O Autumn, laden with fruit

When the nights creep  in earlier and earlier and we draw the curtains and turn on or light the fires, that’s when reading poems is most satisfying – especially if it’s cold and nipsome outside. Autumn is slipping away and winter is approaching, but the trees are still stunning especially when the sun catches bronze and golden leaves and crimson fruit and berries… And this is what we think of snuggled in at home with the dark and the cold outside, we think of the lovely days we’ve had with the splendid turn of season colours.

Here’s a poem by William Blake:

To Autumn

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou mayst rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

William Blake1757 – 1827

The month of carnival

The air has changed… it’s not just that tonight was cold, a clear sky and a frostiness about, something in the quality has changed – autumn to winter.  We were walking out at about 9:30 and it was almost a scent, almost the feel of the night on our cheeks and noses… the air has changed.

After tonight there will only be one more day of October, so here is something from Helen Hunt Jackson who was born this month one hundred and eighty-seven years ago:

A Calendar Of Sonnets: October 

The month of carnival of all the year,
When Nature lets the wild earth go its way,
And spend whole seasons on a single day.
The spring-time holds her white and purple dear;
October, lavish, flaunts them far and near;
The summer charily her reds doth lay
Like jewels on her costliest array;
October, scornful, burns them on a bier.
The winter hoards his pearls of frost in sign
Of kingdom: whiter pearls than winter knew,
Oar empress wore, in Egypt’s ancient line,
October, feasting ‘neath her dome of blue,
Drinks at a single draught, slow filtered through
Sunshiny air, as in a tingling wine!

Helen Hunt Jackson: 1830-1885

The pale splendour of the winter sun

Many people think children miss out on experiencing the natural world, especially in winter,  cocooned from the elements, hustled from one centrally heated environment and into cars and buses, and then hurried inside another.

This lovely little poem by John Clare makes the children’s journey to school in winter sound idyllic, watching wild geese, nibbling on hedgerow fruit, hips, haws and sloes, and perhaps shooing the fieldfares away to do so. When it was icy in our school playground when I was a child, there was an area where we would make slides, ‘making glib slides‘, Clare says. You can imagine them suddenly thinking they might be late and running along with the low, pale sun making their shadows huge against the white snow. We might not know what clumpsing means, but we can understand it!

There must have been, in reality, plenty of times when going to school in winters past was miserable and probably dangerous too. What was termed the Little Ice Age lasted until the middle of the nineteenth century, and the River Thames frost fairs – when the river froze so solidly fairs were held on the icy surface – continued until 1814 when John Clare was twenty-one.

However, this poem is the stuff of jolly Christmas cards, maybe romantic, but certainly vivid!

Schoolboys in Winter

The schoolboys still their morning ramble take
To neighbouring village school with playing speed,
Loitering with pastime’s leisure till they quake,
Oft looking up the wild-geeese droves to heed,
Watching the letters which their journeys make;
Or plucking haws on which the fieldfares feed,
And hips and sloes; and on each shallow lake
Making glib slides, where they like shadows go
Till some fresh pastimes in their minds awake.
Then off they start anew and hasty blow
Their numbed and clumpsing fingers till they glow;
Then races with their shadows wildly run
That stride huge giants o’er the shining snow
In the pale splendour of the winter sun.

John Clare

A closer acquaintance with various cuts of beef…

I mentioned yesterday that the air has changed and autumn is really here – it was not that cold as we wandered around the Underfall Yard, along Baltic Wharf and Wapping Wharf, but the season has now definitely moved from late summer to early autumn.

The National Mark Calendar for Cooking has a lovely introduction to the month, ‘October drives still further into winter and breakfasts become a matter of consequence.’  The little 1930’s recipe book suggests ‘various cuts of beef‘ and has a recipe for a new hot pot. It also has chicken pilaff, curried vegetables and chaudfroid of pears in case anyone was thinking cooking at that time, pre-war and pre-Elizabeth David British food was dull and uninteresting!

Here is the recipe using ‘various cuts of beef‘:

A new Hot pot

  • 1 lb beef ribs or stewing steak, cut in pieces
  • 2 sausages cut into four pieces
  • optional pig’s ear (“in the original recipe the inclusion of a pig’s ear is recommended; but as it cannot be readily obtained it may be omitted, as the Hot Pot is excellent without it”)
  • 2 carrots, sliced into four or six pieces
  • 1 turnip, sliced into four or six pieces
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 or 2 leeks, sliced
  • 1 lb potatoes cut into halves or quarters
  • dripping
  • stock
  • salt and pepper
  1. fry beef in dripping until golden brown
  2. add vegetables except potatoes, a very little stock and seasoning – and optional pig’s ear
  3. simmer slowly for 1 hour then add sausage pieces (rolled in flour) and potatoes
  4. simmer slowly for another hour until the potatoes are cooked


I’m not saying that winter is over, but there is a definite change in the air – it just feels different – even though it was very cold when we sauntered down to the Dolphin for the quiz last night (it felt much warmer on the way back…) it is not just the feeling in the air, as if its quality has changed, but the light is different too. I know we have more of it because the days are longer, but the light has changed; even on a fabulous bright winter day, the light on a fabulous bright spring day has a different feel to it… yes feel, it somehow feels different going into my eyes.

No doubt we will have miserable days, we days, dull days, dire days, but they will be miserable, dull, dire spring days. it was the spring equinox last weekend, we maybe didn’t notice because we were away for the weekend with friends, but on the 21st of March it changed from winter to spring, and today we have every window in the house open!

I didn’t realise that in terms of meteorological, the seasons were measure differently, divided into four equal periods of exactly three calendar months each. This is so forecasting can be easier; the meteorological seasons are:

  • spring – from March 1st to May 31st
  • summer – from June 1st to August 31st
  • autumn – from September 1st to November 30th
  • winter – from December 1st to ending February 28/9th.

I guess most people, however, think of astronomical seasons, measured by the equinoxes and solstices:

  • spring – March equinox to June solstice,
  • summer – June solstice to September equinox,
  • autumn – September equinox to December solstice
  • winter – December solstice to March equinox.

If you live in the southern hemisphere the seasons fall differently and  are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere.

And the difference between solstice and equinox? Both words come from Latin, equinoxium means equality between day and night, and sol stitium means the sun stands still, which is what it appears to do. read about it here:

Both of these terms refer to the path of the Sun throughout the year. The equinox is either of the two days or periods each year when the Sun crosses the equator and day and night are of equal length. The name equinox comes from Latin equinoxium, or ‘equality between day and night’. The vernal (spring) equinox happens around March 20-21 and the autumnal equinox occurs around September 22-23 in the northern hemisphere (and vice-versa in the southern hemisphere). The solstice is one day when the Sun is at its northernmost point (Tropic of Cancer) and another day when the Sun is at its southernmost point (Tropic of Capricorn). The summer solstice in the northern hemisphere (also the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere) happens around June 21-22. The winter solstice in the northern hemisphere (also the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere) occurs around December 22. Latin solstitium translates to ‘Sun standing still’, which is what it appears to do.

Short term memory

Although we are heading towards spring, it is very definitely still winter. There are snowdrops in the little pasture known as the Donkey Field as you enter the village… but it is less than 5° and it is jolly cold.. it’s winter! It’s not just the temperature, or the  long hours of darkness – yes, the days are getting longer, the sun is setting later, but it’s the greyness, the quality of the light and the colour of the sky.

Looking through my photos I came across a picture I took in the summer… a fairground ride on the Beach Lawns. It wasn’t just the fact that people are  out in the open enjoying themselves in the sunshine, it is the quality of the sky… the exact shade of blue which tells you that, yes, it’s summer!