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1963 and 1976, when weather really was weather


I VIVIDLY remember the winter of 1962-3. It was one of the coldest on record. Rivers, lakes and even the sea froze. I was fortunate enough to be at a school where the teachers were genuinely interested in their pupils: not just from an educational point of view, but from a personal development angle as well. Our headmaster was a silver-haired gent called Charles Mcgregor, a Scot with an artificial leg. He was one of those post-war teachers who, having seen action in the Second World War, was now in a leadership role with us kids. He was a marvellous master and my thoughts of him are filled with affection and respect. He had teachers in his mould too, and they willingly gave up their spare time to us on outdoor hikes and expeditions.

I mention this because it was in early 1963 that a party of us, accompanied by dedicated teachers, went to Borrowdale in the Lake District for a long weekend. We stayed in the Longthwaite Youth Hostel and climbed Great Gable and Scafell Pike in the snow and ice. It was marvellous; it was exciting; it was adventurous. This would never happen today: adventure is frowned upon unless it meets strict safety standards, which kind of defeats the object. The highlight of our trip was walking right across Derwent Water on the thick ice.

That is my abiding memory of the winter of 1962-1963, but what a winter it was across the United Kingdom. The months of December, January and February were known as the ‘big freeze’. Temperatures dropped to -22 deg C. Snow blocked roads and railway lines and communities were cut off for days and weeks on end. Strangely, I don’t remember my school being closed for a single day. There was no mention of ‘climate change’. People just got on with it and knew that as soon as spring came along the weather would improve, which it did.

Fast forward to the summer of 1976. It was considered the hottest summer in Europe during the 20th century. High pressure moved in during late May and stayed there until the first traces of rain on August 22. Three months of scorching weather. During this spell, temperatures exceeded 32 deg C at several weather stations every day for three months; Cheltenham had 11 successive days of 35 C. Roads melted, rivers and reservoirs dried up and standpipes were introduced at various locations. Yorkshire alone had 11,500 of these pipes as people queued for water.

The slogan ‘Save water, bath with a friend’ appeared everywhere and caused much mirth. This 16-week dry spell was the longest recorded over England and Wales since 1727. Large tracts of countryside were cordoned off and the public were not allowed to walk or hike because of the risk of fires, though many did break out and destroyed trees, moorland and property. From mid-summer on, wild fires became a national preoccupation and the news was dominated by the spectacular accounts of ‘pyrotechnics’ when Surrey heaths and the North York Moors went up in smoke.

Urban areas suffered in their own way. The London Underground was hell on earth; office work became an ordeal without air conditioning, and to cap it all that annual strawberry fest at Wimbledon resulted in 400 spectators being treated for heat exhaustion in a single day. It was so bad that stewards at Wimbledon and Henley Regatta were allowed to remove their jackets – incredible, I know, but true.

Was there any talk of climate change? Did the government scare us silly with prophecies of doom and gloom? I don’t think so. Yes, it was a belting summer and one which has been as a benchmark for comparison ever since. Which is why when you look back not too long ago, the winters and summers of recent years have been mild and not worthy of note, unless of course the powers that be have a different agenda.

So to the 2022 summer heatwave. What a joke! It beggars belief, I know, but the government, via the NHS, has produced ‘a heatwave plan for 2022’ so that we are all safe and secure and free from harm if the sun decides to shine. Who decides this stuff? Is this what our taxes pay for? How many people are sitting at their computers and formulating this drivel? I think it might be a good idea if they gave up on heatwave plans and concentrated on getting the National Health Service back to a state whereby you can actually see a doctor face to face, but that seems like a pipe-dream.

The winter of 1963, the summer of 1976, exceptional years no doubt, but 2022? Bog-standard by any measure, yet used as another weapon in the war to scare the population witless. ‘Climate change’ is a nonsense and for those of us who were around in the Sixties and Seventies, it is blatantly obvious that the whole climate agenda is being used for nefarious purposes. The government would have us go from one disaster to another, when all we are faced with is life as it unfolds, just as it has done for millennia.

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Harry Hopkins
Harry Hopkins
Harry Hopkins is a furniture designer/maker who loves to write.

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