Chapter 7 It's Snowing
When the alarm went I could see in the half-light that snow was falling, but melting immediately. The children would be wildly excited. They had seen snow on the ground more than once, and on our way to Britain we had spent ten days in the Black Forest where snow lay deep. It had fallen some weeks before and had been cleared from roads and paths, and had dropped off steep roofs. It was quite different from snow gently clinging to every leaf and twig in the garden, and gradually covering everything in sight.
"Wake up," I called. "Get up quickly because it is snowing and we'd better leave a bit early."
They jumped up without their usual reluctance, wiped the condensation from the windows and pressed their noses to the glass. Then they were into their clothes and outside in record time. The clean white smoothness of the lawn looked like a battleground and the children's jackets and hair were quickly turning white. By the time I managed to get them inside again, they were quite damp.
"Boy that was fun. Did you see that snow fight? David and me against Peter," cried Jacqueline, dancing around the living room.
"You should have seen me. I hit Peter right on the nose."
"Yes, and I got two direct hits on them. It was beaut. Do we have to go to school today?"
"Of course. I can't stay home because of a light fall of snow. But we'll have to get away early. Driving in snow isn't easy."
"Can't I stay home?" suggested Peter. "I bet half of them are away." He didn't usually try to evade school, but such an occasion seemed to him to warrant a holiday.
"No. People here are quite used to snow, you know. They'll all be there as usual and you'll have fun with them. Come on now, let's go."
Snow was falling steadily and I needed headlights and windscreen wipers. We all travelled to the corner of the main road, from where Peter walked to the nearest secondary school, which he attended while waiting to be placed in a school where he could continue his elective subjects. The other children and I set out on the twelve-mile drive to Rainham.
Not far from home we crossed a much-photographed bridge over the Medway. It was built about the 13th century and led into a tiny village, Aylesford, which still consists of a single narrow street, lined with crooked Tudor houses and shops. Snow clinging to every shingle and lining every window frame, transformed the scene into a Christmas card. It seemed like sacrilege to drive through in 20th century vehicles, but there was no choice. Our usual route then led up a hill past two ancient monuments, believed to be 4000 years old, similar to small Stonehenges. However we found today that traffic was not managing to get up the hill, so we had to detour.
On the alternative route there was also a major holdup. Many wheels were spinning, many passengers were pushing and drivers cursing. My van didn't let me down... when the road was clear it proceeded. But it took us about an hour to climb that slippery mile.
Jacqueline was becoming apprehensive seeing the other traffic sliding around. Lots of cars were abandoned, and people either walked or tried to get lifts with more fortunate drivers.
"Let's go home. I don't want to go on."
"We'll be alright. I don't want to be taking time off work already. They'll think Australians are soft, put off by a bit of snow. It won't matter if we're late so long as we do our best to get there."
"Can't we put the heater on?"
"No the heater only goes when the car is running."
"I'm freezing. My feet are sore. I wish you hadn't made me take all the sleeping bags out of the van when we came back from Miss Pipe's."
"Never mind, we're nearly to the top. The traffic is moving again and I can put on the heater."
With sounds and smells of labouring engines, the other vehicles either went ahead or went home, leaving the road clear and we were at last able to proceed, arriving an hour and a half late.
Mrs Tamsett, the headmistress had taken my class, knowing of course that I would be delayed.
"Don't worry. Two of the others have just arrived. I think you are marvellous to have come so far in this weather. We have ordered a dinner for you and rung the Juniors to order dinners for Jacqueline and David. You see how much confidence we had in you."
By afternoon it had stopped snowing. The children had played indoors in the morning break and after dinner, but were able to go out during the afternoon break. Some of them had so many clothes to put on, and were so slow doing so, it was nearly time to change back to indoor clothes when they got out. The teacher on playground duty noticed I had left my headlights on. In my haste to get into school I had forgotten all about them. My battery was completely flat. The Junior school came out half an hour after the Infants, and when I went to start my car, Mrs Tamsett and some of the men from the Junior school came to my assistance. They pushed and I clutch started in reverse, out of the parking space, with all my fingers crossed. Good old girl, the engine fired, and having acknowledged my gratitude and my chagrin, I was able to reach home before it was completely dark. The half-hour journey recharged the battery sufficiently and it started with normal eagerness next morning.
I felt the van had been a good choice, although the thought of driving a bigger vehicle had made me hesitate for a while. However it was not difficult to become used to the van and to driving conditions. I was a confident but not aggressive driver... and not exactly inexperienced having had a licence for 17 years, and having been used to cars and car talk since childhood.
"My dad had a 1924 model Hupmobile which he had renovated and remodelled until it was hardly recognisable. He used to let my brother sit on the running board in the luggage rack and ride to the corner. One day he forgot and didn't stop. Bill was still in his pyjamas. Luckily Dad had to stop for a horse and cart, and a man walking nearby called out. Otherwise he might have taken Billy to work."