By The Photographer’s Assistant
It was a really cold week, but the night of February 28th was particularly cold. We had friends to supper and had a jolly time. The heating had been on and we had left the dining room, to sit in front of the roaring log burner, because of the cold, in spite of the kitchen range pumping away non stop. They left later to drive home through the lanes, on a beautiful cold winter night, not seeing another vehicle all the way.
We left the stair door open so the fire would warm the bedroom, and went to bed. There were two heavy Scottish wool blankets on top of the duvet. We slept through the arrival of the snow. At 7.00 am, we were awoken by the phone, it was the Daughter, driving on the A30, going to work to cancel appointments and collect homework. The Assistant made a cup of tea with water that was already in the kettle, but she needed more water. She turned the tap on. There was no water. Absolutely NO WATER. The water had frozen the week before and the heater in the borehole shed had been turned on. Now it had failed to make an impression. The daughter rang to see if there was anything that we needed. Quick as a flash, the daughters husband arrived with bottled water, milk and coffee. How well he knew that his mother in law would not function without coffee! He wanted to emphasis that if this went on, we would be welcome at their house in the little town. He drove for home as fast as he could through the driving snow.
On the radio somewhere around 8.00, a weather RED ALERT was declared and this was transmitted to the Daughter who was already back on the A 30, which was literally filling up with snow with multiple snow ploughs trying to cope. She had not done any shopping. She had got straight in her car and headed home.
At the Assistant’s home, the Photographer had put his foot down. On the first snowy winter in Dartmoor, the Assistant had had a cavalier attitude towards the snow. She had caught a cold and had an athsma attack. The Photographer had rung the surgery, and Dr. Sarah Wollaston (now MP for Totnes) had arrived having driven and walked through the snow. She had been delightful and they had felt awful! The Assistant was now banned from all outside activity. She was sad, because the Photographer was having to carry buckets of water, for toilet flushing , etc. Up from the stream. There were two grades of water. Drinking water was bottled. Second grade water was not very grubby and placed in the range for a boil up so washing up could take place.
The Assistant secretly swore at the snow through the window and took on a real sulk. Yes, of course it was scenic, but you could only look at it, and she could see the Photographer having to feed her birds through the kitchen window. Happily, her mind turned to other snowy events.
When she had met the Photographer it was at a Valentines Ball and she remembered how only a couple of weeks of acquaintance later, he had taken her home to Surrey. He had wanted some company and she had wanted to get away from a social history essay. He had a battered Land Rover, which seemed to be freezing cold and have a lot of “character”. On arrival, his mother was waiting. The Assistant felt a bit scruffy before this permed and heavily winter coated lady. Even her glasses sparkled, she was so smart. The puppy Labrador was very charming. Cups of tea were taken and the mother sized the student up. What a strange creature her son had brought home. He had only just finished seeing his cousin. What a lovely match that would have been! This was a very unhealthy specimen. She had nursed the victims of Dunkirk. She was highly experienced. This was a really sickly creature. It weighed nothing. Exhaustion was clearly not a stranger to it. Its hair could have been a honey blonde, but it was lank and lifeless, yet it really looked sparky and as if it could really defend itself. She would have to go very carefully. The Assistant was summing things up for herself. Here were a mother and son clearly riven by grief. They had only lost a father and a husband a month or so ago. The Labrador was meant to replace the missing member of the family and the mother might be too old to look after it. How old was his mother! She must be in her sixties. Blimey, She had had a baby in her mid forties! Think about that all you mums in your forties. Back then this was extraordinary. The valley they were situated in was known as the Little Alpine district. It was very high up and was full of picturesque snow and beautiful views. The Land Rover took them all out to the cinema, where the mother wore a silk scarf over her fur hat and they watched Dr. Zhivago. The Assistant never forgot that the best way to secure a Land Rover was to take out the rotor arm. The Photographer taught her how! Eventually, the Assistant found that she had been issued with Stan, the missing member of the family’s silver serviette ring as she had the same initials. She had actually replaced him, her and the dog. It was very strange, because poor Stan was hardly ever mentioned. He was put in an English middle class box in their heads. It was all too painful!
Another snowy time that the Assistant had enjoyed was as a child. Once again disciplined about the cold, she was allowed to walk to school which was a mile and a half away. She lived almost on the Great Western Railway. It was at the foot of the garden. Sometimes in the summer, their garden would catch light with the hot coals and the fire brigade would come and her father would swear at the loss of vegetables! The winter was great because the snow by the track and at the side of the road would be piled feet high as the two piles met and it was like being somewhere foreign. She was given sugar sandwiches for energy in her satchel. It was great. When she got home, her father would give her hot tea and wrap her up in a big towel to dry out, while he shaved in the sink ready for work. He would never miss his shift at the hospital. He was senior so he took the night shift and he walked through the snow no matter how bad it was.
Later, there was sledging with her children and living remotely so they could stay home and didn’t have to go to school, but could enjoy it all. When the Assistant had the rattiest car on earth, which must have been illegal, she got caught out. It snowed while the children were at school. The school rang and the Assistant had to act outraged to get someone to drop them off in a 4 X 4.
There were so many adventures to remember. The Daughter had once been stranded on a motorway whilst working away. She had always been taught to take a shovel and food with her, but that didn’t save her. She spent the night on the motorway and was so furious when she got back to Devon that she just didn’t want to discuss it. Now, she takes a sleeping bag with her as well. She is a good snow baby. She should be!
There it is. The Assistant loved all the pictures of sledging and snowmen, but she couldn’t go out. She was allowed out once to have tea at a neighbours, but that was a special exemption! The Daughter told her that she saw people skiing on New Street. They were going to the pubs in the little town. That really went down badly with the Assistant.
There were many acts of kindness, but the Assistant would especially like to thank David R. Who brought her and the Photographer a weekend newspaper, David K. Who offered to do some shopping and dear J. and T. Who stayed in touch to see if all was well. How can we thank the Daughter and her husband for walking over when the snow was at it worst with the dog, cake and lots of cheer! They were exhausted. We are so fortunate.
To finish, we thought that you would love this picture of Chris, who does loads of cooking at Blacks and Vincent, who, of course is french and cooks up a storm at The Forge. England were defeated unexpectedly by the French at rugby, and after some banter, the two got together to share their love of the game. The Entente Cordial has never been dead, in or out of the EU! Certainly not in the little town!
You might like to know that as Vincent and Chris are not standing in the snow, the rooks are nesting in Mill Street and the night has assumed a noisy jungle like existence SPRING IS HERE.
Above all, the Assistant has been allowed out and is about to start forking the vegetable patch.
And finally, we have added a link to the Facebook page
Any similarity between characters in this blog and real people, products or events is entirely co-incidental
Any similarity between “The Little Town” and Chagford is entirely deliberate, Click on this link to find out more. Visit Chagford