Living in Canada I am used to two even three foot snowfalls, but the only time I was stranded in blizzard was on a Midland Red bus travelling from Leicester to Worcester in the winter of 1971. I was feeling homesick one friday afternoon and was not looking foreword to another cold weekend in Leicester so I decided on the spur of the moment to travel home to my see my parents. The journey entailed a bus ride to Birmingham , and then another bus ride to Worcester , an overall journey of close to sixty miles taking four hours if connections were good. If all went well I would be home by suppertime.
I was in my second year at Leicester College of art and living with three other girls in a Victorian pile of a house affectionally known as ‘ The Etchings’ as in ‘Come up and see my ‘…… This house had been handed down by generations of graphics students , usually girls and was about a twenty minute walk from the college. It was dirty, dark, and had no heat at all. The carpets in each of the four or five rooms were so grimy we could not be made out what the patterns were. There was a small bathroom with an old deep victorian bath bizzarely painted blood red inside , and a tiny kitchen downstairs. It was creepy too, there was a long unlit narrow corridor to the kitchen which reminded us of the film ‘ Repulsion’ the scene where all the hands came out of the wall. We were a hardy lot though, some of us, came from homes with no central heating and endured the harsh winters of the early 1960’s. I remember the frigid winter of 1962-63 going up to my bedroom to get my hot water bottle only to find it frozen solid in my bed. As children we had terrible chilblains.
At least now we could wrap ourselves in fashionable long coats midi and maxiskrts and long leather boots, they were most welcome. We mixed everything, old and new, long and short. The miniskirt was still around and hot pants were making an appearance, usually with long coats or cardigans and boots. We had a tutor at this time called Adrienne LeMan who was the Art Director of The Illustrated London News magazine and she was typical of the trendy London girl. She yelled at us a lot in her loud cockney accent telling us how lazy and hopeless we were and I was a bit scared of her, but she did look great. She wore hot pants with tights and boots from a theatrical shop, they were pantomime boots for ‘Puss in Boots’ and were brown suede and well over the knee. She had long coats or cardigans and wore Biba pull on cloche hats with fake curly hair sewn into them. When I left college and moved to London we kept in touch and she was to tell me that Biba were looking for an illustrator.
I recently found a website mydadsphotos. shendy.co.uk which has a wonderful archive of photos from this time. I have kind permission to show a selection of these photos on my blog, they need no captions. Note all the Biba boots.
Back to the bus. I left my friends in a nice warm pub that friday lunchtime without even having a drink or anything to eat, just as well as it turned out. I boarded a bus at midday bound for Birmingham, this would be a journey of about forty miles. At Birmingham I would then board another bus to Worcester twenty miles away. The whole trip would take four hours if connections were good and I could expect to be home at suppertime. My parents did not have a phone so the visit was a surprise. As soon as we started the journey it started snowing big wet flakes.
I was wearing all black, a long black crepe 1940’s dress, black leather boots and a 1930’s black velvet ankle length evening coat with an ivory velvet lining and Art Deco clasp.
My waist length hair was dyed black too, a rather harsh look on reflection, and not softened by the fact I was now using dark purple gouache on my eyes. I could not find a dark enough eyeshadow so I experimented with my paints. Gouache is an opaque watercolour usually in tubes and painted wonderful flat colours. I had found a way of powdering it and using it as shadows and liner with sometimes garish results. The snow was coming down heavily by the time we left Leicester and as we journeyed into the countryside the fields were turning white, then the bus stopped. We were in a traffic jam which stretched all the way to Birmingham a fairly typical situation in an English snowstorm when the whole country can come to a standstill under a centimetre of snow. Passengers were now starting to get off the bus, I had little funds on me and nowhere to go anyway so I had to sit it out. The snow was beautiful and very romantic so I pretended I was a Russian princess travelling across Siberia for a while but then I noticed ice forming on the insides of the window and realized that the heat was not working. Soon there was only one person left on the bus besides me, a young girl with her baby sitting at the back. I approached the driver who was understandably in a bad mood and he snarled at me, ” The heats packed in, and if you can’t get off you’ll just have to stick it out ! ” I went to the back of the bus and sat with the girl and her baby. He was happily sleeping and he had plenty of milk, he also had some Farley’s Rusks, these were like a big biscuit a baby could chew on or it became a cereal when immersed in milk . I was starving, it was late in the afternoon, dark, and the snow was relentless . The young mother kindly shared the box of rusks with me and the baby slept on.
We finally pulled into Birmingham at 11’o’clock at night, a trip that took almost twelve hours. There were no buses or trains, the girl and her baby got a taxi but there was no transport for me. A lot of marooned students hung around, and the police were trying to deal with us all. I was driven all the way home by a policeman and finally got to my parents house at 1’o’clock on Saturday morning. I woke them up by throwing snowballs at the bedroom window and they they peered down at me, a ghastly vision in black picked out against the snow. This style of clothing did not go down well and was very misunderstood in parts of Britain back then. I had also started smoking cigarettes which was a bit ironic really because all my family smoked copiously and I swore I never would. I remember family get togethers as a kid where everyone was smoking Park Drives, Woodbines and Players and the rooms were thick with smoke. The day after some of these gatherings my aunt would often find her beloved budgerigars dead at the bottom of the cage with their claws in the air. She would replace them but we kids had it figured out, death by smoke inhalation poor little things . Anyway, I ended up smoking because everyone did, my parents were very disappointed.
I wanted to go into the town on saturday afternoon, I had not brought a change of clothes with me. ” You’re not going out like that are you? ” my mum said. She was right , Worcester was a very conservative city and did not have many colleges certainly not an art college. I resolved to tone it down a bit next time I came home.
The next day I was gone , and so was the snow of course.