Snow in June
It was May 1st 1997, the day of the election. I had gone swimming at the baths mid-morning. Hall Bank was a steep street. Wearing sandals, I walked up it towards the marketplace. My legs had that feeling of flexibility after you swim. I could hardly feel the incline.
It had been warm the last couple of days. Today, I could feel the hot air flow around my arms as I walked.
And when I was walking past the shops and cottages, I was thinking about a discussion I had with friends the day before.
We had been talking about the good weather, and how Buxton could have extreme weather at times. In the conversation it was mentioned that snow had actually fallen in the town as late as June, but that was in the 1970’s. In fact, one day in 1975, there was a famous local cricket match, where at least an inch of snow fell and they actually had to stop play.
I was more of a football fan, and had not developed my taste for cricket as yet. But the idea of a match being snowed out in June was crazy and piqued my interest.
I couldn’t believe that it could snow anywhere in June, but Buxton was 1,200 feet above sea level, and had an unusual micro-climate, so I understood strange things could happen there.
After the conversation, the day before, I had to go up to the library to return some books, but while I was there, I thought I would look at some old newspapers about the cricket match. I found out the following.
In 1975, May was cold and at the beginning of June, a freezing arctic weather system moved down across Scotland, making it only three degrees Celsius at Gleneagles in Perthshire, and the system moved down across England, causing snowfall as far as London.
That day, June 2nd, 1975, a County Championship Match was held in Derbyshire with Lancashire visiting.
The Captain of the Lancashire team was Clive Lloyd. He was in his late twenties, and was from the West Indies, actually from Guyana. He had never touched snow before. He had only seen it once, and that was in Russia.
“I glimpsed it through a window in Moscow one night in 1966 when we refueled there on the way to India, but I’d never made a snowball in my own hands,” he said. (stokesentinel)
When the snow fell during the cricket match, he was soon making snowballs and firing them at other players.
The absurdity of the June snowfall had the Umpire Dickie Bird ‘dumbfounded’ when he went out to check the wicket, and the snow met the top of his boots.
In fact, with further research, before I left the library, I discovered that England hadn’t had snowfall so late in the year since 1888.
But walking back from the pool, I was excited about the election. John Major had been Prime Minister for seven years. Labour had spent the last 18 years as the opposition party. We hoped for a Labour win.
We wanted to cue a celebratory atmosphere, so we set up a barbecue in our back yard. Our back garden was a little unusual. It still had the roof of a bomb shelter right at the back against the stone wall. The shelter was shaped like a black metal igloo, with sides that sloped down. We used it for storage. Closer to the house we had a makeshift barbecue which was a grate over a campfire built of rocks. We would light a fire, then set the grate on top, then the sausages or burgers. We couldn’t afford a high-tech barbecue and this worked, and we put some lawn chairs around it, and would sit out there once the warm weather arrived. The yard was full of plants. They had been set out from the inside landings and windowsills to get some sunlight, including the Aspidistra with it’s long dark green pointed leaves.
A friend of ours dropped by. We sat drinking tins of lager and leftover elderflower wine we had made the summer before. The TV was on and we would wander in from outside to check the progress of the votes. Every time we checked the results got better. The kids too – they might not have understood much about politics, but they enjoyed the barbecue and the atmosphere.
While we were sitting outside that evening, the temperature hadn’t dropped as it usually did at night. It was still warm. This friend of ours took a sip of his lager, then casually mentioned that it was supposed to snow the next day.
“Where did you hear that,” we said. “That’s not true.” Our friend insisted it was, that he had heard it on the local weather. “Impossible. Look how hot it is,” we said. “We’re in summer clothes. We’re cooking food outside.” Even the kids told him it wasn’t going to snow. We told him he was talking nonsense, as he sat by the fire, trying to drink his lager.
Labour and Tony Blair had a landslide victory. We stayed up late to watch the final results, and to celebrate. We extinguished the last fire embers and brought in our dishes from the barbecue, and kept the windows open because it was still warm, and went to sleep in the early hours.
The next morning I got up and made a cup of tea. As I let it steep, I looked outside, at the sky above the garden, and yes it did seem grey, but I assumed it was some early morning haze that would burn off in hours. I still smelled like sunblock and campfire from the day before. There were mustard stained plates to be washed. We had a hamster we had only bought recently who was climbing the bars of its cage. It had been on sale because it was a little fat and had a bite taken out of its ear. It wasn’t until almost two months after the election when we named it Evander, due to the bite. Its water needed refilling. But before I did that I realized I hadn’t brought in the milk and went to fetch it from the front doorstep. When I opened the door I then saw how the weather had changed.
It was May 2nd, and snow was falling, in big soft white flakes that battled their hardest against the asphalt that was still probably warm from yesterday. The flakes were collecting on the top of the black Victorian gate around our garden, and they were coating the bluebells and the lily of the valley. Our friend had been right, and now he could say “I told you so.”
I can’t remember how long it snowed for that morning, but I know it was long enough for it to make its point and cover everything with a thin coat of white. By afternoon the weather had cleared and the sun was out. Our friend returned and laughed at us because we didn’t believe him. We compared our stories of where we were when we saw the snow. Then we dug out the leftover sausages from the fridge and lit up the barbecue again to resume the festivities.
This is a work of creative nonfiction; it contains no composite characters and no names have been changed. I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them, but I have taken some storytelling liberties, due to my interpretation of events, fading memory, lack of time machine, and need to cherry-pick some memories over others in order to express my thoughts within the story.