White Christmases have always been a bit of a rarity in my lifetime. Apart from spending one Christmas in Switzerland, they have been, sad to say, few and far between.
Though there was one that I remember in the UK back I the mid 90’s, a cold, snowy winter that followed a summer of endless sunshine. For a ten-year-old kid, that’s exactly the perfect kind of weather we should always be getting. Cooked to a cinder one day, up to your eyeballs in the white stuff the next.
So, Christmas day, where the snow lay, if not particularly deep, certainly crisp and even. After the present-opening ritual, we ran out into the street to discuss the day’s swag with friends, and get down with the serious business of our favourite hobby: chaos.
I’d just like to take a moment to describe the area in which I live. Bar Hill, as the name would suggest, is a village built on the top of a great big hill. Our street was sort of on the side of the hill, and certain houses had driveways which resembled the north face of Eiger.
One of those houses remained empty for years (the speculation was that it was haunted following the mysterious death of the owner), and had the perfect drive for racing go-karts, bikes and skateboards. And with several inches of untouched snow, it was now the perfect ski slope.
Except there were just a few minor problems with this concept;
1. Nobody had any skis.
2. Nobody knew how to ski
3. There was the small matter of Herbie’s house and several cars parked in the road opposite.
As if that was going to put and of us off.
Rummaging around in freezing cold sheds and garages provided we merry few with planks of wood and endless supplies of gaffer tape, which would serve as bindings for our makeshift skis.
They were, I am afraid to say, and utter disaster. You couldn’t walk in them, you couldn’t even stand up straight in them, and worst of all, their usefulness as skiing implements was zero.
Using a couple of bean poles as sticks, you’d push yourself off at the top of the hill, slide about two feet before the tips snagged on something, and you’d be left face down in the white stuff. Complete waste of time, and as we were called inside one-by-one for our Christmas dinners, it was agreed that we should try another tack later on if any fun was to be had of the day.
A couple of hours later, we emerged into the dusk, fuller, wobbling slightly from too much turkey and the misguided parental application of “Oh let him have a glass of wine, it’s Christmas after all”.
Dave was carrying a large tea tray “A souvenir from Brighton” which he had swiped from under him mum’s nose. Tea trays, as we all know are ten times better than any sledge or toboggan you can buy in the shops, and have the added advantage of being useful as giant, deadly Frisbees when the snow melts.
To the top of the drive we struggled, and with the shove to end all shoves, Dave careered down the slope at speed, between two parked cars and clattered into Herbie’s front step opposite. Magic, so we all had a go. In fact, we all had several goes, and the ski run got faster and faster as the compacted snow turned to ice.
But there was something missing.
“What we need,” I mused, having seen the world’s greatest athletes on Ski Sunday, “is a ski jump.”
Yes. We needed a ski jump. So we built one, right there on the pavement at the bottom of number 32’s drive.
It was a monster, carefully crafted with every piece of snow from miles around, curving upwards from a gentle slope to a frightening forty-five degree angle, four feet off the ground. Evel Knievel would have had second thoughts about taking it on. And like Evel Knievel, we thought “Danger? What’s a few broken bones amongst friends?” and got on with it. Because of the dangers involved, we thought it best to ask for volunteers to try out our great ski jump. There was none, so we hit Mucker until he gingerly sat on the tray and cast off.
Down and down he went, picking up speed, before he hit the ramp with a blood-curdling scream, rose gracefully into the air and executed a perfect landing on Herbie’s lawn.
What a disappointment.
“That hurt my arse,” he said, so an old cushion was rescued from our garage and put to good use.
All of a sudden there was a clambering to have a go on the Great Ramp before grown-ups rumbled what we were up to and put an end to our fun. Just as long as they were glued to the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special, we were fine.
Dave next, and defying the law of averages, he too executed a fine jump-and-landing that would probably have won a medal in the Winter Olympics, if tea-tray surfing ever made it past the demonstration event stage. Herbie, however, his ‘wee glass of wine” and grandmother-administered sherry getting the better of him, decided he just HAD to be different. “I’m going down standing up,” he declared.
“That’s crazy talk!”
“You’re gonna die! Can I have your presents?”
There was no talking him out of it. He stood on the tray, and pushed himself down the slope. As a fresh furry of snow fell, the world fell silent in dread exectation.
Ffffffffffssssssssshit! Went the tray.
Flapflapflapflap went Herbie’s scarf.
“Meeeeeee-aaaaaaaaargh!!!” went Herbie.
It was close, so very, very close. The tray struck the ramp at a slight angle, and instead of hitting the gap between the two cars, Herbie executed a perfect back somersault before spread-eagling himself across the bonnet of his grandad’s pride and joy – his immaculate Mark I Ford Cortina.
We slipped and slid down the driveway to rescue our fallen comrade. He had landed straddling the front wing mirror, missing his meat and two veg by mere inches. He lay groaning in what could only be described as a boy-shaped depression on the bonnet.
“I don’t feel too good.”
He was right, too.
Rich, brown, steaming vomit filled with turkey, roast potatoes and all the trimmings, sweets, fizzy pop and some foul substance that we later realised was marshmallow.
All over the front of the car it went, running down into a little brown pool round his stomach. It would take them forever and a day to get the last of it out of the windscreen jets.
“Yaaaaaaaaaarch!” he said again.
There was only one thing to do under these circumstances of extreme vehicular and vomit woe: flee for our lives and let Herbie take the rap. It was only fair, and after all, his sacrifice would be appreciated for many Christmases to come. It turned out, however, that he too had fled the scene of the crime, limping back to his house, with his family none the wiser.
During the night, the vomit froze.
The following morning Herbie’s granddad left the house for the long, slow drive back to Southsea.
“What’s that on my car?” he asked.
Dave’s tea tray was never seen again.