Monday, 10 January 2011

Whatever happened to Jack Frost?

In my West London childhood, winters were mild and frost was rare. But temperatures did occasionally fall below zero, and in houses that were neither centrally heated, nor properly insulated, nor double-glazed, when it did become frosty outside, you'd feel it inside.

I wrote about how houses (and our house in particular) were heated in the 1960s, but I'd like to make mention of Jack Frost. At Oaklands Road Primary School (infants department) we'd have a nature table on which all aspects of the current season would be on display, under a wall chart prepared specially for schools by Shell Petroleum. [This, incidentally, shows that the influence of commerce on education is not a new phenomenon.] While the autumn nature table was full of russet leaves and chestnuts, what I remember from the winter poster was ponies on Dartmoor and hares that had turned white to merge in with the snowy landscape.

In our class, we'd hear about Jack Frost, who'd come in the night painting patterns on our window panes, and nipping at our fingers, toes, noses and ears. Jack Frost, a folk personification of the phenomena associated with sub-zero temperatures, would be a thin white man, dressed in white, with a pointed white beard and sharp fingers.

Not having double glazing, condensation inside the house would form on the inside of windows and would freeze in interesting patterns, which today's youngsters living in much warmer houses are unlikely to ever witness. Below: this is the sort of thing I mean.

Photo by Mary Peterson, click here to see the original.

In the days before duvets, beds in our household made up for winter would be covered with many blankets, warmed with a hot water bottle, and we'd wear woollen night jumpers (nocny sweterek) over our pyjama tops. Wrapped up snugly in bed, only my head would be exposed to the cold of the room at night; I'd wake up with a cold nose.

While central heating and duvets have become universal in the UK, double glazing is not; sash windows such as the one in the photo above are still prevalent in Victorian and Edwardian houses. But the warm air inside ensures that condensation no longer freezes; Jack Frost's handiwork is a very rare sight in Britain today.

1 comment:

Bev Mattocks said...

I well remember Jack Frost visiting our bedrooms on freezing winter mornings in the days before we had central heating or double glazing. I remember scratching the ice with my finger nails!