by Juliet Nicolson
On Boxing Day 1962, when Juliet Nicolson was eight years old, the snow began to fall. It did not stop for ten weeks. The drifts in East Sussex reached twenty-three feet. In London, milkmen made deliveries on skis. On Dartmoor 2,000 ponies were buried in the snow, and starving foxes ate sheep alive.
It wasn’t just the weather that was bad. The threat of nuclear war had reached its terrifying height with the recent Cuban Missile Crisis. Unemployment was on the rise, de Gaulle was blocking Britain from joining the European Economic Community, Winston Churchill, still the symbol of Great Britishness, was fading. These shadows hung over a country paralysed by frozen heating oil, burst pipes and power cuts.
And yet underneath the frozen surface, new life was beginning to stir. A new breed of satirists threatened the complacent decadence of the British establishment. A game-changing band from Liverpool topped the charts, becoming the ultimate symbol of an exuberant youthquake. Scandals such as the Profumo Affair exposed racial and sexual prejudice. When the thaw came, ten weeks of extraordinary weather had acted as a catalyst between two distinct eras.
From poets to pop stars, shopkeepers to schoolchildren, and her own family’s experiences, Juliet Nicolson traces the hardship of that frozen winter and the emancipation that followed. That spring, new life was unleashed, along with freedoms we take for granted today.