An Alphabet Of My Life: C

C= Cold and Cars

I could not decide between these two choices for ‘C’, so included them both.


Many of my childhood memories are about being cold. Until I was fifteen years old, I did not live in a house with central heating. We relied on one main coal fire for warmth, with the addition of a paraffin-filled heater to ‘take the chill off’ in communal areas like landings. That thing chucked out enough fumes to give you a headache, and was the cause of many house fires too.

This meant we had to have hot water bottles placed in the bed early, or face that freezing feel of ice-cold cotton sheets in an unheated bedroom. I also wore thick pyjamas, and in the dead of Winter, socks too. I still remember my feet coming into contact with the hot water-bottle when it had got cold, and kicking it out of the bed.

Once I was aged ten, I was considered to be old enough to light the fire when I got home from school before my parents returned from work. This was a lengthy process, and quite tricky to achieve. Old twisted newspapers would be placed in the grate, topped with kindling wood, then just enough coal to get the fire started. It could sometimes take ages for the coal to ‘catch’, and if I added more coal before it was actually glowing, I was in danger of extinguishing it completely.

We lived through some harsh winters too. The bad one of 1963 lives on in my memory. It was the coldest for 200 years, and even froze the sea around the coast. We had frozen pipes that caused water shortages, and I can remember arriving at school shivering, despite wearing my duffle coat, balaclava helmet, school cap, a scarf, and gloves. Although the school had heating, the old Victorian building seemed to retain the overnight cold, and we were not allowed to sit in class wearing our outdoor coats.

Small wonder I hated being cold as I got older, and even now I dread the arrival of snow and ice.


My dad had a car when I was very young. I remember being in the car as a child, and watching him change gear as we drove along. Cars were very different then. They frequently broke down, had tyres with tubes that punctured easily, and required a fair level of mechanical knowledge on the part of the owners to keep them running reliably.

By the time I was 14 years old, all I could think about was driving, and having my own car. Even before I could apply for my driving licence, my dad bought me a used car. He stored it in the garage, and showed me the controls, how to check the oil, and how to do routine things like adjusting the points, changing spark plugs, and checking the tyre pressures. He would reverse it out of the garage so I could wash and polish it at weekends, but as it was not insured for me of course, I never got to try it out properly.

Some time later, once I had my learner licence, I was put on the insurance so that friends who had already passed their test could sit next to me as I drove around. Though I resented having to display the prominent ‘L’ plates front and back.

When the time came to apply for the driving test, I learned in a driving school car that was much smaller than mine, because it made sense to have dual controls. On the day I passed my test, I put three gallons of petrol in my own car, and drove the fifteen miles into Central London, into the busiest traffic in Britain.

That started me on a lifetime of driving, during which I drove almost every type of vehicle imaginable, including quite large trucks before the need for a separate Heavy Goods Licence. Then later I drove emergency ambulances around London, using blue lights and sirens. In between, I passed my motorcycle test, and used a motorbike to commute to work.

It has taken me almost a lifetime to stop being excited about cars. My current car is 15 years old, and is the oldest car I have ever owned and kept. It was 5 years old when I bought it second-hand, and I hope to hang onto it until I am no longer driving.

I wrote about the cars I have owned and driven on this blog, with photos of the models concerned. Here’s a link.

Cars: My Life On The Road

I also featuured the various ambulances I drove and worked in in London. Here’s a link to that.

The Ambulances I Worked In

57 thoughts on “An Alphabet Of My Life: C

  1. I can relate to the cold in your childhood. We had heat registers in the floor, and standing on one was the only relief from the cold. I cannot relate to cars, hubby certainly can. 😀. Best to you, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Now you know why I prefer the heat here, Pete as my childhood was very much like yours with regard to the cold…I remember the paraffin heater on the landing and the smell…we had icicles inside the windows in the winter it was that cold…x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never been bothered about cars, I must admit, although I love to see old ones. Nowadays they all look pretty much the same. They are handy, but that’s about it. Like with central heating, most of my experience with them was in the UK, although I got my driving licence when I was 18. My mother doesn’t have central heating, and many houses of a certain age here don’t have it, although it doesn’t tend to get quite that cold as it does there, but yes, I’ve gone back to not having central heating, and with the way the prices are going, a lot of people are looking for other options. Thanks for sharing this series with us, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can imagine that central heating is not quite the same issue in Barcelona, even though it can get quite cold there in winter.
      Cars in the UK are far too expensive now. Even some very basic new cars cost around £25,000. People either get them as company cars, or spend huge amounts each month buying them on loans. As a pensioner, I do not have the luxury of changing my car any longer.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  4. Very descriptive writing there Pete. People think all of NZ is in the tropics. It aint. I was brought up 3,000 kms (1,800 miles) from the Antarctic in the South Island of NZ and can remember the frigid winters of ice and rain at our Christchurch home and the snow and winds of my mums family farm in the Mackenzie. Our house had thin glass windows that cracked easily. We had a fireplace with coal & wood from the farm. We had no car and mum would take me to sport on the back of her bike where we would frequently fall over. I would get chilblains on the ears. There were times when we all slept together in front of the fire place. Hats, scarfs, gloves & long-johns were the fashion. Mum was constantly knitting from fresh wool from the farm. We had no electric stove and cooking was done of a fire hob. No fridge nor washing machine & the dunny was outside. School had a coal boiler with a radiation system that often cracked in the winter.
    When I was 7, dad got a police transfer to Auckland. It was tropical and that went my lily-white body got sunburnt and hence melanomas,
    So I can relate to your ccccccccold.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. (1) “Although the school had heating, the old Victorian building seemed to retain the overnight cold.” The cold was a definite indication that ghosts from the Victorian Era haunted the school.
    (2) When I think of driving in traffic, I think of two cities: Naples, Italy during rush hour; and Los Angeles, California. In Naples, cars filled the streets like sardines in a can. Even the sidewalks weren’t safe from drivers. The highways in Los Angeles are like a hornet’s nest. Driving across town is complicated and cardiac-inducing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. In theory we had central heating, but my room on the third floor had originally been for the maid and had two rungs on the radiator. In the best of times it wouldn’t have thrown off much heat, but my father hated paying for oil and insisted that we all needed to put on more sweaters. I owned a lot of sweaters!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fathers always seemed to be complaining about the cost of everything when we were young. My dad even complained about me using too much toilet paper. But he never once complained about the cost of his cigarettes and beer.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It seems to me that England was much colder back then. Partly because no one had double glazing or central heat. I suppose if you aren’t able to get warm indoors, being outside in the cold feels a lot worse. My dad hated it. The winter of ’63 was when I got sent back from 6 years in the tropics. Our dormitory was in the attic of a converted Manor House and had no heat. Our sinks were frozen in the morning. I had 6 layers of blanket and an eiderdown but was always cold. Suffered with awful chillblains. In London we had those gas heaters that were pretty useless in rooms with very high ceilings but at least we didn’t have to deal with a coal fire. My grandmother in Wiltshire did, though and their house caught fire. Maybe that’s why I have always been frightened of fire. I think people who drive ambulances especially in cities are amazing. I could never have driven in London. I must read those links later on.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Scraping the frost off of the windshield on the car when it was cold stands out as a memory or me. Living in Michigan for several decades it was something I did until we moved out here to Washington. Now it seldom is required. Warmest regards, Ed

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I find that once you feel uncomfortably cold, it takes ages to get warm again. I like a constant level of moderate warmth, but that’s not easy when I have to take Ollie out every day.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Both my grandsons talk non-stop about cars – it must be a boy thing. It drives their mother mad. Regarding cold, I remember my dad would turn the central heating thermostat down every time he passed it, and Mum would turn it up. It was a constant struggle between the pair of them. I don’t remember ever feeling cold during my childhood – obviously Mum won with the thermostat, lol.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I remember the winter of 63. My dad shovelled a pile of snow to make a snowman and it froze solid and stayed frozen for weeks. We had some very inadequate central heating but the rooms in the old vicarage were so vast and the ceilings so high that they did little more than take the chill off. I had a funnel heater in my room. I remember holding my clothes over it to warm them up

    Liked by 2 people

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