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Tuesday, 27 July 2010

1947 February

February. Coldest winter; power cuts. Civilization cracking up. Worse than wartime. Potato shortage.

Saturday, Feb 1st
A week of severe frost and snow here, in other parts heavy falls and drifts. Hilary wrote and said he had been learning to ski, but they were fed up with the cold. The school (at Henley) was very cold and things generally difficult, the milk freezing in the bottles; even an egg in Mary’s larder froze and the white was like a rubber ball when it was put in the pan. The situation in London was bad, low gas pressure and electricity cuts, sometimes from 7 a.m. to 7 p. m. We had only one here, as far as is known, from 8 a.m. to 9.15 a.m. Trains were disorganized.

Sunday, Feb 2nd
Hilary rang up from school last night in a very grown up way. Fortunately Open Day has been postponed as Nora could not possibly have got there in this weather. Sent off to H. M. of Dartington statement of income hoping for a reduction in fees. Nora makes £200 p.a. and I make £800, but by the time taxes and expenses, rates, rent, superannuation insurance, etc, are paid find we have about £130 over! The professional classes the ones to suffer in a crisis of this kind.
              A thaw promised, thank goodness.

Monday, Feb 3rd
A kind of thaw! Very beastly, a film of ice formed over a slosh which could not run away because the ground was frozen. Impossible to keep your feet dry. Civilization cracking up, Londoners buying peat from their greengrocers to make themselves a cup of tea. What they all say is that in London no one seems to care how you live. You have no heat in your flat and no one will deliver any coal. Woman said that she could neither cook nor keep clean; under circumstances how long would she keep her husband.
              Austin motor works likely to have to close for lack of coal, Morris and Rootes very short indeed.

Wednesday, Feb 6th
The cold weather has come back. Driving back from Mary’s, the road so white in the moonlight that switched off the headlights. North of England in chaos with the weather; warned to-night that owing to sailing of colliers being held up and delays on railways, coal situation extremely serious. Gas pressure to be still further reduced as only a fortnights of gas coal in London before cold spell began. Pity the poor Londoners with their gas fires and cookers!

Saturday, Feb 8th
Frost still very hard and bitter S.E. wind. Announced yesterday by Minister of Fuel and Power that on Monday there would be no electricity for factories in many parts of England and that domestic users would be cut from 9 – 12 and 2 – 4. In short things are in a fine mess. The government says it is only the weather, the critics say it is lack of foresight and everyone knew there would be a crisis and break down of supplies, but no proper steps taken in the summer and autumn to meet it. It is unfortunate that earlier in the year the minister made some very optimistic statements about supply….. The government thinks the cuts in electricity will not last more than a week.

Sunday, Feb 9th
About a foot of snow fell in the night and leg bad this morning, but with Nora’s help had to struggle to fix up beehives against a green woodpecker that was trying to break in and had got one hive thoroughly roused and a lot of bees out.
              Papers full of electricity cuts plan….. Restaurants are cut from 9 – 12; wonder what those Londoners who must have lunch before 12 will do. Looking back it was clearly a mistake (for armed forces) to recruit miners in early years of war, but it was an even more disastrous policy to neglect mechanisation and modern plant because labour was plentiful (once).
              News this week of a big scheme to grow ground nuts in tropical Africa. Feel this a great step forward and most important. Bulldozers will be used to clear the bush and large native labour force will be permanently employed. We have largely lost our trade in China and soon India and Burma will become independent, but our huge African empire is all ready for development and lies at out back door. All the talk about being up the creek is rot and we are a great power and I hope we shall remain one.

Monday, Feb 10th
Nothing quite like this before. to-day in large parts of country power cut off from industry. It is now a fight to keep the generating stations going….. Pretty clear that, although position not due to government’s fault and although they have got more coal from the mines, they have gambled on a very narrow margin and hoped to the very last minute that the public would not have to be told. That was the mistake. [John] Strachey did not make it over bread: he insisted on bread rationing in spite of popular outcry. Shinwell didn’t. Although consumption increasing and rapidly overtaking stocks, he made foolish speeches in the autumn denying and crisis existed or that industry would be seriously curtailed.
    Some shops in London only opened in hours when lights available, 12 – 2 and 4 onwards. The big hotels were lit by candles; cashiers in banks each had a candle in front of them; in others they groped.

Tuesday, Feb 11th
A bitter wind last night and to-day and playground and drives full of frozen snow…. Am so tired of this bitter cold and icy feet and chilblains; can only hope that when the spring does come it will be a good one. News to-night not very good. Cold weather with frost day and night to continue for several days and power stations only just holding….

Wednesday, Feb 12th
Intense cold continues. One of my coldest birthdays. Snow frozen solid on the drives and playgrounds….. The Americans much interested in the fuel crisis. They seem to think it may weaken us diplomatically. The French sympathetic. American mineworkers’ representative visiting Britain says it will take 20 years to get coalfields in shape. Pity if we have to wait to 1967 to get warm….. The school is cold and stinks as no windows are ever opened.

Thursday, Feb 13th
Coldest winter in 65 years with exceptions of 1894, ’90 and 1939 and frost may last another fortnight (though don’t think it will). However colliers are beginning to arrive in the Thames and Nora said coal trains from S. Wales outside Paddington looked most impressive. … Exploring American aeroplanes have discovered ice-free lakes in the Antarctic and think the area may be warm enough to live in comparative comfort – might go there from England.

Friday, Feb 14th
A half term holiday! How lovely! General opinion: worse than wartime except for bombs….. We have just sold the whole of our railway interests in the Argentine, 280 million (pounds sterling) of Victorian investment which has paid us in meat, hides and grain – 200 million worth. This sale just about pays off our war debt and we start off now solvent, but bound to work for every can of bully (beef) and frozen carcass.
              Very gloomy article by Walter Lippmann, American journalist. He says the loan will be exhausted in 1948 instead of 1950 (largely on tobacco and films, which seems pretty timid of the government) and we can’t make it. Our people are exhausted, we are short of manpower, our plant is now out of date and worn out by wartime efforts anyway. We are heading for a crash, he thinks.

Saturday, Feb 15th
The winds from Russia in their passage over the North Sea pick up moisture and cover the sky with a grey, unbroken blanket of cloud. to-day this parted at midday for a little and for the first time for weeks we saw the sun. Though it was no warmer, it made you think it might be!
              Feeling that if the government devoted the time it spent on dreaming up the nationalization of this and that to improving conditions in the industry which has been nationalized – coal – we should not have been in this mess. It looks as if industry may soon be started again as coal is coming in well now, but I expect the domestic consumers will come last and get their electricity after the rest. Electric power in Reading is supposed to come on at 12, but more like 12.20 by the time it does, and as Mary has only one hour for lunch it makes it nearly impossible cook a meal. Icy again to-night and hands freeze if out of sitting room.
     Amusing article by Harold Nicholson in Spectator on his dairy, which he keeps up with great regularity – but when he turns back he finds he was in Khartoum or Isphahan, but I stay in Henley-on-Thames! – “It contains not one word that would bring a blush to the cheeks of posterity”. Does mine? “Of the many rewards which accrue to the constant diarist one of the most agreeable is the contemplation in tranquillity of the pains and pleasures of the past!” - especially on a Sunday morning when after breakfast in bed one gets out the pages in their limp cardboard covers and reads what was happening to the world and oneself in 1940 or 1942. At the moment inclined to think what a fool I was not to foresee how horrid things would be when Peace reared her ugly head.

Sunday, Feb 16th
Glass high, cold intense, leg very stiff. Now the fuel crisis is on (government) inclined to overdo things as usual. All weekly papers to be cut off….. the Third Programme has disappeared and the Light and Home are joined till six, so nothing much to listen to. Stayed in bed while power was cut off, then had to get up and come down to freeze in dining room. Wearing dressing gown all day to keep out the cold.
              Some mines have been working all day, at London stevedores have been unloading coal and railwaymen dealing with coal trains. Attendance is reputed high and ground is being slowly gained. To-night the big London power stations had 7 ½ days supply against 6 days a week ago. There is no sign whatever of a break in the weather, so another gale or heavy fall of snow can put us right back where we started from.
              Plenty of people point how very curious that electric domestic appliances given higher priority than equipment for power stations, and the sale of electric fires, which the public bought in large numbers, helped by withdrawal of purchase tax. Nora and I had been trying for a long time to get an electric immersion heater, but always one essential part was missing. Here it does look as if production was deliberately hamstrung.
              Anyway very few of the population have baths now for the geysers don’t heat, pressure is low. To add to our difficulties there is a potato shortage and the hens are in danger of starvation unless more arrive from Northern Ireland, where there are said to be plenty. All over the place you see men carrying sacks on bicycles and in prams.
              The cold, the rheumatism, the shortages all give to life at present the quality of a bad dream from which one cannot wake and of which one cannot see the end.

Monday, Feb 17th
Continuous frost day and night. Took an oil stove over to Mary so she could at least get something hot at midday. Stocks continue to build up and this evening heard a collier skipper describe his 30-hour journey from Sunderland to Gravesend through the worst weather he had known since he started in 1918. To avoid wrecks and ruins they have to sail in a lane marked by coloured buoys
              Last night we had a Scrapbook 1906 programme, nostalgic but interesting. How superior the popular music of the that day was to the crooners with whom we are cursed now. The year of the Dreadnought, Coppelia at the Empire, suffragettes, The Doctor’s Dilemma, a balloon crossing of the Channel, the Galloping Major, the unemployed. Some of these I remember, the pictures of the Dreadnought in the Daily Graphic; balloons let off from the Alexandra Palace; the unemployed with their drum and fife bands, banners and collecting boxes; the Galloping Major on Father’s phonograph. The year of the birth of my sister Molly.

Tuesday, Feb 18th
Still freezing. House of Commons discussing football pools. Suggested that spend 1d and win 25 pounds should also add odds 3,468,784,401 to 1 against you.

Wednesday, Feb 19th
Wind very cold and effect on leg poor. Miss Hunter had proof of development plan (for schools) The old men have had their way and in the plan have ended mixed grammar school. Two schools, grammar and technical together for boys and girls, are put down for Henley, but they are not coming in the estimates till 1953. So hang it on a nail in the water closet! We are short of paper!

Thursday, Feb 20th
The glass was falling and I hoped for a thaw, but to-night we had a snow warning and a gale warning for southern England….

Saturday Feb 22nd
The snow started Friday morning but not much fell on Thursday night. However I managed to get into Reading on Friday afternoon and home Saturday morning without any difficulty. In the north and east this blizzard has undone all the good work of cleaning up after the first. Forty more colliers are storm bound and ice floes have appears in the North Sea. There was a warning to gas consumers to-night that after 48 hours gas may be cut at the same times as electricity. Have forgotten what it is like to be warm!

Sunday, Feb 23rd
The first nice day for a month. Blue sky and a sun which struck warmth on your face. Still very cold, but the sunshine made you feel more cheerful and the bare trees cast long, finely pencilled shadows on the snow, which itself was hard and crystalline and reflected the light in a thousand glittering facets until the eyes were dazzled.
              The Palestine problem to be handed over to the U.N.O. but not till the autumn. I am glad that we are not going on holding this baby; let some of the critics do something to take in and keep Hitler’s victims instead of blaming us.

Monday, Feb 24th
This age very hard on old people. Molly rang up last night to say she had just received a letter from Aunt at Watford. Aunt in bed since Christmas, looked after by Miss Rusby, aged about 75; now Miss R on verge of cracking up. No coke in house, electricity cut off, cannot queue. In any case population seems to be fetching coke in perambulators mostly! What are the two old things to do under these conditions!
              In London we are back in the age of Moll Flanders. M, looking at a counter in Swan & Edgars, felt something pulling at her bag. Looking round quickly, she found a woman behind her had got the zip fastener open and was just on the point of pulling out of her handbag with all her money in it. Woman made a grimace and vanished quickly out of the shop.
              Last night coldest night for 30 years The thermometer registered 20 degrees of frost before supper! Another one apparently to-night. The curtains froze to the bedroom windows.
              We are all very miner-conscious! No one has any excuse now for failing to realize their debt to and dependence on the miner. Talk to-night on the privileged position of French miners – more rations, priority in houses, consumer goods, clothes; also French are used to foreign labour and have used Polish, Italian, Moroccan workers in the mines. Now they are offering free contracts to German prisoners against the day when the prisoners lent them by the Americans in 1945 are released, and this chap thinks many will stay.

Wednesday, Feb 26th             
M came back from Oxford on Monday morning. The 7 0’clock train arrived at 8.20 – points frozen and engines could not be got out of shed. As she approached the station there was a curious noise: it was it was the frozen multitudes stamping their feet. When the passengers got in the train the moisture condensed as hoar frost on their hair.
              The weather forecast for to-day uncertain and I expected the beginning of a thaw, but there was a south-east gale instead. However, the temperature did rise above freezing at midday, which seemed quite balmy in consequence. N went over by road to see Aunt and Rusby. Aunt very weak and Rusby mental, however things not as bad as expected.

Thursday, Feb 27th
To-day our party to the Moscow Conference issued with sealskin caps, fur-lined boots and sheepskin coats – but rather warmer here and snow gradually disappearing.
              Reading a racy indelicate American book called The Egg and I by a woman who married a man who went poultry farming in a remote part of Washington – some amusing bits, especially descriptions of neighbours.

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