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06Feb

Frostquake by Juliet Nicolson review – Britain's frozen winter of 1962

The Beatles, the pill, the Profumo affair ... how British morals thawed as the snowdrifts got higher

On Boxing Day 1962 it began to snow and didn’t stop for the next 10 weeks. In effect, Britain had entered its own little ice age. There were drifts 23ft high on the Kent-Sussex border, while Stonehenge was buried so deeply that it was almost invisible when viewed from the sky. Icebergs entered the River Medway and, inland, icicles hung from the trees. The upper middle classes dug out their skis, while everyone else experimented with bits of corrugated iron strapped to their feet. A milkman died at the wheel of his float in Essex while indoor laundry froze before it could dry, so that next week’s vests and pants stood rigidly to attention before the kitchen fire. Someone had calculated that the last time it had been this cold was 1814, the year before Napoleon met his Waterloo.

Meanwhile eight-year-old Juliet Nicolson divides her time between the King’s Road, where she lives with her unhappy parents, and Sissinghurst, the Kentish stately home recently bequeathed by her grandmother Vita Sackville-West. Vita’s widower, Harold Nicolson, haunts the beautiful old place in his own cloud of freezing damp, alternately sobbing aloud and snubbing his grandchildren. Back in Chelsea there is the excitement of having to queue at the standpipe for water, since all the indoor pipes have burst.

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