The bathroom window had ice inside. Not frosted, frozen. I could see my dragon breath as I stood holding my shrivelled billy. In Brynaman, boys had billies, girls had peggies. It was best to have a steaming pee now, as my billy would soon be buried under layers of clothing with little hope of rapid relief should the need arise.
The snow in drifts was higher than my four year old head and my mother swaddled me tight in all the wool in Wales before I was allowed out to play in it. My scalp twitched at the mere sight of my knitted brown balaclava. It worked as a kind of time constraint on play time - you could only stay out for as long as you could stand the itching. The legs of my trousers had been wrapped around my shins and my long grey socks pulled over to allow reasonable comfort inside my welly boots. My mittens were tucked into the cuffs of my duffel coat and the toggles done up over my arran. I resembled a small, woolly deep sea diver as I eventually stepped outside into pristine, blinding whiteness.
The world was softer but crisper too. I was too excited to take it all in. The crumpy snow bobbled on my mittens as I attempted to make snowballs to throw at the stiff as board towels on the neglected washing line. I inspected the minutely detailed pattern of my boot prints that meandered behind me, their varying depths revealing the contour of the ground hidden beneath, the odd clump of grass or earth showing through to kill the lie that the world had changed forever. Trees sagged and taller plants had bowed down under the weight of snowflakes to form domes around the path borders.
It began to snow again and I tipped my head back to get the full thrilling rush of the flakes landing on my face. I felt like I was zooming upwards into the yellow sky.
I heard cries and laughter from the muffled street outside my house and stumped off to investigate. At the top of the front garden I paused to curl my mitten into a telescope and squinted through it. In the middle of the carless road I spied a selection of little colourful astronauts, Michelin men and Scotts of the Antartic that were gathered around a major undertaking requiring leadership, teamwork and resolve. Their excited eyes shone like milk bottle tops in the flat light as they began making a giant snowman.
Wendy Rees was in charge as I joined the knot of bodies. I was shown how to make a snowball and start rolling it around on the undisturbed snow to make it grow. Once it was big enough you only rolled it one way to make an ever increasing cylinder of impacted snow. It was hot, puffy work in the constraint of all that wool. Rolling the cylinder took me away from the group, up the road towards Gwyn Fly’s drive. Tracy Thomas ran over to help me turn the mass of snow I’d gathered and we rolled it back to the group of steaming workers.
With a heave - heave - ho we raised it to the vertical but it was too big for us to lift on top of the first couple of cylinders they’d made. Dai North was out clearing his path and could see us struggling so he came over and lifted the mass with his twinkling smile and plonked it on top. Roberta had made a giant round snowball for the head by now and he hoiked that up for us too. We stood back reverentially to admire our work, vowing to complete it later with cadged bits of precious coal and some twigs for eyes, buttons and arms.
But now my scalp inside the balaclava had developed an insatiable itch too keen for soggy mittened hands and I turned clumsily in my wellies and ran home to get relief. My lungs burned with the sharp air, and my cheeks, the only flesh exposed, had gained a whole rose garden with the effort of keeping me temperate inside my swaddling.
My mother welcomed me with a Take your blinking boots off! as I tore at my damp layers to put them to steam over the squeaky bar of the lava hot Rayburn. She scolded me for dripping on her nice clean lino while boiling water to make cocoa, half and half, while I crazily scratched my head - a glazed look of pleasure on my face.
The love poured into the cocoa evened out the chagrin from the telling off.
The snowman we later completed stood impressively in the middle of the street for a whole week before the improving weather and a drop of rain saw it merge back into the elements.
We learned some new swear words every morning when the milkman stopped his float in front of the frozen sentinel and had to carry his crates down to the end of the street. He could have easily bulldozed it over but was too nice a man to do that to us kids.
Mind you, he was probably terrified of our mums too.