A winter’s (true) tale

The recent spell of freezing weather has taken my mind back to the early seventies, when we lived in a cottage on the edge of the Staffordshire Moorlands.  I had been late home from work again, but just in time to receive my evening’s instructions as I was baby-sitting. My supper was warming in the oven and for company I had Ben, our cantankerous Bassett Hound.

It was not all bad news, as my favourite programme, ‘Softly, Softly: Task Force,’ with Stratford Johns was on the TV, so I recovered my supper and settled down on the settee. I was half through eating, when Ben started to scratch at the door to go out. I put my supper down and went to the kitchen door. Ben disappeared and I closed the door and returned to my meal. Almost immediately I heard Ben barking to come back in. It was a foul night for weather with thick ice and the remains of a snowfall. I left him out there for a while, until I heard the crash of milk bottles which were outside on the step, so I went to let Ben in. Along with the empty bottles which awaited the milkman in the morning, was a full one and I was just in time, with the aid of the porch light, to see this bottle roll down the path and turn right, under the gate and into the road. Thinking that this may be our last bottle, I went after it in my carpet slippers.

It was a wickedly cold night and we lived on a fairly steep stretch of country road, with no street lighting to speak of and the hill was covered in ice. I ventured out of the gate, by which time, I had lost the benefit of the porch light. I listened and could hear the bottle making its way down the hill with a peculiar chinking noise. I set off to catch it and immediately fell on my backside on the ice. I sat in the road and could still hear the bottle chinking. I was determined not be beaten so I struggled up and set off again with the same result and fell again. By this time, with the aid of the light on my neighbour’s porch, I could see that the bottle had made it down to the bottom of the hill and was turning into my neighbour’s drive. I should have abandoned the chase at that point, but I didn’t. Now my neighbour was a good friend of mine who occasionally shared a visit to the pub with me. I turned into his drive, just in time to see my bottle come to rest by his back door and join a group of similar full bottles.  As I was reaching to pick up my bottle, horror of horrors, the door opened and my friend peered out. Embarrassment and apologies followed in equal measure but strangely, neither of us ever mentioned that night again.

I struggled back up the hill clutching my precious bottle, without further incident, apart from when I finally got back to my settee, ‘Softly, Softly’ had finished and Ben had finished my supper. Was it all worth it?

Martin Hamer

April-May 2021