Monday, 2 November 2015

Finding my way home on a foggy day in January 1962

This is a fog story.

Fog on the Rec 2015
But not one of those autumnal mist type but the real pea souper sort I grew up with and was really smog which was that ragbag of pollutants which did nothing for your health and added to the grime of my bit of south east London.

I am too young to remember the great smog of 1952 which settled across London on a Friday in December and didn’t go away until the following Tuesday.

It killed thousands made travelling a nightmare and even slid into people’s homes.

But there were plenty of others I do remember.

At the time unaware of the dangers I loved that grey swirling blanket which would get thicker and hid every familiar feature and aside from the adventure of being out in it there was the way it muffled all the sounds and made you feel totally isolated.

Nelson’s Column during the Great Smog of 1952
And as the day wore on it got progressively worse which was always a bonus if it was a school day raising the very real chance that we would be sent home.

Today an army of clerical stuff would carefully check that there was someone at home or ensure an alternative place of safety.

But for us once the decision had been taken we were left to make our own way home through the gloom but this was all just a decade and a bit after the last war when far worse had tumbled out of the skies.

Added to which few homes had telephones and you could pretty much guarantee someone one would be in.

I don’t think we ever got lost but the route from school to Lausanne Road was pretty direct.  Once out of the gates it was down through Pepys park, along Arbuthnot and Dennet’s Roads where Jimmy and John Cox left me leaving just Mona Road and home.

Looking back it is easy to glide over the potential dangers especially when the fog obliterated most  points of reference.

I remember Dad telling me how he had walked around the ruin of St Mary’s church a good dozen times before he was confident enough to set off for the short walk up Belfort Road to the Swiss Tavern.

Oil flare after the fog, 1960
And there is no doubt that it didn't do your lungs any favours.

The bitter cold air mixed with the muck settled on your chest making you cough and left that foul taste in your mouth.

Thinking back it was as if someone had rolled a very cold stone over your chest.

All of that is now a dim distant memory so while I sit here and gaze across at the Rec already the trees on the other side of the park are becoming visible added to which there is no one with a face mask or scarf in front of their faces.

And that is a reminder of how deadly that smog was.

So much so that during one particularly bad smog day Mr Vaughn one of our science teacher’s had left a filter pad outside the lab window which was changed on the hour and as that day wore on the muck on the pads became thicker.

Not that we were over bothered unless that thickening muck meant an early end to the school day which it did.

That I remember well, but those basic things like the oil flares at road junctions and the more serious disruptions to daily life are lost  along with the smog itself.

Pictures; looking out over the Rec November 2015 from the collection of Andrew Simpson, Nelson’s Column during the Great Smog of 1952, N T Stobbs, licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.and oil flare, Wilbraham Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, 1960, A L Landers, m18486 , courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, http://images.manchester.gov.uk/index.php?session=pass

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