Saturday, 20 February 2010

How My Dad Invented Snowboarding in 1941

Back up north, I've been exploring the house my family has lived in since 1971. It's a generously sized1960s box, not particularly beautiful, not historically significant and, as it's a good 25 minute walk from the Metro station, not on any estate agent's list of desirable residences. But it's full of my past, boxes of 35mm slides, mountains of theatre programmes, exam certificates, sheet music, vinyl, paintings, a record of our trips out, summer holidays and school years. But my favourite thing is a book my dad wrote about his early years, when he in the country during the war. He was a very safe, cautious, over-protective man when I knew him. When I read his recollections, I was surprised he survived past 16, considering the stuff he got up to. It's fascinating to see him in a different light; it's hard to imagine how the adventurous 13 year old Alan grew up to be a building society manager. Anyway, in the spirit of exploring our recent history, and with the Winter Olympics playing in the background, I give you Teesdale winter sports 1941.

After one night back, George and I and an older boy from our school took a borrowed sledge, there being a lot of snow in 1941, to the hill near the log cabin. At the foot of the hill was a line of small trees and bushes about fifty yards below us. George would have first ‘go’. We tried to get him to lie head first so that he could steer with his feet but he would sit upright, feet first. What happened next was over in a flash. The sledge was so sleek and well made, its steel runners so smooth, there was a ‘swoosh’ and we saw this dark blur below us shoot out from the bottom of the hill straight into a tree. A loud cry went up to find George in agony with his leg, the sledge smashed in at the front. I never got a ride on that sledge.

We pulled George back to the farm. The local doctor had the leg rubbed with liniment, George’s mother took him home a few days later and his leg was found to be fractured. He was off the rest of that term and although he returned for the summer term he never came back to the farm and I spent the rest of the time there on my own, including the two winter terms.

After the episode with the sledge I did no more sledging but I obtained a piece of wood from the side of an old barrel about six or seven feet high. I used this as a kind of snowboard. On the gentler slopes I would stand on it with my right leg and push myself along with the left. After a while I was able to balance on it with both feet and to travel long distances. The bottom of the wood got smoother and smoother until it ran away by merely putting it on ground with the slightest gradient. I developed a game in which the snowboard and I gathered speed and then went over a prepared mound where we rose into the air until it fell away, and I presumably fell into the snow.

And the rest is history. This week's recommendation is this. Write your recollections now, because in 70 years' time, your kids won't believe what you were allowed to get up to, before Health & Safety stepped in and stopped it.

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