14. Breaking the Ice

As I look towards the ground, I notice white-like smoke coming from my mouth as I blow out air. I hear the snow crunch below my thick rubber-soled fury winter boots as I shift my weight from left to right.

“Dad, it’s cold” I say.

“Not as cold as yesterday.You’ll be fine once you get moving,” he replies.

“But I am moving, see” I point at my continually moving feet.

“Well, keep doing that and you’ll soon get warmed up.”says Dad.

We’re at the top of the hill in Weald Park and I’m looking across at a white blanket of snow stretched out in front of me heading down towards the lake. The sun sparkles and glistens on the icy water on this cold January morning. I hear the rustle of brittle dry leaves, still attached to bare branches of large majestic trees.I turn to see small brown and white coloured patchy deer twitch their protruding arch-shaped ears in response to the light breeze, as if they’re looking for something more sinister to pop out of the hedgerow.  I can smell something fresh hitting my nostrils, it’s not grass at this time of year but it smells familiar.

We’re altogether at the top of the hill – brother, sister, Dad, Mum.Mum was well and could walk then.Of course, our fluffy white dog, Tara, with big brown eyes,was with us too. She is a Samoyed, a breed originating from Siberia, made for cold harsh winters. I wish I could borrow her fur coat right now.Although as Dad promises, I will warm up soon.

We are all wrapped up in colours of the rainbow with woolly scarves, hats, gloves and fleece-lined jackets. Although Dad is wearing the oddest hat, it does have flaps to keep his ears warm. He looks like one of those fighter pilots I’ve seen on TV except with fine baby blonde hair poking out the sides of his cap. He’s tall with a round tummy, a great pillow for mum. He’s jolly, always smiling and very practical. If Dad can’t fix it, it’s not worth fixing.

“Ready girls and boys? Here’s the sledge.” Says Mum.

She carefully places the sledge onto the snow beside me. It’s bright red with a rope at the front for me to hang onto when we whiz down the hill.

“I’m at the front.” I declare,preparing to get into it.

“Hah?” my brother is having none of it. “No, I’m the boy, I should lead.”

“No way, hosay!” I turn to mum seeking a reaction. In that split second, my blonde-haired brother jumps into the front seat of the sledge.  Dismayed, I look at mum with her curly black hair and twinkling blue eyes to see a great big grin stretch across her face.yet again, I’ve lost the battle with my brother.

“Sis!” he shouts, “Come on, get in behind me”signalling to me with a wave of his hand.

My brother, Robo, has bags of confidence.He gets his own way all the time. I don’t know how he does it. He’s cheeky, good looking, not that I would ever tell him that as his head might explode, and he’s Mum’s little angel.

“Mm looks like I have no choice.” I sit down at the back of the sledge and straddle my legs either side so my boots touch the snow.At least I know how to stop.

“Hang on tight Sis, wrap your arms around my waist and don’t let go or you’ll fall out.”

I do as he says locking my fingers together in front of him. And we’re off.  Or are we?  We try to shift our bottoms forwards and backwards using our legs to propel us forward, but nothing happens.

“Dad, we’re not moving” I cry.

Dad places a hand on my back and gives me a little push and together with Robo, our legs propelling us forward, we start to move.

“Yes! Thanks Dad” I shout.

We’re on our way, slowly shifting down the hill.

“Lift your feet off the snow Sis, we’ll go faster that way” Robo instructs me.

I lift my feet and wow do we start to move. We’re getting faster and faster heading straight down over the pristine sparkling white snow towards the valley below. This is fun. The wind is in my face, but I don’t mind. I love it. It’s exciting, my heart is pumping faster, I’m laughing and screaming.  It feels so free and exhilarating. I can hear shouting behind me, Mum and Dad, I guess, but I’m having too much fun to worry about that.

Then I see it. Too late, bumph. Come to an abrupt halt we land on the ice covering the stream at the bottom of the hill. It takes a few seconds for us to realise what’s happened.

“Don’t move or I’ll sink when the ice breaks and end up wet.” I tell Robo. What does he do?  He moves and gets up. I feel the ice crack beneath me as I sink into the shallow water. We look at one another and laugh. My cheeks are burning with exhilaration. I heave myself out of the water and my bottom is totally soaked.

This childhood memory is so clear. Sadly, Mum’s life was cut short, perhaps it explains why I love adventure, risk and the outdoors so much.A free spirit,I live my life without restriction and I never realised why I live the way I do, until this moment.

Story writer/provider
Nicky Johnson

Flag Designer
Nicky Johnson

Painter(s)
Nicky Johnson

Landscape Character Area
Brentwood Wooded Hills

Thames Chase Trust, Pike Lane
Upminster, Essex RM14 3NS

01708 642970
landofthefanns@thameschase.org.uk

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