Frostquake by Juliet Nicolson

On 3 December 1962, a noxious smog descended on London, as falling temperatures saw more and more coal fires lit. The four-day fog spread to other cities and twenty-two counties in total. Whilst deaths were far fewer than the famous smog of 1952, sulphur dioxide levels were in fact higher. Then, on Boxing Day, the snow started to fall and the freeze lasted for 10 weeks. From skating on Pen Ponds and the sea frozen a mile out from the coast at Hearn Bay, from burst pipes and washing freezing indoors before it was dry, to isolated rural communities and London milkmen delivering on skis, conditions were horrendous.

Juliet Nicolson uses this backdrop for her social history of the time, Frostquake, covering politics, world affairs, broadcasting, pop music, literature, fashion and much more. Nicolson, who is the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West, also intersperses personal anecdotes from her 8-year-old self and accounts of famous people she met. This is a nostalgia trip for those of us who were little children at the time or who have heard of it from friends or relatives. It is amazing to be reminded how much has changed in just 60 years. Whilst very little of it was actually caused by the freeze, it was clearly a time of a significant loosening of attitudes to sex, class and politics.

We all enjoyed the writing style, which is very readable despite considerable amounts of information and would highly recommend this book.

Our reading list for the rest of the year is as follows:

Dec      The Dalai Lama’s Cat                          David Michie