Val's February Blog

BRRRRRRRRRR ... it’s February and -3 outside, but the winter sun is doing its best to keep our Vitamin D at decent levels, so be brave and have a quick walk. Afterwards you can grab a cup of tea before watching a most delightful film called Skating and Snow (1936-1953).  

Made by a Sheffield-based amateur filmmaker, K.G. Tofield, Skating and Snow is a collection of four films which capture the beautiful winter scenery and the seemingly exceptional talented skaters in the Sheffield area.  

The film opens with scenes of men and women, people of all ages, enjoying the freeze, skating on the ice at the Ford Dam to the delight of onlookers.  First two men, and then a man and a woman skate a simple yet synchronised routine.  Elsewhere on the ice, four men skate gracefully together in a circle, coming into the centre and then skating back out. Later we see people watching as a man and woman effortlessly skate the waltz but there are also close up shots of two men naturally waltzing together as well. As the low winter sun shines through the clouds life has never looked so exquisitely calm.

Staying with the freezing February theme, although it snowed in York this week, it was only a flutter and didn’t even settle.  Nothing at all like the experience of  February 1941 in Newcastle, when the city was to experience a record snowstorm. Newcastle on Tyne and Under Snow (1941) is an amateur film showing various suburban and city centre streets under deep snow with people and vehicles bravely attempting to negotiate them. 

As the title suggests this extraordinary storm began with rain on Monday 17th Feb, ’41. It turned to sleet the next day, then for two days it snowed and snowed. People are seen shovelling snow high onto the pavement with footpaths literally carved out from the piled up snow from the road. But transport seems to get through, buses and trams are running, cars are finding the gulleys and lorries are delivering as the community are on the street clearing snow.  Looks pretty, but I’m sure it was the last thing a country at war needed.

February has the amethyst as its representative birthstone, which is supposed to signify, amongst other things, humanity. So what better than to remember the 1918 Representation of the People Act which granted votes to all men aged 21 and over, and votes for some women aged 30 and over who met the property qualifications or held a university degree.

Amazingly, around 8.5 million women qualified, comprising 40% of the female population. Good news in part, although it was primarily middle-class women who initially benefited and not the working-class women, many of whom had worked during the devastating World War 1. Women did not gain equality, that is still on-going, and of course the vote for all women was not granted until 1928. However, it was a watershed moment for a feminist voice fighting for humanity.

So, in this year of feminist celebrations I would like to start with showing two films of women making a real contribution into what was thought as mainly a man’s world. Hunshelf Gun Site (1940) was shot during the Second World War. The village of Chapeltown, near Sheffield, was home to an anti-aircraft gun site, and this is a film made by Chapeltown dentist Willie Thorne that documents some of the work of the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service at the site, and includes exercises and training with the anti-aircraft gun.  Women are sentries, maintain the military vehicles, operate  the guns, play baseball, possibly cook in the mess hall and pose for the camera in uniform.

The second film is Amy Johnson at Hedon (1930).  Amy Johnston was a pioneering aviator who was the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia. In 1940, she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, whose job was to transport Royal Air Force aircraft around the country.  On 5 January 1941, while flying from Prestwick to Oxford, Johnson went off course in adverse weather conditions. Reportedly out of fuel, she bailed out as her aircraft crashed into the Thames Estuary near Herne Bay, but her body was never recovered.  The film though shows a happier time and opens with a shot of the crowd and officials gathered awaiting the arrival of her plane.  As she sits on the plane waving to the crowds, she is greeted by the Mayor.  After speeches and flowers, the film cuts away to scenes of crowds who line the street to catch a glimpse of this brave heroine.

Lastly, an absolute timely favourite of mine is Howway the Lasses (1977) produced by prolific North Eastern animator Sheila Graber. The film is a clever humorous journey through history, following a cavewoman's attempt to obtain freedom and begins with an image of a cavewoman fastened to the kitchen sink by a chain and padlock.  A road sign then appears behind her, pointing the way to “Freedom 1978” – which is then comically appended with "Years Ahead".  Her kitchen sink changes over the years, often filled with babies and children until she is finally released.  But no, her battle is not won and our more modern cavewoman finds she is now drowning in a sea of apathy. As the sun rises on the horizon, we eventually see the film’s heroine march with a signs, “Freedom To Work” and “Freedom To Be Yourself”.  Hmmmm, this was made over 40 years ago.

Still, let us all enjoy this year’s celebration of a democratic milestone and better still, if you go down to the bottom of your garden or walk in a park you might see snowdrops and primroses. Yes, spring is on its way.