Call this a harsh winter? Now, when I were a lad...

As Britain struggles to cope with the big freeze, David Randall says this is nothing

As a brief day of comparative warmth yesterday brought some comfort, and thaw, to snowed-in, frozen-up Britain, so the Government moved to remedy incipient panic-buying. Drivers of large lorries will be able to work longer hours and cut rest periods in order to speed up deliveries. They might now be able to get through before the cold spell resumes operations tonight. It is not expected to ease up for some time.

What is not yet on the menu is snow on the scale of last week, which saw one of the most widespread coverings in recent decades. Yet for all the ammunition it provided the nation's weather whingers, it paled compared with previous winter epics. In 1927, for instance, a ferocious Boxing Day blizzard hit the south, there were 20ft drifts in the Chilterns and villages near Croydon were cut off for a week. And 11 years later came perhaps the century's most extensive white Christmas, with at least 1ft of snow falling almost everywhere.

Two years after the war ended, in 1947, was the snowiest winter for generations. It started in late January, did not relent until mid-March, there were drifts up to 15ft in the lowlands, and two million sheep died. Another long-lasting and harsh winter was 1962-63. Snow arrived even in the south on Boxing Day, did not depart until March, drifts of 25ft were recorded on Dartmoor, and at Eastbourne the sea was frozen up to 100ft offshore. Some isolated farms were cut off for two months. Now that's what you call a winter.