TRUE GRIT – OR, WHY WRITERS ARE A MINE OF USELESS INFORMATION…


I have become, if not exactly an expert, at least more familiar with the ins and outs of gritting lorries than I ever wanted or expected to be. Why, you might well ask… well, even if you didn’t, I’m going to tell you.

This afternoon I’ve been searching, online, for images of gritting lorries, or ‘gritters’ as they’re often called. Not just any old gritter – that would be too easy. I’m looking for images of gritters, circa 1990… of the type that would have been working the streets of London in the latter part of 1990, to be more precise. It’s all in the interests of accuracy, for my book trailer, which I’m crowdfunding at the moment…

Did you know, for instance, that the winter of 2009-2010 was one of the coldest on record in the UK? I probably knew it at the time, but like most of us doubtless have, I’d forgotten. I do remember that it snowed quite heavily in December 1993, when my son was three months old: I left him and my husband in the snug warmth of our flat to drive a few miles to my cleaning job… and had to turn back after less than a mile. The local authority hadn’t gritted the roads; the weather must have caught them out.

So, searching for images of these gritters is proving frustrating, because of course, the only ones I have found are mostly of modern versions. Surely there’s a History of Gritters website?  People study trains, don’t they – why not gritters?   There’s even a ‘Pylon Monthly’** for goodness’ sake (Thank you, ‘Mock The Week‘ – saw that a few years back and it has stuck with me!)… But so far, no joy.

**Hands up if you looked at that and thought you saw, for a fleeting second, ‘Monty Python’. Yeah, me too. 

Researching something like this really forces you to think laterally.  Or outside the box. Or something. But all that  Googling ‘gritting lorries’, ‘history of gritting’, ‘gritters circa 1990’ brought up was a list of companies providing gritting services, and lots of interesting (or not, depending on whether you’re into gritters at all) news pieces about winter weather in the UK over the past couple of decades… but nothing about gritters in 1990. There’s even a brilliant website dedicated to the history of British weather, with emphasis on snow (when it did, when it didn’t) through the ages, invaluable if you’re writing a story set in the past and want to get the weather spot on (whether -ha ha- anyone would notice or care if you didn’t is neither here nor there to an author – the fact is that you will know it’s correct, should anyone ever take you up on it).  But nothing about what gritting lorries might have looked like in 1990.

I’m thinking of putting out an appeal on the Twitterverse – because someone, somewhere, must know someone who worked on the gritters in the ’90’s – maybe they’ve got a grainy photo of their dad/uncle/cousin standing proudly in front of one… they can’t all be dead, can they?  I hope not. (We’ll leave aside for a moment the idea that motorists, whilst quick to curse their Local Authority for not gritting during a cold snap, are often just as keen to whinge about the salt that bounces off the paintwork of their new Mercedes as a gritter trundles past in the opposite lane… there’s no pleasing some people.)

If I can’t find the image I’m looking for, I’m sure that my brilliant illustrator Catherine Archer-Wills will work around it – perhaps we don’t need to show much of the gritting lorry at all, maybe a headlight, the corner of a wheel… there are ways around it, of course there are.

But I’d still quite like to find that elusive image. So if you, or someone you know, ever worked for the local authority, and if you’ve got a photo of a UK gritting lorry circa 1990… I’ll send a you, free, an autographed copy of ‘The Methuselah Paradox‘ when it’s eventually published; and my undying gratitude.

And that is why writers are a mine of useless information…

EJ Jackson, November 2015

Post Script:

Success!  And here it is:

Forest Hill, London 1991, by David Wright - shared under the Creative Commons License
Forest Hill, London 1991, by David Wright – 
shared under the Creative Commons License

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