Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Weather Watch

Monday 2nd February 2009

Don’t you just love it? Bit of snow and the whole country grinds to a halt. Our co-inhabitors of Northern Europe exist happily enough throughout winter – snow, ice and all – and still manage to go to school, go to work and generally live their lives. But oh no, not here. Despite the fact that we have hoards of people losing jobs left, right and centre we don’t seem to have the foresight, the insight or indeed enough collective brain cells to plan ahead and get teams in place to deal properly with the weather conditions that may, just may, be expected in a country on the last stop before, ah let me see now, just check the map, yes, as I thought, ICELAND. Isn’t the name just a teensy bit of a giveaway? Now, children, if you’d care to get your atlases or globes out, you will also see that GREENLAND is the next stop after ICEland. Don’t be beguiled by the name, GREENLAND. No, just look at the picture on the page and you will see that GREENland is actually all WHITE. And WHITE, on atlases, means SNOW and ICE and VERY COLD. And, of course, beyond Greenland, we have the ARCTIC. Polar bears, glaciers and stuff. Cold. OK, maybe not as cold as it used to be, as another iceberg goes crashing into the sea, gone forever, but pretty bloody COLD nonetheless. Brrr. My point, I think, is that, given its position on the planet, we should not not expect to have cold, snowy, icy weather in good old Great Britain in the winter.

But it seems this is a fact all too often overlooked by the great powers that run our country so, erm, extraordinarily efficiently (gosh, what’s that pink muscly thing lodged firmly in the side of my mouth?). Every news programme so far today has been almost entirely taken up by pictures of snowy landscapes strewn with broken down or stuck vehicles accompanied by earnest interviews with a bloke from the RAC warning people that ‘though some highways may be moving freely, the side roads can be TREACHEROUS’. You don’t say?

I think we have a two-pronged problem here. 1) The authorities have absolutely zilch idea how to prepare for snow; 2) The good people of Britain have absolutely zilch idea of how to behave in snow if the authorities haven’t prepared the highways and byways properly (which they invariably haven’t). I watched in disbelief as saloon cars in London with clearly no four-wheel drive or snow tyre capacity attempted to pull out of their overnight parking space. Ooh, funny that, they slipped. Backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, and got precisely nowhere. What do these people THINK is going to happen? Now, while I have to applaud, at least, their desire to get to work and try and keep up some semblance of normality, it’s really not much good to anyone if all they do is cause another accident and leave another road blocked and stretch the emergency services even more. At which point I will neatly insert a link to the ever-helpful BBC and their completely useless video 'how to drive in snow'. Clearly they think we are a nation of thickies. Clearly we are.

I can, of course, sit here smugly crowing at the stupidity of all and sundry because I am the proud owner of a set of SNOW TYRES. This all came about because on the first dollop of snow this winter, in early December, N sagely took my 4-WHEEL DRIVE Audi out (rather than his ineffectual oh-so-fast Volvo whose wheel profile is so low it looks like you’re driving on the hubcaps) to take E and G to the school bus at some unearthly hour of the morning. What he didn’t know was that the car had just failed its MOT for having partially bald tyres (on the inside, in my defence – hence I had not noticed. God, I’m not THAT much of a girl!). So he swings out of the drive to start down our very steep bit of hill and finds himself sledging into the nearest dry stone wall, girls screaming in the back of the car. Good start to the day. Having done the damage he thought he may as well go on and get them to the blessed bus. This was just about achieved despite the odd further dancing on ice moves along the way. But wisdom got the better of him on the way back and he abandoned the car at the pub and spent a long time trying to walk back up the hill in his leather soled work shoes. Minus an overcoat. (He’d left this on a train some days earlier and it had ended up in Plymouth. Handy. He’d tried calling the train operator and when he finally got through to the relevant office, several attempts later, they were pleased to tell him that lost property don’t have a phone. You have to leave a message which they write down neatly on a piece of paper and strap to a pigeon’s leg. Lost Property then have a look around for your lost item and write a note and strap it on to another pigeon’s leg and send it back to the other office. The other office then call you back. All very efficient. The wonders of modern technology. They’ll be inventing fax machines next.) He was gone for hours. To be fair, I had started to worry and rang him just as he was slipping and sliding his way up the last few yards, lips blue and teeth a-chattering.

So, just an hour later, finding myself in the salubrious surroundings of Selecta Tyres, Buxton, after a hairy drive on my bald tyres along the A6, I felt the need to discuss the possibilities. It may have been the flashing Merry Christmas sign above the hot drink dispenser which altered my state of mind, but after a bit of head scratching and sucking in of teeth, I decided to hang the expense and go for the snow tyre option (which means buying ANOTHER whole set of tyres in the Spring). But you know, as they say down at L’Oreal, it's worth it. I have been trundling my way up and down the hill ever since, come rain, snow, ice or shine without such as a backward glancing blow to any stone walls and with the children arriving neatly for the school bus without even the slightest brown stain in their pants. This, I feel, is a bonus and adds considerably to my quality of life, let alone theirs.

Talking of quality of life, it seems there was someone at Hazel Grove this morning who felt they had none left. I took N down to the train station mid-morning, him having returned relatively unscathed, albeit de-scaled, from the clutches of the dentist. I followed him up the steps to see whether he’d missed the train or not and he was informed that all trains were currently terminating at Hazel Grove because of a fatality. My husband, standing there like a character out of Little Britain, all ship-shape in his suit and overcoat (now returned from its holiday in Plymouth – presumably by carrier pigeon), clutching his briefcase, visibly bristled and spat out ‘I don’t see why that always has to bring the whole network to a standstill!’ I could have died (no pun intended). Let’s not think about the poor person being scraped off the line then, and the traumatised family currently being informed, and all those signing up for counselling who witnessed the ghastly event. And who’s to say it was suicide, anyway? It could just have been some poor person on an icy, snowy platform running to catch the train in unsuitable shoes. Just like my husband in fact…

Having the right grip is, indeed, a very important issue in current conditions. And I certainly think we’ve lost our grip in this country. Having just seen the evening news, I notice that other members of the public are in despair at the ineptitude of our northern isle when it comes to bad weather. As planes skidded off runways and not a bus or train was to be seen in London, one man dismissed the place as ‘Third World’, while others muttered the word ‘pathetic’. The copious news correspondents reporting the drama (at vast expense to the tax payer) were revelling in the horror and chaos around them. Then finally they decided to put the other side of the story. The one I’ve been trying, feebly, to get across: how come the rest of Europe copes? Well, thanks to a nice little piece from ‘Our Man in Moscow’ which advocates de-icer (doh!) and a shovel and scraper in yer boot (is that for de-icing or disposing of the dead body?) – all such precautions I, the stupid housewife, thought fit to take (I even chucked in a bag of salt, muttering ‘be prepared’ and ‘dib dib, dob dob’ as I did so) when I ventured out into the snowy wastelands. We were also advised to take a warm coat (tell that to my husband) and to make sure we had plenty of petrol and have the mobile phone charged up. Thank you BBC, what would we do without you. There then followed a short little piece on the economics of investing in the sort of snow clearing equipment and infrastructure that our continental friends enjoy. It seems it does not make economic sense and it’s better to lose £1 billion per day in lost workforce instead. We can afford it, let’s face it! In fact, can anyone tell me quite how much of the taxpayer’s money this country has poured down the drain in the last few years? A few billion on a bit of fancy 21st century snow clearing equipment (or even the odd gritter or two) really wouldn’t make much difference, now, would it? And think how much face we’d save in the process? And the job creation schemes – my God, the possibilities are endless!

Anyhow, personally, I feel the best investment, particularly if you live in the frozen north (despite the south currently beating us at our own game) is SNOW TYRES. Snow tyres for the snow. What a novel idea. Hurry down to your nearest Woolies while stocks last! Oh sorry. Don’t have that anymore either. Well, only online, it now seems. But that’s a whole other story…

In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy this nice little round-up of 'The Day the Snows Came (and caused complete chaos and billions of pounds in lost revenue for the coffers of this increasingly absurd little island perched precariously in a mighty ocean on the northern continental edge of Europe)'.


elizabethm said...

Well I think having snow tyres is just showing off! How well prepared can you be? sorry, just jealous!
We managed to get home in the 4x4 and were rather deliciously snowed in yesterday. Intersting to see how much more snow we get tonight, especially as husband has arranged to stay overnight in Manchester so will perhaps not be such fun if i am snowed in here by myself. Good job I am a resourceful type.

Working mum said...

I watched the snow on the Pennines from the warmth and safety of our office. It did look beautiful, as long as I didn't have to drive in it (not possessing a set of snow tyres!)

cheshire wife said...

So far we have not had much snow here so no need for snow tyres.Like you, I am sure that better all round planning would keep the country running more smoothly.

Grumpy Old Ken said...

tremendous. I really would have brought the camper to castleton last and this weekend, honest but can't manage it. I envy you this week.


Hello EM, WM, CW and GOK - thanks for popping by and commenting. I have to say that I can hardly listen to the news at the moment, so frustrated am I at it all. I have never known so much fuss over a bit of snow. My God, this area used to be snowed in for weeks (hence the in-breeding in Buxton! Lordy hush my mouth). Snow used to be above the hedgerows on a regular basis. Drifting was the biggest problem. Even when we moved here 6 years ago we were warned to lay in the bags of potatoes and carrots for the winter! People have become such wimps these days and they cannot take responsibility for themselves. They are always looking for someone else to blame. We can always help ourselves rather better than people often seem to believe. Hence the snow tyres...!!! I'm all right Jack.

Elizabethd said...

And now England is running out of grit, I believe??!!!
We of course in Brittany, have nothing but rain and more rain. I thought Cornwall was damp but Brittany puts it in the shade. Would quite like a bit of snow for a change.

Milla said...

delicious snow here too, Heron, we just love it as not infirm and don't have to be anywhere, although it took T12 2 hours NOT to get to school this morning, so we did try! partic loved that wheel in snow - just like an advert!

Arcadian Advocate said...

A good read with many good points.

I used to live in the north where this sort of weather was common, every winter, and we got used to it and expected it. Drifts as high as the walls and hedges in the 70's 80's and even the 90's was normal. However it appears that for a good few years the weather has never been as bad. Normal winter practice was shovels and blankets and supplies in the car, 4WD because of our then northern remote location etc etc.

I have never lost the habit of siege housekeeping [I was brought up to do this with a mother who had lived through the war] and we easily manage with lots of meat in the freezer and our store of home grown carrots and potatoes [usually we use this because I am simply too busy to shop], but in weather like this we manage fine too.

In the farming community everyone is reared on the tales of the terrible 1947, 1963 winters etc etc and the threat of this happening again never quite leaves you especially when you keep livestock.

Self reliance has always been a strong point in those who live and work in the countryside and surely we need to foster this spirit again with everybody else and also remind those in control to stockpile more salt.

Also I am sure the news editors have wanted a change of subject from the credit cruch, and in past severe winters we did not have all this technology and instead of wondering what was happening across the country everyone just got on and coped with their own battle with the elements.

For the 4th time this week we are experiencing heavy snow. It seems as if every day our tracks from the day before vanish under another white blanket.
The work goes on, both outside and in, a few appointments are cancelled but everyone is safe and well and spring will come in due course. And owing to the wonders of technology we can read and write and share our experiences.

Snowfalls like this in the countryside used to be a truly isolating business as in those days the phonelines and electricity were usually all overhead cables which snapped and broke with the merest touch of the snow on the cables and high winds.

It is all much easier than it used to be, we and most other farmers have tractors to shift the drifts and yet you are right such a fuss has been made, over what is in fact a normal British winter, following a series of very mild ones so everyone has forgotten.

Catharine Withenay said...

Hi! Thanks for coming by my blog. Love the idea of snow tyres but, not having a car at present, perhaps just snow boots would do. Luckily the NE has managed to avoid most of the snow, but just why does our country grind to a halt when snow falls? Drives me nuts!!

Suffolkmum said...

Lovely to catch up with you again, thanks for stopping by. We do seem to have so much in common! This post made me laugh - it does seem as the media collectively think we all live in a mediterranean climate and that snow in winter is either a personal insult to Britain or a strange anomaly in the northern hemisphere.

Pondside said...

That was such a good read!
You in England have much in common with all of us here on Vancouver Island who forget that we live in Canada - 'the true North, strong and free' where it snows somewhere in every one of the twelve months. Every winter when we get a 'freak' snowfall we panic. Really, we should just give ourselves a snow day and stay home by the fire.
Re the snow tires - you are a good Girl Guide. We always had snow tires when we lived in snowier parts of the country. The biggest problem is that one always has to find room to store four big tires.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Enjoyed the read and completely agree with you. It is all farcical nonsense.

A friend of the family used to work on the Today Radio programme many moons ago and he was forecasting the 24 hour news bulletins to come (in the 70s).

I blame it all on the rolling news. They've got to fill the air space with something (usually moronic).

I have a lot of Spanish friends and I always find it refreshing when they always tell me that they do not watch or listen to the news. They get on with their lives as normal.

If only this country could get back to that!

cheshire wife said...

Just dropped by to let you know that there is an award waiting for you at my place.

Rachel Cotterill said...

We had snow tyres on a hire car when we were skiing (bit of snow there!) but couldn't work out what makes them work. Must look that up!


ElizabethD - wish I could send the snow your way for you. Don't envy you the endless rain (but envy other bits!)

Milla - 2 hours to get nowhere. That's part of the fun! At least you tried...

AA - thanks for visiting and for leaving such a lovely long and interesting comment. Will pop by at yours!

CW - thanks for popping by and when are we going to get you over here in the NW from the NE?!

SM - lovely to have you back, and yes, it beggars belief, doesn't it?!

PS - good to hear that you Canadians can be as pathetic as us Brits!!

HT - hear hear with your comments on the rolling news. It makes the whole thing a soap opera.

CW - THANK YOU! THANK YOU! (and I'll try not to burst in to tears and blubber how my family helped me every step of the way)

RC - hello you! Thanks for popping by. Think I can help you with an explanation re how snow tyres work - found it on the internet. Will try and dig out the link!

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