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)'.