Snow in Britain: what our response really says about us

cleareI soon left a website that called those who comment about our inability to cope with snow ‘pub bores’, and editors who publish on the subject ‘lazy’. It wasn’t alone in claiming that we can’t afford nor warrant the preparations necessary, that other countries struggle with snow too, and the ones which we perceive as doing better with worse weather are not to be compared with us. I think these articles are designed to make a point, and are themselves lazy and boring.

Why do we accept these cancellations and inefficiencies – especially those that put us in jeopardy?

Fed up of the scaremongering and negativity, I want to present a different view, one which thinks about deeper aspects than how many inches of cold white stuff has fallen.

British winter is a time of disappointment and uncertainty because we can’t cope with the weather that is actually a normal part of our annual pattern. Got a birthday, a wedding, a special holiday or event about now? Do you dread it not happening, or being spoiled? I saw a major venue shut last night for “heath and safety” – and it hadn’t even snowed properly yet, nor would it til some hours after they closed. One long distance train network is running a “good service” while another isn’t running any local trains – is any alternative being provided?! When we had early snow in 2010, one church cancelled its evensongs for 4 months. The snow was gone within days.

So this makes a climate of fear: beyond how we feel about snow itself, that not only  equates snow with hazards, but that third parties will make a decision that forces you to relinquish your plans. You may be prepared to go to work, honour your social agreement, holiday, or event: but someone else will cancel the transport, close the venue, start refunding, or pull out.

Disappointment is hard to quantify.

I note the following though: we just had Valentine’s day. If this weather had arrived two weeks earlier, would the Romance industry have cancelled at this lucrative time? I suspect the restaurants would have stayed open as usual, and expected their manipulative bookings to be honoured.

If there was a football match, or another big sporting event, we’d carry on.

“Carry on” is of course a famous slogan that we’ve rediscovered and over use, from the last world war. So how can we continue functioning as a country when we’re being subjected to air raids, and not when actually relatively moderate snow falls?

The answer may be that continuing whilst being attacked during the last war shows our enemies our resilience; it says your bombarding campaign to destroy our spirit and our infrastructure hasn’t and won’t work. (Meanwhile, we’ll carry on doing the same to you). Yet the same people are huddling at home in cold weather, showing that our calm and resilience is selective.

Those who cite money as a reason why winter can’t be managed properly are also being selective. These closures cost. If you’re a business, not having enough customers or staff affects you. When a city can’t really function because its services are taking the day off, it matters. If students are getting behind because of the amount of tuition lost to snow days; if parents have to take unpaid leave to look after their children when schools send them home; if communications like the postal service break down…

Even from the point of view of those basing their arguments on the economy, the counter argument is stronger. Make things run, and we all get paid, get our needs met.

But it isn’t just down to money. This is so often where we go wrong.

Snow can be not only a time of poverty, but loneliness. These months can seem very dull and isolating, as well as being time of fear about affording our bills when we’re made to be at home more. Some fear not being able to get supplies as well as companionship.

But there’s no need for that.

We seem very disorganised. For instance: grit bins are not evenly distributed. There should be more of them and smaller, in rural areas as well as urban. Often no-one’s making the effort to go round their neighbourhood with grit, all assuming someone else will. The councils claim  that their ever decreasing budgets preclude doing so, or taking other measures.

But how much is safety worth? It’s not just trunk roads cleared, or trains to the big cities we need. People are afraid to get out of those cars and trains onto icy pavements, even a short distance. It’s why the assumption that those who live in walking distance of the workplace are expected to go in is cruel.

In some places in Britain, different councils are responsible for pavements and roads. So one will come round with gritting lorries,  but the pavements are too icy to walk on. And then pedestrians use the road…

We shouldn’t ground our older folk, or make people of any age feel that they’re risking a strain by venturing out. Some idiots have even encouraged the notion that you’re liable for litigation if you do the neighbourly thing and clear the snow, because if you don’t do it right, and someone gets hurt…. I’d countersue and make that litigant ashamed. We need to look out for each other. We shouldn’t need official organisation or to just do what is right.

But councils do have a responsibility, and they, like central government, are selective as to what they spend on. They find large amounts for unneeded and controversial big roads; high top end salaries; enforcement and military.

And as for other countries: yes they do laugh at our feebleness. I know because I know people in them. They do carry on, with greater snow fall.

Snow scaring is an example of selective values, of fear mongering, of control, of lack of coordination and real priority. Safe and happy citizens are far more important.

I had a lovely walk today. It was meant to be the coldest for some years, but I wasn’t feeling it. The deep snow made walking easier. The world was peaceful, slower, and rather nice to look at. I thanked supermarket staff for making it in to help us ensure we could have our supplies and keep going. And yes, I put out some grit down where I could see ice forming. And I’ll be going out as usual, seeing the best in all aspects of the natural cycle of our year.

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