Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Shock News Just In: Winter is Cold

It's not worth us investing in snow ploughs and larger armies of gritters, because weather such as we saw yesterday is so rare in the UK that it is just not worth it.

Or so we are told. I thought that was a rather odd statement, as I distinctly remember there being two snowfalls so far this winter, already. I have a very clear memory of the first, as I spent three hours sitting on the A40 crawling past the site of a large multiple lorry crash on the adjacent M40. If I recall correctly, two lorries containing consignments of lard collided and spread their loads over both carriageways. Lard all over six lanes - it would be funny had one of the drivers not died. I also remember the second snowfall, as the grit which I spread over my drive had only just washed away by last weekend.

Nor is this year especially unusual. I remember a huge snowfall in January 2004. We had just moved house, and had acquired a driveway with (a) a bend and (b) a steepish slope, so it was a slight surprise to discover that my car was very firmly stuck, a few tantalising yards from the road. Subsequent years have been just as bad - I know because it has taken several such "learning opportunities" for me to work out how to negotiate a sharp bend on a hill with no momentum and no grip. Yesterday morning was, I have to boast, a doddle given all the practice that I have accrued.

So why does the country always stop when it snows?

The excuse used to be that the snow came out of the blue and no-one was expecting it. This was obviously not the case this week - we had a good few days warning (yet several councils are now, unbelievably, warning that they may run out of grit). So the excuse for this year is the bold one - that it is better to let the country fall to pieces once every 20 years than pay for the level of preparations that would be needed to prevent it. But this is evident rubbish, as well; the country has been grinding to a halt with depressing regularity for years. The only difference this year is that more of the country is affected.

We used to manage; Mrs P and I grew up in the 70s, in very different areas of the UK, and both of us remember snow like yesterday's being a routine winter occurrence.

I see three possible cures;
  • mandatory winter tyres for all vehicles. Summer tyres are the standard fit in the UK; Porsche (for example) only promises adequate performance for these down to 7 degrees. That's 7 degrees above freezing. Yes, Porsche place greater demands on the tyres they fit, but so do we all if we have a panic-stricken moment behind the wheel.
  • a good shake-up of local authority gritting departments. Why do gritters go out at 5-6pm? All they achieve is a good machine-gunning of everyone's paintwork, after which the traffic pushes the grit to one side. If they went out two hours later, the grit would stand a chance of staying in place, although (I suspect) the workers would grumble (my heart bleeds).
  • on-the spot fines for any broadcaster who utters the phrase "only travel if absolutely essential". A £100k fine for every utterance should do it; half to be paid by the broadcaster and half by the journalist concerned. As far as I concerned, if I don't go to work I don't get paid, so that makes my journey essential. But other seem to take a different view, and the impression given is that we take our lives in our hands by going out. Frankly, this is utter rubbish; extra care is needed, yes, but it's only snow....
I am, of course, posting this after a day spent working at home. My only defence to the rather obvious charge of hypocrisy is to point at the pile of work that I brought back from the office yesterday evening...


  1. Great fun on Newsnight last night. Paxo asking that bloke what 'essential travel' meant and the man unable to answer as he didn't know. "But you keep saying it on every weather and news broadcast.. does it mean Ambulances? Shop workers, civil servants?"

    "Well, its not really my area..."

    This morning they had a man from the AA on breakfast telly showing how to take snow off your car.
    My remedy of throwing cold water onto the windscreen seems to have been wrong all along. Seems you need a scraper.. amazing. Thank you public service broadcaster.
    Please please any advice on how not to burn yourself getting into a bath.

  2. Patently you are a hard-nosed evil capitalist. Keep it up!

  3. ... and proud of it, BE... :-D

    BQ - there is no meaning in the phrase, it is merely a talismanic collection of words which when uttered absolves the speaker of any responsibility for independent thought.

    As regards the AA man, there is a theory which states that if you are unable to work out how to clear snow from a windscreen, you should give serious thought as to whether you should entrust yourself with the task of controlling at speed the tonne of metal to which the windscreen is attached. Of course, the theory is flawed; those to whom it applies are ex hypothesi unable to give serious thought to anything much...