A Winter’s Tale

Merry and tragical, tedious and brief!
That is, hot ice and wonderous strange snow

I’ve heard it said that you know you’re a proper grown-up when, at the first flurry of snow your reaction is not ‘Yay, snow, hooray’ but ‘oh damn, how am I going to get to work tomorrow’ or ‘why do other countries manage to cope with the snow properly’.

I’ve just heard on the radio that not only are thousands of schools, offices and even some builders merchant branches closed, but that filming has had to be suspended on Coronation Street, so bad is the snow in Manchester. Now that’s bad!

Then there are the reports that councils round the country are running out of salt and grit – I know of several merchant branches which have run out and aren’t expecting any more supplies until next week. Assuming delivery lorries can get through. And the rather scarier one about the country only having eight days of gas supply left (which is why I’m typing in gloves).

So all in all it sounds as though the country is grinding to a halt and why oh why do other countries cope when we don’t? Well, mainly because they get more snow, more regularly than we do. Long term weather forecasts are notoriously hard to get right (barbeque summer anyone?) so councils/train companies/highways agencies/rock salt and grit suppliers can’t predict how much they are going to need and when and for how long.

I read a really interesting article on the guy who runs the council snow operation for the Highlands in Scotland recently. http://bit.ly/68FWiC if you are interested. Richard Guest has 600 people, a fleet of gritting lorries and 60,000 tonnes of salt piled high in depots around the region. Why? Because they get a lot of snow in the Highlands.

Guest points out in the article that people in his region expect councils to spend money on that sort of equipment because they know that it will definitely be needed. Councils in the rest of the country probably have to make a choice between funding another three home carers or sorting out some potholes or buying another gritting lorry. I suspect they couldn’t win either way.

In 2009 in my little corner of the south east (where we always make the most fuss about it) we had about eight proper, can’t-get-to-work-easily snow days in two lumps, February and December. If it came to the choice between another gritter and some home care for the elderly, I know where I’d want to council spend to go.

Now I really don’t want to sound unsympathetic to people who’ve been stuck in their cars all night or who really have to get out to work, I just think sometimes we need to stop mithering and get on with it.

Incidentally, other countries do still have snow problems, we just don’t hear about them as much! And in America, any school days lost to the snow are added on at the end of the term. That’s an idea I like!

Right, I’m off to build a snowman.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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