Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Ant and the Grasshopper

Has anyone heard about the snowstorm in Britain? No? Okay, let me tell you about it.

Actually, I was going to give it a miss, especially as I had already mentioned it in my Anglotopia column, but as this is the biggest atmospheric anomaly to hit the UK in ten years, I thought I’d continue exploring the angle I broached there, namely the fact that Britain was caught, once again, with its pants down.

Now, I have often criticized my adopted country for having the national equivalent of a nervous breakdown at the sight of falling leaves, seizures when there’s a heavy frost and fainting from heatstroke if the temperature hits 85 degrees. But this time, I’m letting them off the hook; yes, the country crumbled into chaos, but there wasn’t much anyone could have done about it.

This wasn’t a case of the ant storing up provisions while the grasshopper idled about selling peerages and engaging in illegal wars, this was a case of a herd of Welsh Mountain sheep accidentally roaming into a tea shop; it’s not something you can foretell or prepare for.

Sure, they knew it was coming a few days ago (the snow, not the sheep), but they didn’t know about it last October. And even if they did, what were they supposed to do? Cover the M25 with a tarp? Wrap the rail lines in thermal blankets? Mandate a “Snow, Newton's Laws of Motion and how they pertain to you” test, and force anyone who failed it to exchange their driving license for a pair of Government issued Wellington boots?

No, the only thing you can do in a situation like this is hunker down and take a snow day, which is what a lot of us did. (What? You went to work? Sucks being you, eh?) Why would anyone believe this nation could cope with something like this when no one even owns a snow shovel and you can’t buy all-season radials even if you knew what they were? Driving in snow is a specialist skill honed over time, not something you have a crack at every decade or so. That’s like being handed the controls of an Airbus-330 and being told, “You did an hour in a simulator ten years ago, so I expect you remember how all this works.”

When a snowstorm hits Georgia, no one berates them for not having the foresight to order 17 million plows from Minnesota, or ship in 6 million cubic tons of road salt from Wisconsin. No, we just watch the film clips on the evening news showing what happens when 8 million people who have never seen snow before take to the highways in a white-out; it’s great entertainment.

And it was great fun watching the weather news here, though there weren’t as many spectacular accidents. The British roads, being meandering, narrow and crowded, don’t favor imbeciles in pick-up trucks who believe 4-wheel drive means “invincible” and, instead, tend to slowly, almost sedately, grind to a complete standstill. So the news was practically devoid of interesting traffic footage, but there was no shortage of local reporters out and about filming a nation of normally staid individuals who seem to go off their nut at the sight of snow.

So Britain is coping as well as can be expected for a semi-tropical country (hey, compared to where I come from it is) in the grips of an extraordinary weather pattern. And extraordinary it is; generally, if it snows at all, it sprinkles about half an inch that melts by noon. This time, it began snowing on Sunday. It is now Thursday and, in many locations, it is still snowing.

For me, unfortunately, the snow has stopped. My town received only a few inches but Surrey, where I am bussing to this week, got over a foot (hence my snow days). We’re all done digging out now and the pristine snow that held so many Britons in thrall on Monday now lies in heaps by the roadsides, turning into gray slush.

It was all very exciting while it lasted, but what we need now is a return to normal weather, with temperatures in the 40s and the snow just a memory, so we can get back to the business at hand, namely slagging off Britain for not being able to cope with frost or falling leaves.

Addendum: 7 February 2009

There is a "tag" going around BlogWorld that goes like this: Go to your photos folders, take the fourth photo from the fourth folder, post it and explain it. Then tag four others to do the same.

I'm a curmudgeon, and I don't do tags or memes but I did have a look and what I found was so appropriate, I had to post it.

This photo was taken exactly 9 years ago - 5 February 2000. It is just a typical Upstate New York morning after yet another snowstorm. It was taken at 10:46 AM, so this must have been a Saturday. At least I didn't have to dig out and drive to work that day.


  1. well when you put it in perspective like that, i sort of understand what all the fuss was about. when i left the uk (27 yrs ago) we were getting snow regularly every winter, but not loads of it. we coped but it was a struggle. of course here in canada we are used to being UP TO OUR EYES IN IT. oh sorry, was i shouting? it's just been a LONG, cold, and did i mention snowy winter and the snow plow just went down the street and plowed me in AGAIN.
    waiting for spring.
    off to kill wiarton willy.

  2. Great post. The Ball & Chain is currently in London, and BLOODY LIVID. He landed on Monday, had to get a taxi into the centre, and has been twiddling his thumbs or doing phone calls (which could've been done from here) while everyone figures out how they're going to get into work.
    But it is pretty.

  3. My mum in Merseyside is most disappointed as she didn't get any. I told her she can have ours. I'm sick of it. Haven't seen the grass for 3 months & I go snow-blind every time I walk the dog.

  4. Don't get me on this subject! Have blogged about it already - having lived in Europe for a number of years I find the way the Brits deal with snow quite exasperating! I bought myself a set of snow tyres in December and feel suitably smug at the moment as the only one who is grinding happily up and down our snowy, icy lane without incident (I'm even beating the 4-wheel drive LandRovers at their own game!). Uh-huh, I took responsibility and I feel like the cat who got the cream (apart from the fact I have NO excuse to take a 'snow day' - and my children are pissed off that I keep getting them to the school bus!).
    PS: Was born in Hurstpierpoint and from 7 grew up in Haywards Heath and went to secondary school in Burgess Hill (or Bugs Hole as we used to call it!). Parents still live in Lindfield. Only got sent up to the frozen north 6 years ago - but am still here for some reason.

  5. Clippy: Thanks! You make me SO GLAD I MOVED ;)

    ExpatMum: This is day five of the Great Snowstorm and I understand London is still a good place to not be in. Sorry about the B&C.

    Pam: I recall the days of walking the dog in -20F and driving to work in a whiteout. Like Clippy, you make me glad I don't live there any more. Thanks!

    HOTH: Welcome! I was in Lindfield just last night; nice pubs. I can't imagine having snow tires (tyres) would help in my situation. The problem has never been the amount of snow; it has always been the 16 million people who don't know how to drive in it that clog up the already over-crowded roads. But then you don't have that problem; no one actually lives north of Birmingham, do they ;)

  6. Anonymous8:13 AM

    I had the same sentiments about the snow. I was thrilled to see it-especially for the kids. But really--a million dollars wouldn't get me to drive on the roads with all those inexperienced snow drivers in cars without snow tires!

    What is wrong with a couple of snow days anyway? Isn't that what makes the snow fun?

  7. Brit's & Snow do not go!

  8. Elizabeth: It was nice getting a snow day; my first in many years. But actually, that just means I worked from home so I didn't get to go out and help the neighbor kids make a snowman.

    Brit Gal: No they don't! But have a look at my Addendum to see what I'm used to.

  9. well said, and well said Clippy Mat.......

    Basically over here in Canada and the States we are equipped for the bad weather, they're not in Britain, as simple as that....

    Growing up I don't remember ever having a white Christmas, it's the norm over here. However my dad remembers there being some nasty snow storms up in Cumbria where we were from and people dying when they were caught in the storms, especially truck drivers, going over Stainmore.....

    Gill in Canada

  10. “Caught with the pants down”… hahaha… Talk about extraordinary weather pattern: Beginning of the week we got more than a foot of snow, it started to rain in the afternoon, and then the whole mush froze over night. I didn’t have to use my car for about a week and yesterday when I wanted to drive away – the tires where stuck in the ice – about 10 cm solid ice all around them. All dressed up and nowhere to go!

  11. Gill: I like living in a place where going outside won't necessarily kill you ;)

    Fida: I thought you were somewhere sunny!

  12. I removed a post from the BlogExpat website. It went on a bit and I'm not keen on people advertising on my sites, but this is a good expat resource so I'll post the link without out hype: