Saturday 4 December 2010

Snow - The yearly national emergency arrives early

Unless one has been living under the stairs for the last couple of weeks, I am fairly sure everyone has realised that it has snowed across most of the UK.

E17 has escaped pretty much most of the snow, and any that did fall has now gone. For about half a day drivers were more cautious before the traffic had cleared most of the major roads and normal "service" could be resumed. The footpaths took longer to clear - today was the first day that people could walk easily on the pavements on sideroads.

I know much of the UK has had it much worse. Even in outer London there seems to have been areas with significant snowfall.

The BBC reports snow stories with a hysteria that they seem to reserve especially for inclement weather.  They send reporters to various parts of the country to report on villages and towns "cut-off" from civilisation, presumably being left to scavenge what they can from the local spa-shop. Is it only me that wonders how the reporters got to these stranded locations - along with the cameraman and all the associated equipment? On 24 hour news, you can view any number of reporters in various locations describing snow. I have to marvel at the ability of these people to spend so much time describing  frozen water.

Then, of course, there are the inevitable interviews with hapless council officials who have to explain why investing in the type of equipment that keeps Nordic countries moving during the winter might be a bit of a waste of money in the UK where we get snowfall typically for a few days or a week a year. I am sure that if the councils had invested heavily in snow ploughs and other assorted expensive snow clearing equipment, then the same reporters would have been berating them for wasting tax-payers' money during the many years when we don't get any snow at all. It is the very rare occasion I actually find myself feeling sorry for local government.

One news report stood out for me. Although living less than a mile from a junction on the M1, some poor villagers had been "holed up" for several days with only the local pub open to keep community spirit alive. The reporter used the term "holed up" several times which made the situation sound less like snow in Luton and more like the siege of Leningrad. Apparently locals had been complaining that the council hadn't cleared their small village road. Exactly who these people were that complained about not being able to make it to work, but instead having to stay in the pub, the reporter didn't say. Certainly he didn't have anyone interviewed - presumably they were busy being "holed up" in a bar full of booze.

For all those reports blaming the councils for not gritting the roads, none actually mentioned that people still could walk or even cycle using knobbly tyres. Or that maybe people could get together to clear snow and ice from roads themselves if it was so important.

Still, it looks like warmer weather is arriving, the snow will become another old story, and people will be able to go back to driving a couple of miles to get food and drop off the kids at school. Because, it would appear, that there is no alternative


  1. I guess the reason why the reporters can get into places that people can't get out of is that they are bolder, and they are probably not driving their own cars. Where I am (Haslemere, Surrey) we had 8 inches of snow. Surrey doesn't believe in spending money so only a few A roads get gritted. That means you can drive the main roads but you can't get to them. Well, that isn't entirely true, especially if you have a landrover, but the fact that my car can actually handle this stuff, and I have had the training, doesn't make me feel any better about venturing out. You see, all those motorists who behave like arses towards cyclists and pedstrians also behave like arses towards other motorists, and it is only really at time like this that your average cyclist-neutral motorist appreciates what arses the other lot are. You run serious risk of expensive damage.

    My point is that there are good motorists and bad ones. In my car most bad (ie excluding homicidal)motorists represent not much more than inconvenience, after all it is only metal. On my bike, they represent a potentially life-threatening risk. How can we move the message on from a cycle-car pissing contest to addressing the real issue, ie bad driving behaviour in general?

    Finally, it isn't just cyclists whom local auithorities abandon in this weather. When was the last time you saw a pavement gritted? Anywhere? Last time I went into work, leaving the brompton at home, I realised I would have been safer cycling on the road from Waterloo to Fleet St than I was walking the pavements.

  2. Paul, I don't drive my own car and still won't go out if the roads are too bad. My post was less about cycling, more about the reporting of it, especially on the BBC.

    I agree with you on the motorist front. In fact many of the things that are life-threatening on a cycle (cars pulling out of side-roads, cutting up etc.) happen to car drivers as well, it is simply less dangerous to the car driver. What motorists assume is that the same actions with a cyclist has the same consequences which it doesn't.

    I travel around Northern Europe, and have to say that I don't think the level of driving is any better there. But the fact that lots of people also cycle and that roads are designed with cyclists in mind means two things. That the average motorist understands the dangers to cyclists far better and that the road system helps protect the cyclist from the inevitable morons. Neither is true in the UK.

    And the pavements are a disgrace, I was moaning about this to myself whilst sliding around along my road, until I decided to walk in the road. But my last point is that I could (along with everyone else) decide to clear their bit of the pavement outside their house, and things would become a bit better. Just because we cannot be bothered doesn't mean we should blame the local council (and I include myself in this).