Snow Fun If You Are Not Prepared

6 01 2010

I hate snow.

It serves no purpose apart from to annoy, agitate and cause disruption. Unless you are on a plank of wood whooshing down a picturesque slope.

But I live in Boston, so therefore I accept it as part and parcel of life. However in Britain, any fall of snow is greeted with problems and the postponement of normal life.

We left London on Monday and there was no snow anywhere. It had arrived on the 20th December and left by the 25th. There was no White Christmas in our house.

Other parts of the country were not so lucky. Scotland, Wales and the North of England were victims, although one fortunate group of drinkers were locked in a pub for three days over New Year, snowed in on the Yorkshire Dales with only warm beer for company.

But Tuesday night, the predicted bad weather sweeping in from Russia (explained by the BBC, http://bit.ly/6X8ARC) hit the UK including London and the South East.

Freezing temperatures and snow ensured that the South East of England descended into chaos.

Cue small children building snowmen, throwing snowballs and generally enjoying themselves due to the closure of schools. At the same time, the adult population and those who find the idea of cavorting in wet, frozen stuff to be fairly unappealing, realised that their day was not going to be a huge amount of fun.

London is simply unprepared for “extreme weather”. Irrespective of sun, rain or snow, this metropolis struggles to cope with the whims of Mother Nature.

In the summer the antiquated underground system is an overcrowded sweaty hellhole, in the winter the air-conditioning kicks in and ensures that the average traveller experiences differing limits of temperature that mean that choice of clothing becomes paramount. Too much rain and some parts of the capital flood, which leads to public transport disruption and gridlocked streets.

So the sight of snow means a day of major delay on the tubes and the cancellation of a bus service which has never thought to invest in snow chains for the vehicles or even the possibility of the odd snow plough.

For those who live and work locally, snow is an inconvenience which must be trudged through but for commuters it leads to the conundrum of taking a “sickie” or by enduring a journey that is likely to be severely disrupted and onerous.

Local councils, who one assumes listen to the weather forecasts, try and do their best by sending the gritting vans out, but normally this is done a week in advance so that when the snow arrives the gritted surfaces of the roads are swiftly covered by a substance on which a team of huskies and a toboggan are the only reasonable alternative.

The question has to be asked as to why London, a city of 7 million people and a major financial centre is always caught off guard when bad weather sweeps in. Throughout Europe there are countries that receive far more snow and rain than Britain, yet they are able to function normally.

London just seems to shut down, retreating into its own blanket of denial and blame that places responsibility for the extreme weather onto global warming, lack of appropriate warning by the meteorological services, and in some cases on budget cuts that affect the services provided.

As you know we live in Boston, Massachusetts, a city that can experience snow from December through to February. When we arrived back to TRB the temperature was below freezing, there was snow piled in huge drifts throughout with many cars still buried and looking unlikely to be thawed out anytime in the near future.

But did Boston shut down? Was its public transport system paralysed into inactivity? Could you get a bus?

The answer to the first two questions is No, and the ability to get a bus was not hindered in any way by the state of the roads. The pavements were clear of snow, businesses were operating normally and as with most things in America, the population carried on as if nothing was amiss.

Bostonians live in an area that knows the whims of the climate and prepare accordingly. They don’t give in to the weather because that is not in their mindset. They aren’t looking for excuses to shut things down or fail to provide a service because of some snow.

As far as they are concerned, the weather is just part of life, and they deal with it accordingly.

Londoners, and by extension the British, have become accustomed to poor service and an inability by authority to deal with extreme conditions. Much is made of the stoic nature of the British, how we carry on without showing emotion or complaining but in reality the failings of successive governments, local councils and privatised  companies have forced the British to continue as best as we can in the face of appalling incompetence.

Privatised rail services in the South East of Britain charge a fortune in fares, well above the rate of inflation and for normally substandard service. Try getting a seat on a London bound train between the hours 7.30am and 9.00am if you did not join at the first station and you will realise that animals are cared for better in transit trucks.

Despite the thousands of pounds per year that individual tax payers contribute to the government and the former nationalised industries to ensure that they are able to get to work and attempt to earn enough money to pay their soaring utility bills, the British are let down on a daily basis.

Small wonder that when the snow arrived, the majority of Londoners decided that staying put was a better option.

At the end of the day, the problem lies not in the fact that the weather was predicated but that those whose job it is to ensure that there was as little disruption as possible failed miserably and then complained that their budget does not stretch to providing for such an eventuality.

As the World gets used to tightening its belt, the Labour (formerly Socialist) government  in Britain should be acutely aware that ensuring that the banks don’t collapse is a waste of time if nobody can actually get to work or even guarantee that their kids get educated.

On the plus side, at least the pubs stayed open. Extreme weather is so much more bearable in a warm bar with a pint.

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