Snow coming – but please, it’s really not the end of the world!

Oh my! – 10cm (4 inches in old money), of snow is forecast, and the country goes into a tailspin, with online news pages showing pictures with, ooh, whole millimetres of snow, and rife with comments roughly divided between “Oh god – we’re all doomed!” and “Oh, FFS stop whining!”

It’s a safe bet, though, that to a degree the country is likely to grind to a halt – and the reason for that is most people responsible for keeping the place running when it snows have never even seen a hard winter – they seriously believe 10cm is something to worry about. Bunch of wimps! Of course, a large part of the problem is that it’s a very rare motorist who keeps a spare set of wheels with winter tyres these days, and so they do grind to a halt – but they needn’t. And winter wheels/tyres protect expensive alloy wheels from the ravages of salt, too.

Prior to the onset of climate change, the first frosts would hit in early October, and the land, except for a relatively few, and brief, periods, would be locked in its icy grip until sometime around April, with occasional frosts possible through to the end of May/early June. Farmers digging root crops with pneumatic drills wasn’t uncommon.

By the end of September I’d have already double-glazed my greenhouse by building a tent from plastic sheeting inside, with a paraffin heater running 24/7from the first frosts to the following March most years, and occasionally through to the end of May. Almost every morning, there would be frost to some degree, often with hoar frost almost as thick as snow.

Then, about now, the snow would begin to fall. Not 10 pathetic centimetres, but 10 inches wasn’t uncommon (one morning in 1963 I was unable to get to work by my usual route because my local road was blocked by a 10-foot high drift – so I found an alternative. It meant cycling across a field, but I still got to work.

Yes, boys and girls, we cycled in the snow – how about that? I was a biker, but in snow a cycle was safer – if you fell off it wouldn’t break your leg, for a start. Or your no claims bonus.

Another day, about 1974, I woke to a raging blizzard, 8 inches to a foot or so of snow already lying and my car was buried. Walked a mile to the bus stop – I was a backpacker, and well equipped to deal with extreme weather** – no buses, so I walked three miles to the nearest station and caught the only train that was running that morning to get to work.

**If it had been the weekend I’d have dug out my car and headed for the hills.

And these events weren’t at all unusual across the country (in fact, rural areas were usually hit harder), but we dealt with them, We didn’t turn over, go back to sleep and stay off work, or close schools – we buckled down and got on with our lives – we didn’t bitch about it, or write to the papers, moaning, because it was perfectly normal.

Now, in 2012, when what we get now is barely an inconvenience compared to even the mid 90s, but there are far too many people who think a few centimetres of snow is worthy of a whole raft of news items (trust me, it’s not**), or an excuse to shut down public transport and schools. Schools close, apparently if the ratio of adults to kids falls below a certain level. Why? What do they think is going to happen if a couple of teachers are a no-show – Lord of the Flies time in the playground? Just combine classes, ffs!

**By all means mention it on the weather forecast, but snow in winter isn’t especially newsworthy unless it’s extreme.

If you want to see a real winter, Google winter 1947**and look at the photos. Winter 1963, too. Should help to put 10 centimetres in perspective!

**When I was a kid I had a picture of a house, somewhere in England, in 1947, absolutely covered in huge icicles – noteworthy because when the ice had formed the building had been an inferno and, despite that, water from the fire-fighter’s hoses had frozen solid. Now that’s cold!

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16 thoughts on “Snow coming – but please, it’s really not the end of the world!

  1. My Mum started work in 1947, when she was 15, and she often told people of how she had to trudge through the snow to get to work.

    I never had a day off school or work because of the weather, but then we live in Scotland, and the transport system is more used to coping with snow.

  2. Hardly ever snows where I live, but out of interest does any fellow disabled person reading this have any tips for going out in an electric wheelchair in snow/ice other than “don’t”?!
    I’ve often thought that people living in areas of the country where it snows a lot more often might have come up with better ways of dealing with it than I have!

    • Very much DON’T! Gritting salt will wreck your electronics, and it’s almost impossible to stop safely on ice, or steer, and cambers, like driveways, can send you sliding into the road with a conventional rear-wheel-drive chair.

      Mid-wheel-drive chairs are somewhat safer, and easier to steer, but just as dodgy to stop.

      In very light snow that hasn’t been gritted you should be OK for a short distance.

      The biggest problem, though, is maintaining body heat – the slightest breeze on a sub-zero day will suck your heat away in minutes without the right clothing. I found a biker’s quilted oversuit is best, with as much fleece as you can get under it, plus winter gloves and a fleece hat. No matter what you do, you’ll only be as warm as you are when you set out, and get steadily colder.

      I once did a 14 mile round trip on a scooter in freezing fog. By the time I got home I was sheathed in ice from head to toe, but I was wearing enough down clothing for an assault on Everest, so I was OK.

      Basically, how warm you can stay depends on how much money you can throw at the problem. Putting your chair in a taxi is probably more cost-effective, and avoids the salt, steering, and stopping problems too.

      • Meh! Will continue to be “snowbound” when it snows then and be glad of my decision all those years back to move to this part of the country, knowing that I would eventually become reliant on an electric wheelchair!

        As regards keeping warm in a wheelchair when going out, I use “hotties”. Be careful googling this as I got rather unexpected results in my innocence and naivety. 😛
        Basically it is a microwavable hot water bottle. The advantage is that they stay hot for about 2 hours as opposed to a microwavable wheatbag and are really thin so can be worn unobtrusively under clothing if necessary. I generally wear two in autumn/winter when I go out: one wrapped round my back and one on my lap.

        • I bought a bikers’ fleece vest, with pockets for a bunch of re-usable heat pads, but crashed and never got to use it. Would have been good, too.

  3. we lived in a Pennine village when i was very little. born there actually. mum used to tell us tales of opening the door on a morning (only had one outside door)) and being met with a wall of snow. not just once but many times. early 1940s that would be as we had moved by time i was 4 and half.1946/7. she had to dig her way through it to get out to go to shop for milk if the milkman hadn’t been able to get through to leave any.
    in 1966 my mother died. my dad had had a heart attack some 6 months before and had emphysema. my hubby, me and 2 kids aged about 6 and 8 managed to get a bus from our house to the main town, we lived on a main road so wasn’t bad. roads had been gritted. then another bus on another main road leading out of town/. getting off near a hospital. here there was over a foot of snow went over our wellies. specially the kids. and it was snowing so hard we could barely see but we walked through a big housing estate to go make sure my dad was ok. where was he when we got there? out somewhere in a blizzard by then…… luckily i had a cousin lived opposite to him so we waited there till he got back. boy did i tell him off. phones were still a luxury in those days you see so he couldnt let us know he needed some food.and we lived a bit too far away and no car. so couldnt go every day.i had arranged for a home help for him but she hadnt been that day..just 2 stories of days gone by.

  4. Copied from the Mail -on-line.

    “Rail company Greater Anglia was today branded an ‘embarrassment’ by train campaigners for cancelling services and imposing speed restrictions – after less than an inch of snow had fallen.
    It cancelled 24 trains and passengers endured 30-minute delays as speeds were cut to 60mph on some services between London and Cambridge, Southend, Colchester, Ipswich and Norwich.
    The disruption came as it was revealed overnight temperatures could drop to as low as -8C in the countryside – and -3C in urban areas – while more snow is expected for eastern parts of England.
    Greater Anglia, which acted at lunchtime after 0.8 inches of snow fell, with another two inches due later, insisted most services were running – and snow may damage engines and trackside equipment”

    I was 9 in 1947 and had to cycle 4 miles to school, well push the bike through deep drifts.

    We have had an inch today, all gone by 22.00 !

    • Steam trains had a device which dribbled sand onto the track in front of the driving wheels so, in snow or ice (or even the wrong kind of leaves!), they’d grip. Snowplough blades could be bolted onto steam engines too. Neither were thought necessary as standard on electric or diesel traction units, yet they need the extra grip even more being so damn light compared to steam engines.

      I can understand snow damaging diesel traction units – getting sucked in to the engine through the massive air vents (but that can be fixed), but if it damages trackside equipment heads should roll – it should be designed to live outside in all conditions.

    • Yeah – I’m not too thrilled either – but time was I’d happily head for the Peak District or the Lakes when it snowed, for a weekend’s camping. No kids, no bugs, no mud – it was great. Not as cold as you might think either, especially if snow fell on the tent, keeping the wind out.

      Had to be careful not to fill up with beer in the evening, though – getting up for a pee was no fun!

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