Now, this is going to brand me immediately as an old fart, but when I was a kid we were expected in school, come hail, rain or snow, and in those days we didn’t have clothing suitable for an assault on Everest, as seems routine today – we had sodding short trousers and gabardine macs. Walking to and from school in a blizzard in short pants was always an experience I was in no hurry to repeat, but did, every winter. We all did – it never occurred to us, or the authorities, that we should stay home.
In recent days, hundreds – count them, hundreds – of schools in northern England were closed because we had a mere 10cm of snow (today, 200 schools are closed in Yorkshire, and the number is rising across the north). Many kids live within walking distance of their schools, but even if they don’t, what’s wrong with leaving 20 minutes or half an hour early? And does anyone think that, because the schools are closed, kids aren’t going to be out in the snow? Of course they are – in all probability throwing snowballs at passing cars around here! If kids can play in snow, they can bloody well go to school in it. I wonder, though, is it maybe because teachers can’t get in? And surely, closing schools is only justifiable in in rural areas? Snow in cities is just an inconvenience.
Someone on the radio has just suggested that it may be a Health & Safety issue, and the kids might slip in a snowy playground, which is pretty damned pathetic, if it’s true (and don’t forget the H&S trolls are responsible for banning things like conkers, and ladders, so it should come as no surprise if they’re morbidly afraid of a little snow.
Part of the problem, of course, is that we have an entire generation who have never driven in snow, and kids who have, for the most part, experienced far more rain than snow in the past decade, but even so, in recent years this whole country has crashed to a halt at the merest hint of snow. And it’s pathetic. Last year it snowed at Easter – something that was common when I was young – and the whole country was practically wetting itself with the excitement of it all. And the country crashed to a halt, of course.
The BBC traffic reporters are coming in for quite a bit of stick, right now, from Canadians who, of course, measure snow in feet, not mere centimetres, for telling people to stay home “unless your journey is absolutely necessary” at the slightest suggestion of the white stuff.
One of the problems, despite the fact that this is a country where it’s quite possible to experience all four seasons in one day, especially in mountainous areas, is that most people are chronically under-dressed for the weather. It’s nothing to do with poverty, either. I could go into the town centre today, on a morning when the rain is coming down in stair-rods and snow is forecast (but missing), and see hordes of people in football-team shell suits, which have no warmth and are neither wind nor water-proof and yet, for what they paid for their crappy team clothing they could have bought a waterproof jacket and a cheap fleece. For adults, if they’re that stupid it’s their own fault (and maybe it’s natural selection in process), but it pisses me off to see them dressing their kids in the same way, even though the kids probably hounded them for it. And what’s with the fruitcakes – always guys – who wear shorts in the depths of winter?
You also see people out in the most extreme weather dressed in fleece, and freezing their gender-specific bits off. Now fleeces are great – I’ve got loads – but they were never designed as outerwear, except in relatively mild and windless conditions; they’re mid-layer garments, designed to be worn under a water and wind-proof jacket, when they do what they’re designed to do, and trap a layer of air for insulation. Worn on their own they’re no better than a high-tech cardigan, and the icy wind will whistle through them as if they weren’t there at all (wind-proof fleeces, in my view, aren’t worth the extra cost for the average person).
Footwear, too, is a neglected area. In this country, people wear the same footwear all year round. Very few have walking boots – or even wellies – for extreme conditions, and yet they’re ideal footwear. Even the cheapest walking boot is better than normal footwear in snow, with appropriately-thick socks. And in rain, too.
What we need – what this interfering, nannying, government could usefully turn its hand to, instead of persecuting the vulnerable – is educating people in the use of appropriate clothing for different weather conditions (I’m serious – at least where I live, many people don’t have clue, though I suspect this is mainly an inner-city thing). Then, when we get a tiny bit of snow, there’s little excuse for closing schools.
Talking of the right clothes, I remember one morning, back in the late seventies, when I lived in north Liverpool, I awoke to at least a foot of snow, so I rushed around getting ready, had a quick breakfast, donned all my winter gear – down jacket, boots, gaiters, hat, fleece (actually, in those days it was fibre-pile – much warmer, but bulky), and headed for the bus half an hour early. Waited nearly an hour – no buses, cancelled. So I set out to walk to the station, 2 miles away. Got there, looking like an Arctic explorer – platform filled with people and no trains. Eventually, one turned up and we all piled on, while the blizzard raged around us. Into Liverpool, changed trains and off to Wirral, where I worked. Got there, emerged from the station, which is at the bottom of a deep cutting, to find that it was 11 o’clock and there was only the merest dusting of snow. It had taken over three hours to battle my way in, only to begreeted with “What snow?” But hey, I was snug and dry, ‘cos I was dressed for the conditions – the vast majority of my fellow-travellers simply weren’t, and they really suffered.
By the way, this morning we’re all supposed to be up to our asses in snow and, hey, it’s pissing down with rain, and I’m looking at the Met Office forecast page for my area. On one side of the page is an extreme weather warning, for heavy snow, on the other, it’s supposed to be a mix of cloudy and sunny, but dry! Yep, that’s helpful – both wrong. True, down the central spine of England, it’s snowing, as it is in parts of the Scottish Highlands, but the threatened widespread snow has simply failed to materialise. Of course, if we could have accurate weather forecasting even 24 hours ahead, that really would be helpful. Forecasting a white-out that doesn’t materialise, along with fine weather in other areas that turned out to be snow, today, is no help at all.
And on that note, I’m off to the pub.