All it takes is a little bit of snow…

Sometimes it’s fun living in the UK – we obsess over the weather for most of the year, but it’s particularly bad when the snow is apparently on the way. The supermarkets receive a sudden surge in footfall as shoppers strip the shelves bare of bread, milk and other “essentials”, like a plague of disgruntled locusts. The last week has been no exception. Admittedly last Saturday we had a decent downfall of snow, and I had about three inches of the stuff to clear from the roof of my car before setting out, but by Sunday afternoon the roads were clear and people could go about their business as normal. But if you’d asked anyone about it beforehand you would think it was the end of the world, that the apocalypse was upon us and we all have to raid the supermarkets lest we get snowed in and, Grud forbid, have to leave the house and go somewhere ON FOOT.

I have no complaints about the snow itself, mostly because at the moment I don’t drive to work and it’s only a 10 minute walk away. Even if I did venture out in the car the roads are usually sufficiently quiet enough for me to get where I need to go without having to rush, enjoying the heated conditions within the vehicle whilst admiring the snowy landscape outside. The alternative to this is to go out for a walk in it – not only does the local area look much nicer when covered in a layer of snow, but more animals decide to make their presence known. In the massive snowfall we had at the end of 2010 we followed a fox through the streets as it hunted for food. Sadly I didn’t have a decent camera to take pictures of it, but it was something we don’t see every day. Indeed, I usually see foxes going about their business every few days lately – we even saw an urban fox roaming the streets of Loughton when on holiday last year (no snow that time). If you take the time to look then you’ll see an abundance of wildlife wherever you are.

Back to the snow – I have three complaints about snowy weather – first and foremost is the “panic buying” and insistence from residents that the council should do more to keep roads clear etc, when clearly the council can’t usually do anything until the snow falls before stepping in – gritting a road shortly before a heavy downpour of snow will not make a jot of difference. It’s also a waste of resources and council funds are usually stretched too thinly as it is (or at least, that’s what they tell us). These are also the same people that complain when the bins aren’t emptied at the allotted time because the snow has made the roads unusable – never mind that you can’t get your car/van/etc out of the drive, the bin collectors should make it in their MASSIVE vehicle with minimal damage to the local area. And then there will be complaints about that when the snow finally melts. Oy.

The second is people who drive in snow as if everything is normal and there is no risk of them ending up upside down in their car. I passed my driving test in 2008 and I decided to drive to the shops whilst the snow was still falling (yes, I was crazy). But like the good little new driver I was, I took my time, went slowly and used gear changes to slow down rather than the breaks. I made it to the shops with no problems and on my way home saw a car on its roof – clearly they had taken the corner too fast and had a bit of a tumble, to put it mildly. There didn’t appear to be any other visible damage, or even a driver for that matter – they were probably that embarrassed they’d made a prompt exit. Fast forward to 2010 and admittedly I did get stuck down a side road after misjudging how bad it actually was – it also didn’t help that it’s all on a slope which was cunningly hidden by the snow. After digging under each tyre and managing to turn the car around without smashing into anything, we escaped – lesson learnt. Now, up to last weekend where I drove to Tesco around 9.30pm. The roads were slushy and slippy, but thankfully there wasn’t much traffic. In one instance a driver approached from some distance away and sat on my bumper. The only response to that is to slow down more – if they want to go crazy and overtake me in the snow then they’re more than welcome. But they didn’t and they turned off on the next island, allowing me a free run all the way to Tesco, reaching 4th gear on the final approach down the hill. The shop itself was like a ghost town. I used to work there a few years previously, in particular after the shop closed on Sunday evenings, and even then it didn’t feel quite as desolate. Apart from a few hardy souls who had braved the journey (and it really wasn’t that much effort), it was just me and the staff who, because it’s retail, aren’t allowed to leave under any circumstances. The sky could be on fire and they would be expected to remain in store just in case a customer wandered in, on fire, and demanded to know where the extinguishers were kept.

My third and final complaint is the inevitable freeze that follows and the slippy footpaths that result. I admit not much can be done about that beyond issuing a handful of grit to every constituent to use as they see fit. In my case the problem is the walk to work, which is fine until I reach the hill below work and have to navigate the slope doing a bad impression of a mountaineer. Suffice to say I would be rubbish at endurance tests or any height/snow related climbing, in any capacity. Back to the snow of 2010, after the initial torrent we received I remember falling over on ice about five or six times, with no damage done. I remember walking along as normal and the next thing I know I’m looking at the sky. It was literally that fast – slip, straight on my back, no impact. There was even one time I saw a frail old lady making her way down the hill and I prepared myself to leap in and help her should she end up in trouble. Ironically I then slipped and landed flat on my back and it was her job to ask if I was okay. Thankfully I was able to laugh, get up and go on my way, albeit with a touch more care and forethought.

That was not the case the next time I slipped on ice. I had reached the top of the first hill, the area where I had slipped the most often the previous 5 or 6 times. I made it past the post box on the level area at the top of the first rise, and made my way as normal towards the underpass leading to the last section of hill. Then I slipped, and unfortunately realised I was falling to the ground. I tensed up, bracing for impact, and landed hard. This one hurt, a lot. I managed to get up and carry on into work, but I’d done some damage to my right thigh and it was painful sitting down in one position for more than a few minutes at a time for several months thereafter.

It was a minor obsession for people I spoke to on Thursday this week, when a further issuance of snow was forecast, to the point where the severe weather warning was dished out. For most it was from the perspective of being able to get home from work or even to reach a meeting venue etc. I took great delight in watching the ever-changing forecast from the Met Office, ranging from a heavy downpour forecast for 12 hours overnight, to light snow for 6 hours to the light dusting that we actually received. One plus point was that the icy footpath near work had a fresh layer of snow on it, thus making the journey up the hill a much easier affair. Assuming they have the forecast right for the beginning of next week, the ice may be on its way out. If not, I will once again run the gauntlet and potentially slip over. Ironically as the roads are clear now, it would probably be easier driving to work, but that would be the lazy approach and besides which I have some letters to post…

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