We are being told in the UK that it will snow over the next few days and this has caused me to consider the annual question of ‘why do other countries cope when snow makes the UK grind to a stand?’
Now the answer is clearly not in the snow its all, broadly, similar stuff and this from a man involved in British Rail’s now famous “wrong type of snow” episode. In real terms the snow falling here will be the same as that across the globe, if a little lighter. So why does this country come to a stand annually at the sight of snow?
There is an argument to say that the sight of white stuff falling from the sky is such an amazing sight that we lose the ability to operate normally, I can’t see this though as snow generally falls annually and that is 4 times as frequent as elections and we manage to treat the later with complete ambivalence.
It strikes me that there are a number of reasons why we can’t cope with snow, perhaps you can think of more?
Planning – quite simply we don’t, not at all. The only activity that passes for preparedness in this country is ensuring that your phone is charged so that you can update the local radio station, twitter and Facebook with flake by flake reports. As generations have listened to forecasts that are incorrect so they feel some duty to accurately report what is happening when it snows, the cell companies must love this time of year.
Budgets – the local authorities that should be planning for weather have to listen to the same vague forecasts that we all receive which doesn’t help,but neither does the fact that central government’s involvement is strictly restricted to criticising local authorities when they get it wrong!
Budgets are stretched, by the time they have brought all the solid gold letter openers, cigars and mink coats for the office cats there is barely enough left over to cover doing anything useful. So what is council A to do? It’s like roulette, do they stockpile salt and buy a few snow ploughs or do they reserve the money to paint a fence or two? If they guess wrong they are screwed, when Mrs Miggins calls to complain that her dimwitted son couldn’t find his way out of the park because the fence wasn’t painted giving her 2 ton of salt won’t placate her!
And so, faced with such dizzying decisions, the council invariably takes the safe option and spends minimum on everything, throws some teak on the fire and lights another cigar!
Health and Safety – thankfully we have not yet reached the level of litigation that our American friends have, although we are trying to catch up, but we have something worse in ‘Health and Safety’.
I will give you an example of the madness of H&S, whilst travelling through Ipswich train station the other day I heard an announcement every ten minutes that “platforms may be wet due to adverse weather conditions”. Forgive me but I don’t believe rain counts as adverse until it reaches at least your knees! Rain is a frequent feature of our weather and it makes thing wet, yes even the floor so what hair brained idiot thought we needed telling? That will be H&S.
And so we have another quandary for the council, if you lay salt and it doesn’t melt away could someone slip on it? If you buy a snow plough then the operators need real life training so you have to send them to luxury hotels in Canada every 6 weeks for ‘snow recognition’ courses. You see the problem is that nature is not bound by H&S but people are, so 6′ snow drifts are safe but ice under them, and exposed when you clear the drift, is your fault. All in all its so much paperwork that its safer to throw some polished oak on the fire and break out the cognac.
The wars – yes the legacy of two world wars has an affect on how this small island copes with snow, well probably. You see in more sensible countries during the winter you shift your grocery list slightly to ensure that your larder has a longer shelf life, not in the UK, here we buy as normal until the very minute that snow settles.
When snow does fall panic ensues and its inspired by those that at the front of the shopping frenzy, the elderly! The elderly react like lightening, remembering rationing and the fact that snow bares a passing resemblance to a German air strike if you have cataracts, they charge to the shops. There is no fear of falling on the slippery roads as they clatter along with their walking frames, these are the terminator generation all titanium hip replacements and fuelled by cod liver oil, and they buy everything!
The stores are filling the shelves as fast as they can, managers are busy penning smug emails with titles like “regarding the over stock of creamed spinach past its date”. I have seriously been to the shop an hour after snowfall and been able to purchase nothing but a tin of artichoke hearts and a tub of ice cream! I don’t think this will die out with the older generation either because the British are conditioned to queuing, we join queues without a clue as to what is at the end because if people are queuing then not only is it good but its limited supply!
So the reason we can’t cope? It’s all just too difficult.