Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Winter weather

Arriving back in the UK from the sunny clime of South Africa it was a surprise – although it is February - to land on snowy tarmac in Surrey. It’s Middlesex actually but art is all. No, really, sorry about the alliteration: naff, I know, but somehow it just slips out. I mean, one mention of the word sun, and the words sand, sea etc just trip off the tongue. This time it was sunny, South and, well there it was, snow, just asking to be part of it.

Well, you may wonder, what was she up to in said sunny clime? It was part research (all will be revealed in time), part R&R. Weather? Well, OK, whilst we’re on the subject…..the Midlands of Kwazulu-Natal were misty and damp. Not quite what I had envisaged. No wonder the Drakenbergs are so green and beautiful.

Durban was tropical (humid) and the Zulu battlefield sites were hot in the day, nippy at night. But St Lucia Lake was just right: not too hot and not too cold, neither windy nor wet. Then Cape Town, sunny and bright as is usual at this time of year. All in all, a welcome break from the weather at this time of year at home.

Kent is usually wet and frostily cold in February: the days are short, the evening long. Christmas festivities have faded and Spring seems a long way off. Snowdrops have surfaced and look as pretty as ever, but colourful crocuses and cheery daffodils are only little green shoots. Not even a promise of joys to come.

In fact the only excitement weather wise is the romantic thought that we might have a little snow. You know the sort: sprinklings of it on rooftops, thick white powdery stuff on the grass, butch little snowmen. Snowball fights, sledge rides, hot chocolate and muffins by the fire.

In actual fact, when we have snow its more like: slushy piles on doorsteps, solid frozen stuff on the paths, big butch gritters. Cars are snowed in, buses don’t run and bread sells out in the shops. Hey - we are warned - don’t go out unless you have to. Avoid the roads, take care not to slip, stay warm. But still we think fondly of snow.

Up North, of course, they’re a hardy lot, used to the snow and ice and digging their way out of trouble. Down South we’re wimps: we only have snow that lasts for more than a day or two every decade or two so it’s hardly surprising that we’re not geared up for it. This year there was simply much more of the stuff than usual.

This is an event, an unusual and not very serious one at that. But what do we get: newspaper headlines of blame, panic and sensationalism. Schools are closed! People cannot get to work! Shops lose takings! Councils have run out of salt and grit! Oh, come on, please, the country hardly ground to a halt. Telephones rang, orders were placed, many were able to work at home and kids had the time of their life.

We cannot store huge quantities of salt for an event that only takes place every decade at most. And I’m not sure we want to use salt on every road. On motorways, yes, it’s effective and quick. But the run-off on rural roads causes terrible damage to the ecology. Grit is what’s needed, and that should be used often in winter when ice is a more frequent danger.

The worst of our damp weather is not actually the snow itself: it’s the crazy gang who drive too fast and the kids who have never learnt that ice on ponds is too dangerous to walk on. And the biggest danger of all is the aftermath of snow which, in Britain, is often flooding. Our resources should be spent of measures to alleviate that.

I think that every child should have the memory – the day we couldn’t get to school because of the snow – of chucking snowballs and sledging on tea-trays. Admittedly, once an adult the whole process can be a bit of a pain but many a parent is only too happy to join the kids. So, enjoy what there is to enjoy about snow ....before it all turns to slush.


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