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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Do You Want to Build A Snowman? A UK Snow Day

Today is a snow day. I remember snow days as a smaller person being exciting from the very moment of waking. As if the world had somehow been put on mute, the gardens and streets within earshot of my bedroom window were muffled and silent by turns; the light in my room was a different, deeper blue in the dawn. I still love watching children playing in the snow - the first time they see the world they are gradually getting used to transformed into something utterly new, cold, white. Magical. In much of the UK snow is a once-a-year event, perhaps twice, so the freshness of the snow affects me even now as an adult. I do want to rush out and build a snowman, as I first did aged three or four in our neighbour's garden beside the damson tree, since we had no garden of our own.

Snow day!

We went sledging in Wollaton Park, near to where we lived and I joined hoards of other children and adults alike, screaming in delight as we raced down the hill and then raced up to the top to do it all again. At school we would try to get away with wearing our everyday shoes rather than boots, because the smooth undersides of our soles were better for making 'skiddy tracks', created by hardening the snow underfoot until it was packed solid and became white, slippery ice. Up we raced and slid and slipped over the track to the other side, catching our breath in the exhilaration of the exercise and the moment. We would try to build snowmen, even if there were only two or three inches of snow. Not forgetting, however, the perpetual British problem with packing together effective snowballs or snowmen in the UK due to having the wrong kind of snow.

Wollaton Park. The perfect place to sledge on a snowy day

And then there's snow experienced as an adult. This could go one of two ways.

Beautiful Bushy Park

1. Like me, many people work from home these days. I rose at 7 this morning and walked briskly to Bushy Park, near to my home to stretch my legs and back muscles in the mostly untouched snow of the park, A stunning way to start the day. Again, the white sky and white world seemed magical to me, and the reflection of the light in the landscape doubles its effect on lifting my spirits, which, like so many other people's, are affected by the darkness we experience at this time of year. Deer - young bucks - gambolled through the snow, afraid and overjoyed in equal parts at their changed surroundings. Toddlers barely visible under hoods, hats, scarfs and snow jackets took a few racing steps in the snow, thumping and clumsy in all their clothes. Dogs of all kinds raced in all random directions, stupidly happy and over excited to bury their noses in the white cold stuff that appeared out of nowhere on their morning walks. Then home to my desk and to work for the day.

Deer Running. Just Beautiful

2. Or part two. Many people have to get to work despite the snow. Now in countries other than the UK, this is not so much of a big deal. Snow happens. It happens in Scandinavia. It happens in USA (some parts more than others). It happens in Canada. It happens in eastern Europe and beyond. But here in the UK, as mentioned, it doesn't happen very often. But despite this, there are things that do, always, always happen whenever a flake of snow falls:

Public transport officials throw their arms up in the air at their surprise at the snow. How could we have known there was going to be snow? There's no way of telling. It's not like there's some kind of science involved in predicting what the weather is going to be, is there? So how could we have known? (All this as a precursor to the fact that all trains, and I do mean ALL TRAINS have completely ceased to work. (This happens when it's raining too; and windy; and hot.) It seems that the thing that British trains can't cope with is this: weather. Last week the UK newspaper the Guardian tweeted this:

The UK press: always about exaggerating the weather.

Heavy snow? Yeah, in some parts of the UK. But even this photo shows a poor attempt at heavy snow. If you want heavy snow, look at Chicago, look at Milwaukee and Madison, New York and Vermont. Not the UK, where even in Scotland you'd rarely find the same depth of snow fall on lower ground.

I sympathise if this is you. I've been there.

If the snow happens midday, children of all ages (well, even three year olds have mobile phones these days) are calling their parents for immediate collection. "It's snowing and the school's definitely going to close, and it's dangerous on the roads, so before double Maths this afternoon please leave work and pick me up." And adults are just the same. "Dear boss, Terribly sorry but I can't attend that meeting to review the weekly financials this afternoon and present my report because there are two flakes of snow on my car and I live two miles away so I need to get home immediately before there's a blizzard and I can't get in my car at all." By one o'clock the office car parks around the country are empty, slightly whiter than usual, and the tumbleweed flies across them in what might be described as a slightly chilly breeze.

Dogs and birds heading for home early. Just in case.

The problem we have in the UK is that because the snow happens so rarely no one wants to spend any money on infrastructure that would help. Rarely do we wake to find that council workers have been paid overtime / double time to get out on the roads and grit them before the morning travel starts; the same with rail. What we do find is that people are reactive to the snow, rather than proactive. We don't need snow chains for our cars or massive snow ploughs (that's plows for you US folks). We may need one or two in the snowier north to clear the roads there where deeper snow occurs more often, but the UK? No, we don't need it. What we need is gritters, out in advance of the snow, and lots of them.

Snow Day Walk!

I'm working from home, so sadly have no such excuse. Back to the grind. But I'll enjoy my day staring out of the window from time to time as the traffic piles up with the commuters travelling home at 1pm 'just in case'. Unless the roof gives under the massive weight of the 2-3cm of snow that fell last night, that is. So I'm keeping my options open.

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