Breaking news … it can get a bit chilly in winter

Light snowfall

Our annual smugfest regarding Britain’s pathetic inability to get to grips with winter seems to have arrived early this year, with a dusting of snow across much of Blighty resulting in the usual hysterics followed by hand-wringing. Pity really, as we usually rely on it to provide a bit of light entertainment in the depths of January when the party season is well and truly over but the sun hasn’t put in a reliable appearance yet and we’re still having to trek to and from work in the freezing dark.

In fact, UK snow in November is thoroughly annoying when we’re all rushing to the window with our fingers crossed every morning and then spending entire days surfing snow-forecast.com, trawling the web for promising satellite pictures and arguing all over the forums about what La Nina is up to, what conditions were like this time five years ago, and whether that bastard south wind is likely to piss on our chips in the middle of the week again. Let’s face it, snow is no bloody good to you lot is it? You clearly haven’t the first clue about the stuff, given that police have apparently felt it necessary to advise people to dress warmly if they go out in it. Thank God you mentioned it officer – I was just about to toddle off to work in a bikini and a pair of flipflops. Maybe I’ll put some socks on.

Oh come on, you can see the tarmac and everything.

Still, the news coverage is always good for a giggle, what with pictures of cars strewn across roads which blatantly have no snow on them whatsoever and people with jelly where their brains ought to be asserting that you aren’t allowed to clear the pavement in case someone sues you. Though my favourite this time is the Telegraph’s fascinating feature on what the celebs are wearing in the cold. The blanket out of the dog’s basket, apparently, in several cases. The only thing that particular collection of outfits has in common is the fact that they appear to be largely inadequate for any sort of actual cold weather.

This sort of silliness will inevitably be followed next week by a slew of articles about ‘the cost to the economy’, which involves pulling a load of enormous figures out of thin air, sounding grave on Radio 4 and completely failing to explain why people who wanted to buy things today but couldn’t because there was too much snow won’t just go and buy them tomorrow instead. And might even buy extra things because they’re in a good mood following an unexpected day off spent having a snowball fight and then going sledging.

After that, we can expect to see the whole thing spun out until the weekend with a load of ‘who is to blame?’ stuff slating local authorities for failing to stockpile enough grit to salt most of Siberia, the police for … well most things really, and David Cameron for failing to stand Canute-like on the roof of the houses of parliament yelling “Oi, snow – no!” and waving a copy of George’s spending review at the sky.

I'm sure I parked the van just there ...

And finally, there will be the usual nonsense about how the Swedes and Canadians manage to deal with this every winter, how low this once-proud nation has sunk etc etc. Admittedly the British commuter could do himself a favour and stay at home for the day if it looks as though all the trains will be cancelled, rather than donning a martyred air and getting up at four in the morning to spend three hours wading to the office. (Look, you work in a call centre, OK? It makes no difference to the wider world whether you get there or not. Now go back to bed.) But it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that everyone else deals with it because it happens to them all the time. For months on end. So it’s worth their while investing in winter tyres, half a Siberia’s worth of grit, a Saab with heated seats and a fleet of enormous state of the art snowploughs. You’d be the first to complain if the powers that be hiked your council tax by 300% in order to foot the bill for snow-moving equipment which was likely to be used for a total of three days once a year.

Likewise, the reason you’re all so utterly hopeless at driving in the snow (and believe me you are, though you’re nowhere near as bad as the Belgians) is that you hardly ever do it. If you were in the habit of commuting up an Alp every day all winter, you’d soon find yourself trundling merrily through half a metre of it without batting an eyelid. But you’re not, you’re driving 20 miles into Swindon. And you can add to that the fact that a) unlike the Swedes and the Canadians you have neither winter tyres nor snowchains and b) – you can feel good about this one – the kind of near-zero wet snow/freezing slush combo you get over there presents probably the most difficult winter driving conditions it’s possible to encounter.

So next time this happens (and just for once try not to look surprised when it does – remember that winter is generally scheduled for sometime round November through about February) stop looking tragic and beating yourself up about the whole thing. You’re not set up for Scandinavian-style winters. You’re never going to be. So rather than freezing your tits off in a traffic jam all day, get up late, have a nice cooked breakfast and then go sledging and take the dog for a walk. You can go back to work tomorrow.

Go on, take the dog out. You know you want to.

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About misplacedperson

Camping and snowboarding for a living. It may not be a career, but it's certainly a life.
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10 Responses to Breaking news … it can get a bit chilly in winter

  1. Charlotte says:

    Now be fair! They’ve had much more than a dusting of snow this time! Why don’t Halfords pop across to Calais and buy a supply of cheap snow chains from the hypermarkets??

  2. Philip says:

    This is now 2 years worth of vindication for my 4×4.

  3. FemmeFranglaise says:

    I think you’ve made the mistake of confusing newspaper reports with real life. Most people have just got on with it and by and large, most roads are open and by and large most people are as fed up with the ‘snow talk’ on the TV as they are with the impending royal wedding. When I lived in South West France the whole place ground to a halt at the first sign of snow, which was every winter, no gritters, no snowploughs and most of the population inexplicably parked in the fosses at the side of the road. Even the A62 to Toulouse was generally impassable. The village was cut off for days each year and better still, the pumps that fed the water up to the village froze so there was no water either. With the exception of the mountains, I would say that France is equally badly equipped, if not more so, to deal with the winter weather. I also knew no-one who owned either snow tyres or snow chains. In the UK, most people don’t really see the snow as an excuse for a day off. France must be different.

    • If you believe everything the expat types tell you about SW France, it appears not to function at all under any circumstances. Makes you wonder why they’re all so keen to live there.

  4. Dave Burrows says:

    Love this blog and your writing.

    Just moved to Chatel and the novelty of digging the car out every morning has already worn off. Snow tyres going on tomorrow (assuming I can get to the next village) so I’ll be happily crashing the Smart car around in the snow like the locals.

    • Dug mine out this morning and it’s covered again. Forecasting bluebird on Saturday, legs might just about have recovered from Monday’s powderfest by then. Fingers (and everything else) crossed!

  5. Dave H. says:

    We’ve got a lot more than a dusting here in NE Scotland, and the traffic seems to be moving no problems so far (bar the usaul places in the central belt). Just wish more drivers would fit winter tyres and not drive around at ludicrously slow speeds, but its not been too bad so far.

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