On Tuesday morning I woke up early to find that it had snowed in the night. A perfect white blanket had rounded the outlines of the familiar suburban landscape, the only marks spoiling its surface were the footprints left by a fox following a track its ancestors had laid down long before mine had stopped painting themselves blue.
Snow has a strange effect on the British psyche, for the first day or so we wander around like starry eyed toddlers wondering at how it makes even the most mundane view resemble something out of Narnia; then the magic wears off and the problems start.
If you had played a game of bingo with the week’s news coverage the words, ‘snow’, ‘tailback’, ‘closures’ and ‘chaos’ would have been certain to get you a high score. Egged on by a 24 hour news media that loves a ‘big freeze’ almost as much as it loves a good war you could have been forgiven for thinking the country was on the verge of collapse.
The same media also spent much of the week recycling the tired myths about the ‘Blitz Spirit’ and ‘Dunkirk’ that are staples of the commenting classes whenever Britain experiences a ‘crisis’. Actually the crisis turned out to be something of a damp squib, people living in remoter areas experienced genuine hardship and deserved more help than they received, for everyone else it was either a minor inconvenience or an excuse for a good skive.
Take the school closures, more than four thousand at the height of the cold snap; some schools I’ll admit, those in the highlands of Scotland or on the Yorkshire moors for example, had no option but to close. Others though, meaning any school in an urban area could and should have stayed open, partly because of the problems sending children home will cause for parents who can’t stay away from work without losing pay whatever the weather, but mostly because education is too important to be interrupted by bad weather that hardly came out of the blue so to speak.
There lies the real reason why so many people felt a mounting tide of frustration at the way a medium sized nuclear power appeared to be rendered helpless by a handful of snowflakes was the way the weather seemed to catch the authorities by surprise. The endless news footage featured a parade of major and minor figures in local and national government queuing up to say they hadn’t been expecting snow before Christmas. These are, of course, the same people who earlier in the year told the same journalists they hadn’t been expecting snow after Christmas either; just when did they expect it?
I don’t doubt that there were shady deals done behind closed doors when FIFA met in Zurich this week to decide that they wouldn’t give the 2018 World Cup to England after all, despite millions being spent on a the bid and the ‘three lions’, aka David Beckham, David Cameron and Prince William being flown out to seal the deal, but our inability to deal with four inches of can hardly have worked in our favour. A nation floored by a few inches of snow hardly shows the organisational acumen needed to take on a major project and make it work.
Things might be different when the 2012 Olympics come to London, but the evidence of the Millennium Dome and the way we have handled the last three cold snaps means I’m not getting my hopes up. Until we get out act together to the point where a few inches of snow don’t bring the nation to a halt I’d advise everyone else to do the same.