Wednesday, January 07, 2015

A snowy sojourn in Albion

We go back to England to visit relatives most years, and usually at Christmas, a most unpropitious time of year weatherwise (although the last time we visited in summer there were floods and record-breaking rains, which, in England, is saying something). So, we were not expecting surprises and, for the most part, did not receive any.
We did, however, witness one of England's relatively infrequent snowstorms, and all the shenanigans that ensued, which provided us with a few days of entertainment at least. It does snow in England most years, particularly in the north, in the shadow of the Pennines, where my family hails from. But only in exceptional years does that amount to anything that we Canadians consider "real" snow that hangs around for more than a day or so. When they do get some Canadian quality snow, England appears to be signally incapable of coping, and typically the whole country goes into denial and essentially shuts down. We were privileged to experience just such an occasion this last week, which we looked on with suitably Canadian superciliousness.
On Boxing Day, we were visiting friends in Nottingham, about 25 miles from our home base, when a passing bird or something happened to trigger the outside light. It was only then that we realized that it had been snowing quite heavily for the best part of an hour (no snow was forecast for the area, just some talk of possible sleet overnight). We decided to cut the visit short and head home, promptly got lost a couple of times in the suburbs of Nottingham, which wasted another hour or so. But, even within Nottingham, it had become quite apparent that this was a substantial snowfall, and that the Boxing Day evening traffic was just not coping with it.
With a short stop for some food, that 25-mile journey took us about five-and-a-half hours, and we arrived back well after midnight. It's true, the roads were slippery, and there were a significant number of hills to negotiate. But the sheer number of cars floundering around and slewing from side to side was hilarious. Cars were abandoned left, right and centre (some were still there two days later!), articulated trucks were stuck halfway up hills, and there were any number of idiots pulling stunts like trying to get down the wrong side of the road and getting blocked by oncoming traffic, etc, etc.
Some of it was really funny, in a sad kind of a way, and we resigned ourselves to a long and fragmented trip back. From time to time, we would have to get out and help push a stuck car, so that we (and everyone else) could get through. We were in a little borrowed 1200cc Fiat Panda, perhaps not the idea vehicle for the circumstances, but it was notable that we never got stuck once on any of the hills, and only once or twice did we so much as slither a little. Most cars in the UK are still manual shift, which actually makes it much easier to cope with slippery conditions, so long as you remember to keep it in low gear and low revs. Many people, though, manual car or otherwise, seemed to just put their foot down as hard as possible, and then wonder why they were slewing sideways or, more often, not moving at all.
I know it doesn't snow that often in England, and I fully understand that, given that fact, they do not have, and cannot justify the expense of, the snowploughs and other equipment we are so lucky to have in Canada. But it does seem to me that they bring some of the problems on themselves, and the application of a little common sense would definitely help the situation. No-one has ever taught me how to drive in the snow, but I seem to have a pretty good idea anyway, and I do wonder why the average Englishman should have so much difficulty with winter driving.

No comments: