Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Of Snow and Cack-handed Coups

Only in Britain, or, maybe, as Stephen corrected me earlier, only in England could you have a half hour news special at prime time on the weather conditions and not one on an attempt to unseat the Prime Minister. Ok, so that attempt was as ill advised cackhanded as the weather is disruptive, but still. You might like to read Eric Joyce, Labour MP for Falkirk West's view of today's events. It will be interesting to eventually discover, no doubt in someone's memoirs, what really went down today. Who pledged support to the plotters and then pulled the rug from under them?

Anyway, back to the snow, which merited a news special which seemed to be crafted entirely for the TV column of Private Eye. They even got together a whole load of people in a pub for the occasion. What's really funny is that we in Scotland have had several inches of snow for the last three weeks but only when the white stuff hits the home counties is it newsworthy. I despair.

As I've said before, I'm pretty much phobic about the stuff. Today is Day 21 for us and I've been out of my house 3 times. Once to go to the shops in the car, once to go to my neighbour's 2 doors down and finally to go to my neighbour's 3 doors down in the other direction for their Hogmanay Party. The neighbour who had the party fell and broke her wrist on the street which hasn't made me any more confident about venturing out.

So, we've had a minimum of four inches of snow for the last 3 weeks. At the moment there's over a foot on the rabbit run. (in case you're wondering, rabbits are under several hutch covers, have lots of snow and get checked regularly and their bottle is changed every couple of hours whether it's frozen or not) every day, somebody gets stuck trying to get their car in and out of our street. It's a testament to the wonderful community spirit here that there's always been someone with a shovel to help dig them out.

I have to say that I have nothing but sympathy for anyone in a Council who's having to manage their Winter services, especially when there seems to be a problem getting grit to the right places, as has been the case in Fife. A lot of effort has been made by many people to keep the gritters going 24/7. Of course there are going to be problems, or mistakes, but this is the worst and most prolonged spell of weather I've seen in all of my life so my instinct is to say "give em a break" rather than slag them off.

Our street has never been gritted - it's nowhere near anywhere the Council would do on a good day when they had limitless supplies of grit and equipment. I get that it's really important that they keep the main roads clear. I found this BBC site a useful education on road gritting, stating that it has to be done often on the main roads to keep them clear which, I guess, doesn't leave much time for anywhere else.

Of course, there's always one example of insensitive and tactless comment, as reported in today's Evening News. Edinburgh City Cllr Norman Work thinks that it's pure laziness that we're not all out there with shovels clearing our own paths and streets. Well, Cllr Work, you try getting out there and see how far you get with a shovel on compacted snow and ice. I accept that it's a difficult job for Councils to manage, but I don't think dismissing local residents as lazy is in any way helpful or constructive.

There are also those who say, and often they're those who are normally in favour of cutting public services, who are shouting loud and long about Councils' failures, accusing them of criminal irresponsibility for not gritting their street. I'd ask them how much more Council Tax they would be willing to pay, or what services they would cut, to buy in equipment which would probably be needed once every couple of decades? In countries where they know they are going to get a lot of snow every year, they deal with it, but because we get it so rarely, we are bound to have problems. These extremities come once or twice in a career so there's not a whole load of opportunity to build up experience.

It may well be that this snow is actually a sign of more permanent climate change, with the mild gulf stream being displaced by cruel weather systems from the north, so we might have to learn to cope better. If that's the case, we'll have to take lessons from the likes of Canada and Scandinavia where the snow tyres come out in November and go away in March.

I think that we do need to pull together in these extreme conditions and do whatever we can to help others - and also to be tolerant of the Councils who are doing their best to keep as many roads as safe as they can. Of course they are going to make mistakes, and when it's all over, these need to be investigated and lessons learned and written down for the future.

Travelling anywhere is pretty hellish at the moment, by vehicle or on foot. I'm lucky that I've managed to avoid it. I seriously don't know how I'd cope if I didn't have a husband to trudge up to the shops, or friends to take Anna to and from school (although she's off this week as our schools don't go back until next week). I have to say that one good effect of the weather for us was that we were significantly less greedy than usual over the Festive Season, given that our consumption was confined to what Bob could carry from the supermarket. The poor man spent 2 hours on the local station until a train turned up to take him to work and may have had to do the same today had a colleague not decided to take his 4x4 into town.

They may have come across one of those Council mistakes on the way. Immediately after Junction 2 of the M8 which leads to Newbridge, the traffic slowed up and the motorway was down to one lane because it didn't appear to have been gritted. The ony place traffic could go was in the outside lane so the usual bottleneck there was intensified. I'm wondering if this is to do with the fact that that area is somewhat in no man's land between Edinburgh and West Lothian Councils and nobody had actually taken responsibility for it. However that occurred, let's hope they get it sorted.

The people I worry about most in all of this are those who really struggle to pay their fuel bills at the best of times. There's nothing worse than being cold and I am scared for people in that situation. Being too cold can be dangerous and can cost lives. I guess our energies should also be focused on making sure people in that situation get the help that they need. It's awful that the Government doesn't give Winter fuel payments to disabled people, or families with disabled children who really struggle to keep warm. Maybe the harshness of this Winter will force a rethink on that one.

So, much more important things to think about all round, not that you'd tell from the actions of a few plotting Blairites and a BBC News Special that didn't really scratch the surface.


Stephen Glenn said...

Another correction Eric's seat is Falkirk. Falkirk West hasn't existed at Westminster since 2005.

*puts anoroak on to leave*

Caron said...

You're right. I was thinking that if there's Linlithgow and East Falkirk the rest had to be West.

Apologies. I stand corrected. Again.

subrosa said...

I remember when living in Europe Caron and it snowed. You were responsible for clearing any public pathway in front of your home. If it wasn't done it was possible you were fined. There were allowances for those who had difficulty doing such a task.

It worked well. Pavements were cleared within hours whereas here people leave them until, as you say, foot traffic has trodden the snow into hard packed ice. Also the belief is that if you do clear your own pathways and someone falls, then they will sue you. That deters any action.

I am forced to clear my way onto the road as the snowplough deposited a 2 foot wall of snow and there was no way I could get my car over/through it. In many ways I'm pleased it was cleared because when the thaw does arrive it will defrost far quicker than the 6 - 12 inches of hard packed stuff elsewhere outside.

There are grips you can get to put on your shoes. I've a pair and they work well. Only trouble is they get damaged using them on cleared areas. It's cheap to replace the studs though.

Hopefully the thaw will be a gentle one or we're in for some flooding.

Paul Freeman said...

When I lived in England, I remember something going round on the rare occasions that it snowed that people were too fearful of being sued if people fell over on the section that they had cleared "incorrectly". How sad is that ?

Good point about the permanent change. I heard about the gulf stream being turned off a few years ago now, and wondered if our climate would end up similar to Canada.

I'm thinking that these sort of conditions would no longer be consided "extreme" and we wouldn't use salt and grit and get used to snow tyres.

Final point is that if we had a decent public transport system and didn't rely on privates cars so much, we could all just about manage with the bus routes being cleared and just walking to the main roads from our untreated side roads.

I say this as a complete wimp, as because I can work from home, I haven't ventured into the car or onto the bus (Stephen will not have seen me) for 21 days either.

Caron said...

Subrosa, I'm excited by the idea of grips for shoes. Where do you get your's from?

One of the features of many new estates, especially here is that the "pavements" outside your house are actually strips of grass. Not easy to negotiate or clear up.

It's a lot easier to walk on snow than sheet ice and sometimes when pavements have been cleared they turn into ice rinks and become more difficult to walk on.

Paul, you are right about public transport. I so feel for my poor husband. Apparently there are problems with the trains again this morning and he left at 6:45 in search of a bus into town. Unfortunately he can't work from home as I can.

Anonymous said...

Ahem! - I do actually remember the last "big freeze" 62 into 63 but as a two year old my take on it all was abit different. after all it was Dad who had to pull the metal Duck/sledge up the hill eacvh time! I agree with most of what Caron says, but as a dedicated urbanite I'm managing with good old LRT. On more important matters though, I haven't been outside in anything but my moccasin boots since 17th december. The deprivation of shoe choice is really beginning to get to me! Thank God I have two pairs - one black one red.PS Its Karen - I've lost the Password fight today

Anonymous said...

Just fyi...

Maintenance, gritting and clearing of Motorways / Trunk Roads is the reponsibility of BEAR and not the local councils.


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