It’s not the snow that’s the problem, it’s how we behave

A snow scene in Burslem.

A snow scene in Burslem.

They were selling snow shovels in Asda: ‘The shovels and sledges are selling fast so you’ll have to be quick’, warned the nice announcer lady over the PA system.
It seemed to me everyone in the store had been gripped by some sort of collective hysteria over the first proper snowfall of the winter.
Bear in mind I was in there under duress doing the weekly shop for our family of four plus a dog.
In stark contrast everyone else seemed to be a walking case study for Doomsday Preppers on the National Geographic Channel.
A mere dusting of the white stuff had been enough to create panic-buying on a scale not seen since December 23 – with queues of miserable-looking shoppers snaking down the aisles from the check-outs.
Other supermarkets are, of course, available and a colleague of mine Tweeted a picture taken at a local Tesco where every loaf of bread and every bap and bun had vanished from the shelves.
This kind of behaviour is simply unfathomable to me and it would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.
I would guess the average house in North Staffordshire has enough food to see its occupants through any cold spell and yet, for some reason, a few snowflakes and madness sets in.
I mean, heaven forbid we have to make do with what’s in the cupboards and the fridge.
Granted, the media has to take some responsibility for the universal weirdness.
‘Arctic blast’ type headlines dominate newspaper front pages while the TV news shows re-run after re-run of planes being cancelled at Heathrow Airport and some fella’s car stuck in a ditch in Durham.
‘Why are we so bad at coping with the cold weather?’ a number of Sentinel letter writers have asked before blaming the council/Government or Met Office.
The answer is multi-faceted but must have something to do with the fact that we rarely have really bad weather in this country.
When I say ‘bad’ I mean lots of snow or prolonged periods when the temperature drops to minus something-or-other.
When this does happen it seems to catch an awful lot of people by surprise.
Presumably they either haven’t seen a weather forecast for several days or they don’t have a window.
It wouldn’t enter their heads to enjoy the picture postcard scene and make the best of it – not when there’s a chance to moan and forget that they too were young once and that not everyone’s as miserable and curmudgeonly as they are.
I reckon our inability to cope with frost, snow and ice also has a lot to do with the fact that many people are lazy, inconsiderate or downright stupid.
Occasionally all three.
On the internet our obsession with the weather plummeted to new depths locally as council gritting teams came in for a pasting on social media yet again.
There was outrage that a certain street in Meir hadn’t been gritted.
One poster disputed the city council’s assertion that its gritters were even out on the streets.
She commented: “Well all I av seen is cars sliding around and ppl gettin stuck this city is a joke I avnt seen any gritters and I walked to work, waste of space as usual, think the gritters and the grit must all av harry potter invisibility cloaks.”
(In English this means the lady in question didn’t spot any gritters during her extensive survey of her walk-to-work route).
Another poster, a mum-of-three, couldn’t understand why the pavements weren’t gritted too because of the risk the snow posed to her and her sprogs.
I kid you not.
This, of course, all boils down to a ‘woe-is-me’, can’t do anything for ourselves attitude which I find flabbergasting.
I refuse to believe people were so mollycoddled and useless 30 or 40 years ago when I was growing up.
Nowadays it seems some people aren’t happy unless every inch of the route between their front door and their local shop/pub/school/place of work (insert as appropriate) has been treated with rock salt and personally tested by their ward councillor (whom seven out of 10 couldn’t be bothered to vote for).
To be honest, if the main roads are kept clear (and they usually are) then I’m happy.
Having to take my time as I drive or walk along the side streets is no great inconvenience and using those little yellow bins to sprinkle a bit of grit on my drive and that of my elderly neighbour is no real hardship to me.
Yes, we’ve definitely gone soft in recent years: Take schools, for example.
Holden Lane High School only closed once in the winter during my five years there between 1983 and 1988 and that was because of a problem with the boiler.
Nowadays some schools close when there’s even a threat of ‘bad’ weather or text working parents at lunchtime to tell them to come and collect their children as soon as possible because there’s four centimetres of snow on the playground.
Why? The pupils are already in the school so what does it matter what time they leave?
‘Health and safety’ posted a teacher friend of mine on Facebook before adding a smiley face with a wink and presumably heading off to the shed to dig out his sledge.
Nice work if you can get it.
I love winter: A sharp frost in the morning and a fresh blanket of snow is a beautiful sight to behold.
What’s more, I promise to love it even when I’m old and grey and all I can do is stare out at the children making snowmen and throwing snow balls. In fact, I’ll be envious.
You see, it’s not the cold weather that’s unbearable – it’s the way most of us react when we get some.

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‘I don’t mind what they pay councillors… if they’re good enough’

There is understandable anger at proposals to give a pay rise to city councillors who are overseeing sweeping cutbacks and hundreds of redundancies.

Indeed, the idea is so barking mad I did half wonder whether or not it had been floated by a quick-thinking Stoke City employee to divert attention away from Tony Pulis escaping a driving ban with the most ludicrous of defences.

Talk about trying to defend the indefensible…

It certainly seems to be plain daft that anyone would advocate increasing the allowances for members during a public sector pay freeze.

The fact the pay rise has been recommended by an independent panel comprising three local taxpayers won’t cut any ice in the Potteries.

If everyone is else is being forced to tighten their belts and other local authorities such as Staffordshire County Council are freezing their expenses, then it seems absurd for city councillors to be treated any differently.

I’m sure, when it meets this week to discuss the proposals, the ruling Labour group will also be mindful of the fact that their basic allowance is already higher than the average paid by 15 other similar councils while their leader’s is substantially more.

The suggestion to increase allowances seems tactless and ill thought-out given the current climate but, to be honest, I’m not that fussed about what city councillors are paid.

Why not? Well, in the grand scheme of things, the budget for members’ allowances is chicken feed.

What concerns me more, and always has done, is the calibre of the individuals who put themselves forward for public office and the guidance they receive when they are elected.

Not so long ago I had a very enlightening chat with a city councillor who told me in no uncertain terms what they (I won’t say he or she) thought was wrong with their colleagues.

Basically, this councillor felt it boiled down to the fact that ordinary people are thrust into positions of power and influence and have no idea how to handle it.

“Out of their depth” and “poorly trained” were the phrases used.

You see, councillors may be wonderful spouses, parents, carers, business people and employees but very few of them will ever have worked in an environment quite like the one down at the Civic Centre in Stoke.

It’s the equivalent of you or I being elected to the board of a multi-national firm and being asked to help shape company policy and decide how multi-million pound budgets are spent.

I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t know where to start: I sometimes struggle with our Asda shopping list.

What’s more, local government is an environment which is: a) notoriously bureaucratic;

b) unionised to within an inch of its life; and c) one in which certain individuals (senior officers) wield extraordinary power and tend to run rings around everyone else.

I admire anyone who is prepared to jump into the viper’s nest that is local politics – even more so in Stoke-on-Trent which is the local government equivalent of a poisoned chalice.

However, there is a world of difference between wanting to do good work in your community and having the intelligence, the strength of character and the communication skills to mix it with a handful of career politicians and all-powerful council officers.

On the one hand it is wonderful for democracy that ordinary people from all walks of life can enter politics at this level and seek to make a contribution to local life.

But I do wonder how many of these are simply pawns of the party machine or cannon fodder for experienced council officers.

How many times have you heard an elected member give a public speech or listened to them on the radio and winced with embarrassment?

This may seem like a hatchet job but it truly isn’t.

I’d like to see councillors empowered through better training so that we can have faith that they will stand up to the unelected officers who really run the show and have the nous to properly scrutinise decisions.

Indeed, I’d be happy to pay them twice what they get now if I thought they were doing a fantastic job. Wouldn’t we all?

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel