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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It’ll be all white. It’s only a bit of snow…

Heavy snow in the Moorlands in January 1987.

Heavy snow in the Moorlands in January 1987.

We are notoriously bad at coping with snow in the UK. Here in North Staffordshire is no different. A mere dusting of the white stuff and roads grind to a halt and schools close. Curtains twitch and people begin checking their stockpiles of Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies.

I’m not sure why we can’t seem to handle proper winter weather.

Perhaps it is because we get so little of it and it is so infrequent.

The truth is snow is a genuine novelty round these parts which is why most of us don’t bother fitting winter tyres to our cars.

When it does snow, my perception is that the majority of people over the age of 60 refuse to leave the house until the great thaw sets in.

This isn’t what happens overseas, I can assure you.

Our attitude is mad, really. Even after nine months of fairly incessant rain which made for a washout of a summer, many people fail to appreciate the beauty of the season of frost, snow and ice.

Thank goodness for children and their love of snowmen and sledges is all I can say.

In early December I flew to France for a festive weekend away with my mates Will and Rob.

It was a new alternative to the annual pub crawl around Newcastle – the idea being that we would sit in front of a log fire drinking vino, watching telly and playing games.

We landed at Geneva airport to be confronted by a white blanket covering the countryside.

The lady handing over the keys to our hire car – a very modest Vauxhall Meriva – asked Will if he wanted snow chains fitting to the tyres. She genuinely couldn’t advise whether we’d need them or not.

“Nah,” he responded after a few seconds’ thought. “I think we’ll be owrate.”

Two hours later it was squeaky bum time as the ill-equipped people carrier quite literally inched its way up Le Crêt de la Neige – the highest peak in the Jura mountains – in the worst blizzard I’ve ever seen.

To his eternal credit, Will fought with the steering wheel and gear stick for all he was worth to coax every ounce of life from the engine and find some traction in the deepening snow as darkness fell.

It was quite simply an epic journey and it was the snow that made it so.

Had it been simply overcast or raining the four hour journey to Will’s place in France would have been eminently forgettable.

As it was, that journey and the sight of the beautiful, snow-covered mountains and fir trees made the holiday so memorable.

You’ll have guessed by now that I’m a big fan of the white stuff.

Sadly, for me, we get precious little of it round these parts and, when we do, it never lasts for very long.

Indeed, properly disruptive snowstorms in the UK as a whole during the last decade or so can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case when I was growing up in Sneyd Green during the 1980s. Back then heavy snowfalls appeared with far more regularity and I think we coped a little bit better with them.

Football certainly carried on thanks to that genius invention, the high-vis orange ball. Remember them?

Trawling through The Sentinel’s archives I unearthed some wonderfully evocative pictures – highlighting the particularly snowy winters of 1981/2, 1987 and 1989.

The Christmas of 1981, for example, was a white one for the people of the Potteries and I was able to build a snowman with my brother on Christmas Eve.

Earlier that month, on December 13, snow blitzed the south of the country and even the Queen became stranded for several hours in a Cotswold pub.

Two ships foundered in the English Channel and some homes in Somerset were without electricity for five days.

Three weeks later, in the January of 1982, it was particularly cold.

On January 8 and 9 heavy snow and gale force winds saw severe blizzards across the Midlands, Wales, Ireland and southern England. Transport services were thrown into chaos and millions of commuters failed to get to work in London for two days running.

Sadly, in 30 years, we seem to have become worse at coping with the snow when it does arrive.

Perhaps the next time we get an inch or two in our neck of the woods we should try to appreciate the fleeting beauty of it and realise that it isn’t the end of the world. Honest.

Anyway, I’d better be off now. I think it’s starting to snow and I wouldn’t want to get stuck at work.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel for 12 pages of nostalgia

Why we should appreciate winter and the occasional snow fall

Who would drive a gritting lorry, eh? What a thankless, anti-social task.

Other than bankers and traffic wardens, these poor souls must be the most unpopular people in the country.

Well, for about two days a year that is. The two days a year that everyone loses perspective.

Yes, the Great British penchant for moaning about the weather returned with a vengeance this weekend.

A heavy (but predicted) snow-storm hit North Staffordshire and South Cheshire around Saturday teatime – bringing gridlock to parts of our road network.

The Met Office had issued severe weather warnings but still many reacted with incredulity – as if a new Ice Age had sneaked up on them.

Motorists sat in queues of traffic for hours on end as blizzard conditions enveloped them.

The A50, the A34 and the D-Road came to a standstill as football traffic leaving the Britannia Stadium drove into a whiteout.

Where were the gritters, people wondered? (As if it would have made any difference).

The question they should have been asking, of course, is: Why are we so woefully inept at coping with a bit of snow now and again?

Why do we fail to fit winter tyres to our cars? Why do we act like it’s the end of the world when we see a few snowflakes?

In the wake of Saturday night’s snow storm, the local authorities will doubtless cop a load of flak for not preparing our roads properly.

Indeed, I await the inevitable backlash via The Sentinel’s letters pages about the inconvenience of it all.

To be fair, we’ve had the mildest winter since Adam was a lad – weeks and weeks and weeks of overcast skies and rain.

Personally, I’d rather have a covering of the white stuff any day.

The truth is, I’ve been waiting for about two months for some snow and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

I suspect, however, this puts me in a very small minority.

The problem is that, as a nation, we simply haven’t a clue how to act when we do have the odd flurry.

What’s more, sadly, most people have absolutely no appreciation of winter.

They sit in their centrally-heated homes, watching summer holiday adverts on the telly and looking balefully out of the windows as if the very pavement has suddenly become a death-trap and the roads a total no-go zone.

I’m pretty sure that when Sammy Cahn wrote Let It Snow back in 1945, this attitude wasn’t what he was trying to evoke.

Yes, I know it’s no fun stuck in a traffic jam. We’ve all been there. Yes, you have to be careful not to trip, drive slowly, wrap up warm, allow a little more time for journeys and travel prepared.

But, by the same token, a snowfall shouldn’t equate to the end of civilisation as we know it.

It’s certainly not an excuse to raid the emergency store of Fray Bentos corned beef.

You see, I’m convinced that it’s only in the UK that we view winter with such fear and loathing. Other nations undoubtedly scoff at our nesh-ness (my word) and laugh at the way in which everything grinds to a halt with a covering of snow.

Why can’t we learn to love winter? I don’t know how anyone can fail to wake up and not appreciate the sun-kissed majesty of a crisp frost.

Have we all forgotten what it’s like to be children? Have we forgotten that snow equals fun?

Have we forgotten listening to Radio Stoke while crossing our fingers and hoping to hear that our school has been closed because the boiler’s packed in?

Are our hearts so hard that we are untouched by the gift of a fresh blanket of snow which makes any tired old street look like a picture postcard?

I actually travel to Scotland annually to seek out the white stuff. What’s more, when I took my kids to Lapland last year to meet Father Christmas, a huge part of the attraction for all of us was proper, deep snow.

People moan incessantly about the cold over here, but the truth is, we don’t know we’re born.

When I was in Finnish Lapland, just inside the Arctic Circle, the temperature dropped to as low as minus 26 degrees celsius.

To be honest, nobody noticed how cold it was until we got back to the hotel. We were too busy sledging, driving snowmobiles, building snowmen and pelting each other with snowballs.

I remember looking out of the lodge windows at the pine trees and the moon-lit snow and thinking that there couldn’t be a more beautiful sight.

What a shame we don’t appreciate it round our neck of the woods…

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Bring on a dusting of the white stuff

More snow? Really? Well, that’s what our weather forecasters are saying. Arctic blasts hitting the UK in the next couple of days. First Scotland will get a dusting of the white stuff and then the rest of us, with temperatures dropping to minus five or even lower. Of course, we have to take much of this with a large pinch of salt – meteorologists have been wrong before. But I, for one, love snow. Never mind all the moaning and groaning, give me cold weather any day of the week rather than those awful sticky summer nights when you can’t sleep because it’s so bleeding hot. I’ve just returned from a holiday to Scotland where there’s still a bit of snow in the Cairngorms. It’s magical to wake up to. My kids love it, my dog loves it. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…