Siberia, common sense and an apology

Every time we have snow, you can predict without fail that there will be a chorus of people saying, “I don’t know why this catches us out; we’re never prepared for this! Three snowflakes and London grinds to a halt….” And those people have a point. It does seem to take surprisingly little snow to affect us quite badly.

We are, of course, experiencing “the Beast from the East” in which a mass of Polar Continental air has been streaming across from Scandinavia and Siberia, picking up some moisture from the (relatively cooler) North Sea and dumping it in Eastern England and, in particular, Scotland. As if this wasn’t enough, the  rain-bearing “Pest from the West”, a standard cyclonic system, has been drifting up from the Azores and these two air masses have been doing battle in the skies of the West Country. A mixture of rain and low temperatures means snow and here we are, up to our oxters in it.

Earlier in the week I heard complaints that the news coverage of this event was “way over the top” prompting the moniker “the Hysteria from Siberia”. What really caused eyebrows to be raised was the decision by the police and many transport organisations to pre-empt the trouble and start closing down roads and public transport before the snow arrived rather than after it struck.  By some this was seen as over cautious, lacking in resilience and symptomatic of the aptly-named “snowflake generation”. I suspect that had they not done that, we might have had even more people trapped  in the snow, and a greater number of weather – related fatalities.

Maybe here in Britain where snow events are rare, this is the sensible response to this kind of weather. Buying masses of expensive equipment to sit there rusting in mild wet winters makes less sense that investing in good weather forecasting and hunkering down when the storm approaches. We may not have the snowploughs and the wherewithal to clear large quantities of snow, but sometimes prevention is better than cure. Avoiding a problem isn’t a bad strategy if it’s not economically sensible to confront it.

One thing that exasperates me is the exhortation by broadcasters and the police to only “venture out in the bad weather if you have to”. Do I have to go to work? Do I have to meet up with the guys to go bowling because I promised I would? Do I have to go out grocery shopping because we’re running low now and it might be impossible to go in a day or two? Obviously common sense is required, but quite clearly, common sense isn’t always that common, and in fairness it’s sometimes a fine judgment.

I’ve been reading a brilliant book by Jon Sopel, the BBC’s American correspondent about the aspects and changes in US culture which have brought about the seemingly-unlikely election of Donald Trump as President. (thoroughly recommended by the Bath Building Society Book Club!).  In this book, Sopel draws an interesting distinction between the US and the UK in our approach to clearing snow. In the US people see it as their responsibility to clear the snow off the sidewalk outside their house, and when that is done, to go help a neighbour, particularly somebody who is not physically able to do that. Over here in the UK we tend to see that as the Council’s or the government’s job, which, of course, goes some way to explaining why taxes in the US are considerably lower than in Britain.

Which takes us back to those critics who complain that we’re always unprepared for snow. Next time you come across somebody on the “Why don’t ‘they’ do something about it?” rant, simply ask that person whether they have fitted their snow chains on their car yet. They will look at you as if you’re stupid, tell you they don’t have snow chains. And when you ask, “Why not?”, they will tell you that it doesn’t snow often enough to make that investment, and you can leave it at that, with an I’ve-won-this-argument smug grin on your face.

All of this on the day that we have taken the unprecedented  decision, because of the snow and ice, to close the Society for the day. This is not a decision we have taken lightly, but conditions are treacherous, and I don’t want to expose staff or customers to undue risk. I know this will be an inconvenience to some, and I don’t expect everybody will agree with my decision. We shall, of course, be doing everything we can to resolve and put right any problems that this has created for customers in the coming days.


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