We don’t really do ‘big weather’ here in Britain. Our climate, dominated by fast-shifting Atlantic weather systems, tends to change too frequently to permit lengthy spells of hot or cold weather. We largely escape the carousel of rotating continental anti-cyclones that can make parts of central Europe a parched savannah in the summer and a frozen tundra in the winter.
What we do get, of course, is rain, and if there’s a dominant feature to the weather of the British Isles, that would be it. It’s probably the thing that makes this ‘green and pleasant land’…….well, green, anyway. A friend of mine spent a couple of years teaching out in Qatar and he said that you knew exactly what the weather in the Gulf was going to be like 99% of the time and that what he missed most about England was the shifts in the weather and the changing seasons.
The English have a morbid fascination with the weather and complain about it whatever it’s doing – it’s always too cold/too hot/too wet/too dry/too foggy etc. Also, as mentioned recently, it forms a nice safe topic that you can use when talking to anyone you don’t really have much desire to converse with about any ‘genuine’ topic. It also fulfils a basic need of the English suburbanite – the desire to appear affable and sociable whilst actually saying as little of consequence as possible and keeping your ‘pink half of the drainpipe’ (as Vivian Stanshall depicted it) distinct from your neighbours.
People in this country like the idea of ‘big weather’ as long as it’s someone else that’s having to endure it. Thus, documentaries about tornadoes, tsunamis and hurricanes are consumed with great enthusiasm, but people respond less well when it’s them in the firing line.
So, in the current extended cold spell, airports and stations have become like refugee camps, tempers are frayed as people try to get to wherever it is that they’re proposing to spend Christmas, re-arrange flights or find someone to vent their spleen on and everyone scales back their ambitions in terms of getting out and about.
Snow on the M5 in Worcestershire
Of my own friends, one couple went to Worcester – normally a half-hour run down the M5 from here – to pick up their son from University. They left their house at 1000 on Saturday morning, were at the Uni before 1100, but due to snowstorms and a series of freak accidents on the motorway didn’t get back home until 2200 that night. At one point, it took them 4 hours to crawl between 2 junctions.
Another friend has been doubly cursed; on Friday he got a suburban train from Birmingham New Street to travel the two stops to University Station, but the train didn’t stop there – in fact it didn’t stop until Droitwich. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he was travelling back from London last night and, having left in the early evening, was stranded at Tamworth Station at 2300 with no sign of a train to take him into central Birmingham. I’m assuming he got home OK in the end.
Of course, apart from the chaos and inconvenience all these things cause, people’s bonhomie and Christmas spirit is severely eroded and the world tends to shrink. The other day I went out on to the High Street to do some food shopping in the local Asda and was informed by one of the checkout folks that all local buses were on hold for the forseeable future. To paraphrase the famous Victorian newspaper headline, ‘The City Centre cut off from Kings Heath’! The mind boggles.
Snow in Birmingham
Much has been said about our ineptitude in coping with snow and ice and suchlike. Today, the BBC website is carrying a feature on how Helsinki Airport copes with winter weather – three runways, deployed in rotation, of which two are kept running whilst the third is being de-iced. This is manna from heaven to the moaners and groaners who carp about the chaos at Heathrow and the closure of several other provincial airports, whilst ignoring the fact that Helsinki gets guaranteed snow and ice every year and also probably sees only about 10% of Heathrow’s traffic levels. Still, why let logic or facts get in the way of a good grouse? As for the railways, over 100 people were apparently stranded on a train in the middle of Kent because the tracks froze. Either that or it’s the proverbial ‘wrong kind of snow’.
Everyone will have their share of horror stories about this frozen interlude, but the fact is that for years now, we haven’t had a winter worth the mention. The Danes have an aphorism that deplores their summer weather – ‘In Denmark, we have two winters – a green one and a white one’ Until the last two years, we could have adapted this to ‘In Britain, we have two green winters’. One side-effect of this situation is that we have become pretty inept at dealing with cold weather and its manifestations, another is that we have become used to going where we want when we want without undue hassle. Not this year.
FC Brugge v Anderlecht – it’s my ball and I’m going home!
On the basis that we can find humour in all things, it’s heartening to be able to report that the recent Belgian League football match between FC Brugge and Anderlecht was held up because the Brugge fans were pelting the Anderlecht players with snowballs every time they got anywhere near them. Anderlecht had the last laugh, however, winning the match 2-0. Apparently, one of their players nonetheless got into trouble with local police after the game – for throwing snowballs back at his own Anderlecht fans ‘to celebrate the win’. This is obviously another manifestation of ‘Tevez Syndrome’, where footballers bite the hands that are feeding them.