Snow in Britain

First of all, I have to admit I love the snow. No  matter in what country I find myself, and no matter I am not a child any more (even though maybe I still am at heart), I love the falling snow, and I love to see everything covered in white.

However I find that in Britain lots of people (adults) deeply hate it. The reason they give is that it causes chaos on the roads, and on transports in general (trains, flights, etc.). And from a certain point of view they are right, because it does. Or does it?

I would rather say that it is not the snow that causes chaos, but rather the un-preparedness of people and organizations for it. Over the last few days I have repeatedly heard on the news that we have had heavy snow falls across Britain, in particularly in the South-East (where I live). However, I have not seen around me any more than 10-15 cm of snow. Now when I was little, and I used to live in Northern Italy, I remember we used to have winters with 50cm of snow, or more. In places like Switzerland, Southern Germany, Nordic countries etc., what we have just had in Britain probably counts as a small amount of snow, and in those countries things carry on as usual with similar amounts of snow.

So why does everything in Britain grinds to a halt instead? Well I think the answer is that most people and organization do not prepare for it. For organizations it is a matter of costs versus return: it is not worth investing money for an occurrence that happens only a few days a year (imagine an airport buying and maintaining equipment to de-ice plane wings, adapt runways, train staff, etc.): the business lost, and the compensation paid (if at all), costs a lot less. I do not have figures at hand to prove this, but I believe the facts are proof enough. And I believe that the cost of compensation and lost business might well be on the rise. Whether it will be enough to spur them into action, that remains to be seen, but maybe it is the general attitude that has to change, because when individuals don’t prepare themselves, business (who are made of individuals) won’t do it either.

For the normal person getting out on the road in his or her car, the reasoning is pretty much the same: why would I buy snow chains, and keep them in the boot, or put winter tyres on, when we hardly get snow at all? It would be an extra cost to add to the car bill (on top of MOT, servicing, insurance, road tax, repairs, etc.).

So when things do go wrong, and people find themselves stuck, they complain. I would really like to know what they are complaining about. Is it that the roads weren’t cleared? But even with all the goodwill and effort and staff and equipment in the world, roads can only be cleared so fast, and it doesn’t help if the gritters and snow ploughs can’t get there because the roads are already clogged with traffic. How many of these complaining people were prepared for it? How many had chains on their tyres? How many had winter tyres fitted?

Last night on my way home (it took me about three times longer than usual thanks to queues caused by unprepared people, but the snow was beautiful when travelling on the back roads), I was happily going down quite a steep hill, when a lady driving up the opposite direction got stuck. Seeing me approach she lowered her window, so I stopped to listen to her. She told me “I am stuck”. Now I don’t quite know what she expected me to do about it. I wasn’t going to be able to tow her up the hill (I did not have the equipment, and even winter tyres don’t do miracles), and I wasn’t going to be able to push her up (it was a good couple of hundred meters at least). The only thing I was really able to do was to try and avoid getting more cars stuck behind her by warning other drivers on the way up, so that she could turn around, go back and reach her destination a different way.

But to all the motorists who found themselves in the same situations, I would like to say that if you are not prepared for it (when the warnings have been widely publicized on tv, radio, newspaper and the internet), don’t go and complain when you get stuck. You are the ones the rest of us who do put the extra effort in to prepare for the snow, should complain to.

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