"It's pathetic. They'd been forecasting this for days. So why weren't we more prepared? It's been snowing for hours now and they still haven't gritted my side road. And I hear they're running out of salt. Typical. A few snowflakes and this country's paralysed. They can handle it in Moscow and the Canadian Arctic, so why can't we? As for the schools – they're too afraid of being sued to do their jobs. Sack the lot of 'em, I say. And as for the media, huh! London has a sprinkling of snow and it's a major news story. Still, you think this is bad? You should have seen it in 1963. Up to our chests, it was – but the buses still ran on time. Snowdrifts! Call these snowdrifts, why..."
Listen to the radio phone-ins, read the postings on the message boards, and you would have got the impression last week that Britain was one vast chorus of whingeing. But that wasn't the real Britain. It was Online Citizen Britain, an altogether different thing. The real Britain may not have had road grit, but large parts of it had true grit. And they showed it. So, in honour of those who gave service or amusement above and beyond the call of duty in the Great Snows of 2009, we present The Independent on Sunday True Grit Awards (plus raspberries for those who let the side down):
Most Heroic Effort to Get to Work: On Monday, 53-year-old Peter Cartwright, an NHS radiographer from Ashford in Kent, was so determined to get to his work at Guy's hospital, 55 miles away in central London, that he undertook the following journey: he left home at 5.30am, caught a train to Maidstone, walked 10 miles to Borough Green, hitched to Swanley, walked five miles to Eltham, took another hitch to Rotherhithe, walked to Bermondsey station (a total of 18 miles on foot) and caught the Tube to London Bridge. It took him eight and a half hours, and he then stayed two nights at the hospital to be sure of fulfilling his duties.
Idea of the Week: John Scotland of Bristol proposed this idea on the BBC message board: "When snow prevents a football match being played the fixture is rearranged for later in the season. What if any school day lost through weather-closure had to be rearranged at the end of term (or even on a Saturday)?" Make him Schools Tsar.
Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Gallantry: Simon Costello of Hertfordshire, according to a report in the East Herts Herald, took pictures as his wife rescued the driver of a bus that had become stuck in snow on a hill. Mr Costello told the paper: "My wife had gone out earlier to a double-decker bus which had been stuck for a good hour... Carrying two buckets of grit, she went to work like a seasoned RAC man. Within minutes she had gritted under the wheels, and the bus was free to carry on its journey. Five minutes later, a coach got stuck in the same spot. This time another lady also came to the rescue and between them they got the coach moving again. Women – what would we do without them?"
Least Impressive Answerphone Message: That of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), which on Friday – repeat Friday – was telling callers to its Birmingham HQ: "This office is closed due to adverse weather conditions." A shining example to impressionable young minds.
Intelligent Local Authority of the Week: Leicestershire County Council has a contract with around 100 farmers to help clear minor roads. And last week, more than 60 of them were called out to help get rural Leicestershire moving.
District Nurse of the Week: On Monday Julie Ricketts, of Central Surrey Health, walked through deep snow for three hours to give specialist treatment to a sick patient. There were also many other health staff who, unable and unwilling to take a day off, trudged miles through snow to get to work. Another Surrey nurse walked six miles through the worst of Monday's snowfall to get to hospital, a fact I can vouch for, since she's my wife. Thousands more emergency service and health staff slept the night at hospitals and fire stations so they could report for duty. Police officers showed similar dedication, like Sergeant Christine Gauntlett of Caterham, Surrey, who, starting at 5.30 on Monday morning, walked six and a half miles through the worst of it to get to her work in the Met's Z Division.
Best Overall Comment on the Weather: At the peak of Monday's online moanfest about the difficulties of getting to work, David Taylor of Southend wrote this on the BBC message board: "As I started working from home a year ago, I did find it nearly impossible to get out of bed and trudge across the landing to my office. The BBC wasn't very helpful... there were no reports of holdups near the airing cupboard and the bathroom interchange was almost impassable. Gritting was nearly useless – but with the cold floors, it was to be expected. Cancellations were widespread. No bacon and eggs. I had to make do with a replacement toast service. I hope I get home tonight."
Most Futile Journey: Zunetta Liddell of Plymouth wrote on the BBC message board: "My husband travelled from Plymouth to London yesterday to attend his course at Roehampton University today. He went by train (no problem) and then cycled as usual (again, no problem) only to reach the university... to find it closed. He is now on the train back to Plymouth." A round trip of nearly 500 miles.
Wedding Night of the Week: Michelle Bartholomew married George Venizelos in Huddersfield on Monday. She then went home to change and rest. When she awoke, the snow was so bad that she couldn't leave the house. The couple spent the night apart. "Not a very good start," said the groom.
Salt Mine of the Week: The Salt Union mine at Winsford, Cheshire, is now working 500 metres underground, 24 hours a day, seven days a week to try to keep up with demand for gritting salt from councils.
Most Extreme Reaction to the Snows: That seen on the BBC message board. It was evident as early as Monday morning that the high pressure over Britain was not confined to the climate. Accusations of national decline, official failure, southern softiness and an insufficiency of snowploughs began to settle over the online landscape, and we were soon knee-deep in indignation, churlish finger-pointing and inter-regional resentment. Whole search parties (venturing no further than their keyboards) were out looking for reasons to take offence. More than 35,000 people sent in photos and videos to the BBC; thousands more posted to the message board. The corporation said it was the biggest response they'd ever had to a UK news event.
Least Intrepid Government Department: On Monday, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs press office messaged the Commons press gallery to say "extreme weather conditions" made it impossible for them to battle their way from Smith Square to the Houses of Parliament to deliver a written statement to journalists. The distance? 0.4 miles.
Most Dedicated Doctor: One shining example will have to stand for them all: Leicestershire GP Nigel Dadge, who, finding his road in Billesdon impassable, walked through snow to get to patients at Croft Medical Centre, eight miles away.
Snow Depth Auction: Won by the person making the largest claim for snow depth. "Lisa Lou" of Guildford and "Totally Baffled" of Croydon pitched in with 14 inches. But the winner was "Caroline" of Purley, who told Daily Mail readers: "We've had almost two feet worth of snow where I live... !" This was a surprise, especially to me, as I also live in Purley and could only get the steel tape measure 12.5 inches into the stuff. The reverse snow auction, going to the person who in defiance of the facts makes the lowest, most dismissive estimate, went to "John" of Chesterfield with a Monday morning bid of "a few snowflakes" in London.
Most Surprising Sense of Priorities During Adverse Weather Conditions: On Wednesday, "Graham" of Kent sent this to the Daily Mail's message board:
"Can we stop this nonsense of people turning up for work in casual wear? Decent boots are fine, but carry your proper shoes in your bag, for goodness' sake. There's no excuse for rollnecks or jeans!"