Leading article: Cold comfort

Icebergs in the North Sea. Panic stations! What next? A polar bear "threat" to Skegness? In reality, there are lumps of ice in the North Sea, which is hardly surprising, given the recent cold snap. Even salt water freezes eventually.

One wonders when we got so fearful about cold weather. This is no excuse for the mannagers of our airports, who have shabbily treated those passengers stuck in terminals for days. It is just to point out that cold winters per se are nothing unusual in this country.

The late 17th century, for example, marked the start of a mini-ice age in Britain, which some scientists see as enduring well into the Victoran era. People just got on with it and, indeed, made good use of the long cold snaps, with winter "frost fairs" becoming a regular occurence on the River Thames.

Much more recently, plenty of people alive today can recall the freezing winters of 1947 and 1963, when the snow really did lie deep and thick and even, to quote from a well-known carol. The difference was that far fewer people went anywhere at all in winter.

That was a time for hunkering down round a blazing fire at home. If colder winters of the type that they had in Restoration England are to become the norm, we may have to learn to do the same.