Charles Nevin: Let the bulldog spirit tackle the snow

Time to draw a line, present a united and well-wrapped front and move on

Saturday 09 January 2010 01:00

Snow: how do you stand on it? Do you, like me, sense an uncertainty in the steaming bar and icy hall of public opinion as to how this great nation of ours is responding to the present weather? Are we behaving well or badly? That old bulldog spirit, or the new risk-averse wussedness?

You, as an Independent reader, and therefore by definition sensible, measured and intelligent, would probably reply that it's a bit of both. Which is all very well, sensible, measured and intelligent, but not much help, as it means everyone will have to have endless discussions about it, and there simply isn't the time, as we also have to get through endless tales of journeys to work and agonising decisions to stay at home, then wonder at the white ethereal beauty of it, worry about salt supplies, and agree it's marvellous for the kids before debating "Snowballs: Always appropriate?".

That's in addition to the little place in Scotland which has had temperatures lower than Captain Scott's last stop, the different types of snow, the locked-in pubs running desperately low on pork scratchings, and cunning plans to keep the bird bath defrosted involving several candles, a long fuse and an alarm clock. Plus the concern about television reporters as they stand by roadsides or jostle for room at that perilously yawning grit warehouse everybody seems to go to.

Thus Mr Floyd of Stockport writing to the public prints: "Can the BBC not advise their reporters to dress more appropriately? Standing there giving us a report while snow covers unprotected heads not only looks stupid but is also very distracting." Quite. I'm also very worried about Nick Robinson and his exposed dome outside Downing Street: if we lose Nick to his bed now, how on earth will the Prime Minister, Cabinet, Geoff, Pat and the Labour backbenchers know what they're doing?

Uncertainty and confusion also lead, inevitably, to the search for a scapegoat, whether it's the foolhardy venturing out against all warning, or the cowardly refusing so much as to clear their patch of pavement. This is why I must commend the BBC viewer who emailed to congratulate the Prime Minister for single-handedly halting global warming. Something, though, about the way he referred to the PM as "Mr Gordon Brown" persuaded me he was not being entirely serious, and most probably an Independent reader.

But the rumblings and fallout continue, although it seems a bit hard on Jonathan Ross, even if he wasn't wearing a hat, either, when he came out of his house to speak to the media. Local authorities are also in the firing line: you know it's serious when Richard Madeley twitters angrily that he's had to miss an important meeting because the council hasn't gritted his road. I was also most concerned to see that Gwyneth Paltrow had been involved in a minor collision in Hampstead, and even more so when I read that she's on a diet called a "juice fast" entailing drinking five different vegetable juices and eating raw vegetables at night to give her body roughage "to aid its nightly sweep". Is that enough in this weather, do you think?

There was something contrary to the bulldog spirit and a nation pulling together, too, I felt, in the emphasis placed by the report of Ms Paltrow's mishap on the failure of her large off-road vehicle to protect her from the icy conditions. Mind you, am I alone in detecting, as I gingerly travel the highway, expressions that can only be described as really irritatingly smug on the faces of 4x4 drivers as they sweep past showering grit over my windscreen which I cannot wash as I rely on washing-up liquid rather than that pricey anti-freeze stuff and the washer has frozen up?

This, I am ashamed to say, is yet another example of the divisive sort of talk that is most dangerous for our nation, particularly when we face a new decade so uncertain we cannot decide what to call it. Far wiser to place the blame for our current parlous state where it belongs, on an outside agency over which we have no control, and to see it as a pertinent reminder of our powerlessness in the greater scheme of things. That's why I was pleased to see it being pointed out that the United States is profiting from our cold snap: yes, indeed, shares in Compass Minerals, American owner of Britain's largest rock salt supplier, are rocketing.

So, time to draw a line, present a united and well-wrapped front and move on. To help us do so, I think we can all agree in some crucial areas. First, however bad it is, no snap will be as bad as previous bad snaps. Second, the standard of snowmen is definitely improving.

If you want proof of descending severity, consider another letter, from Mr Lee-Elliott of Leicestershire: "In 1947, I helped dig out my village of Upton, Northamptonshire. It took 10 days for all the village men to dig a mile down the only access road to the A47." Then this, on 1963, from Mr Taylor, of Gloucester: "It was bitterly cold – I used to wear my pyjamas under my police uniform." See: no contest.

I also have my own empirical test going on, as we are currently without central heating and are relying on fires and the odd electric bar. I should like to tell you this is for a reality TV programme re-creating 1947, but actually it's because I forgot to order the oil. Still, as I never tire of telling the family, what an opportunity to experience history and the raw power of nature, and to gain unique material to write to the papers about in 2037, if they can save their fingers.

But, as we face yet more of it, let me leave you on an uplifting note. I used to be most suspicious of John Ruskin and this: "Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather." Then, on Tuesday night, I stood in front of St Paul's as snow drifted down around the dome and on to the steps through the dark sky, and I thought, with apologies to Mr Wordsworth of Grasmere, that earth had not anything to show so fair.

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