Britain in the Snow

It’s become a popular pastime to kick sand in the faces of the Brits over our apparent inability to deal with bad weather.

Here’s my take on the matter:

Although the entire British Isles would fit into just one US state, there’s an extraordinary variety in geographic and climactic types in Britain. Parts of the country – Dartmoor and Exmoor, the Pennines and the Scottish Highlands – get winters that are bad even by North American standards and they deal with it very well but, where I live, we haven’t had any snow to speak of for a few years. This means that hard-pressed local authorities (and airports) won’t spend precious resources planning for something that might never happen. To be fair, no one would.

Added to this, whereas, in many countries, you can guarantee a certain type of weather at a given time of year, in Britain it just doesn’t work like that. There’s an old saying that, if you don’t like the weather, just wait ten minutes.

It must seem comical to see news reporters standing in an inch of snow as if predicting doomsday but the fact is that small amounts of snow really can cause chaos.

We had an inch of snow last week – which had gone by mid-afternoon – with the result that a 30 mile trip to my in-laws, which normally takes around 50 minutes, took two and a half hours! This is why the news agencies warn us in advance.

All this happens because of a combination of factors. Many roads in towns and cities in Britain were laid out when horse-drawn vehicles ruled. If a car pulls into the centre of the road to turn into a side road a long queue will soon form because following traffic can’t get by. Traffic density is also a big problem. When I see reports of congestion in Los Angeles I can’t help wondering how drivers would cope with conditions over here in the rush hour. People have been known to abandon their cars in the middle of the road in disgust.

Another factor is the lack of experience of snow and ice among young drivers. When I began driving we had bad weather every winter, guaranteed.

The main problem is that, although it has become fashionable (especially in Hollywood) to portray Britain in an unfavourable light, in their heart-of-hearts even our detractors secretly expect us to excel. It goes with the badge if you’re British. Compare our medals tally in the Olympics with our population figure, one fifth of the US population, and a picture emerges of a country that punches way, way above its weight.

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