A Snow Problem

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Rebecca Quinn on why Britain is incapable of dealing with a bit of snow

Every year Britain is once again forced to a stand-still because of a few balls of frozen water. Without fail, the big winter freeze across the UK is anuually reported by the media as equivalent to a nuclear blast. For St Andrews, the whole world quite literally stopped. 

Many shops were closed ‘due to severe weather conditions’.  Baguette Express had to stop serving its delicious brand of ‘make-your-own-strange-combination of sandwich’; Timpson’s and its creepily-animated cobbler doll are temporarily unable to provide keys and soles. Even Starbucks, the American coffee juggernaut had run out of coffee.   Going into Tesco has felt like a Sunday at 7pm. But it isn’t; they’ve just not received any deliveries.   Snow is the word on everybody’s blue, chapped lips. Facebook statuses range from childlike excitement at the prospect of a snowball fight in the Quad to Scrooge-esque melancholy at the thought of having to transport oneself to North Haugh.  One enlightened Facebook user, however, decided to crush everyone’s dreams by declaring: “Will everyone please save their status updates until it actually snows?” Quite. 

Every year, the same sensationalist headlines dominate the newspapers from November to February, all aimed to stir readers into an unmitigated panic. This month’s miniature Ice Age seemed to rouse journalistic passions like never before, with the BBC’s website providing us with the informatively patronising article, “Snow: What precautions should we take?” Less respectable news sites a few weeks back claimed that “drivers battled with treacherous conditions’ and that soon the temperature might ‘plummet to minus three or minus four.” Together, journalism successfully conjures up an epic Lord of the Rings-style imagery of road-raged drivers fighting in a national war against precipitation.  

The reason why Britain shuts down at the mere whiff of snow isn’t anything to do with the weather.  It’s because, despite clinging on to the vestiges of Victorian sociopathic ideals, Britain really loves the drama.  A country that can claim to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution is surely equipped with enough gritting lorries and buckets of salt to deal with such modest snowfall, and since it happens every year, the plan of gritting action should be pretty infallible by now.  An international classmate asked if it had never snowed before in St Andrews since the roads hadn’t been cleared and it had cancelled our seminar.  Reluctantly, we had to confess the whole ridiculous notion that, despite the fact that snow is quite a regular phenomenon in the UK, we are still, not quite, well, sure, how to really deal with it, actually…

Snow, much like contemporary art, white asparagus and Peter Andre, is both strangely beautiful and irritating.  It isn’t, however, as much as the media would like us to believe, a precedent of the apocalypse.  There seems to be some kind of growing conspiracy to make snow appear as catastrophic as possible, so that a whole population is unable to carry on as they were, instead loudly and miserably acknowledging the weather. If other countries are able to deal with heavier snowfall, not to mention earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and floods, then it isn’t logical that Britain halts to a standstill every winter.  Perhaps because British weather is so perfectly moderate, its politics so stable, and its language universal, people have nothing to complain about.  We are lucky that it is snow that prevents us from going anywhere, not toxic waste or guerrilla warfare.  

So, next time a snowflake gently falls past your window, pity it and the backlash it will have to face.  Despite being great for building things with and throwing at people, snow really is unjustifiably vilified in Britain.  Enjoy the snow, lay in it (though not for too long) and appreciate your days off.   And pray you’ll make it home for Christmas.

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