2/05/17: The White Invader Sleighs England

Dear readers: Currently deep into a remodeling project I ran out of time to pen a column, so I offer a repeat of a really thumping bad winter in England in 2009, written while I was living there to restore my flooded cottage. 

English upper lips have wilted significantly.  This shocking snow dump, while fairly ho-hum for Michigan residents, has unraveled much of Britain’s population. 

Things began innocently enough on Monday afternoon. By evening an inch of powder was on the ground in Herefordshire, and the wind was blowing hard. Deep in the countryside, relatively snug inside my battered cottage, I feel a bit nervous about what is happening. 

The scenery is magnificent, though.  Through binoculars I observe shaggy-backed, white-powdered sheep baa-ing forlornly on steep hillsides; lambs peer gape at their white world, uncertain. For them this white stuff isn’t uncomfortable; it’s just odd.  Sheep are dim and have relinquished their curiosity, but their lambs are still inquisitive. Between playful bounces they high-step, sniff the snow, and bleat, but elders ignore the situation to focus solely on grazing. 

I have no TV, but the radio reports that trains, including the London underground, are at a standstill. Schools have closed, businesses have shut down, and roads are hopelessly clogged with millions of commuters trying to get home before more accumulation traps them in mid-London.  Buses aren’t running.  Moving at all is a challenge.  “This is definitely the worst snowstorm in 75 years,” trumpeted the announcer. 
Good heavens!  Such a lot of fuss over a few inches. 

But think about it.  Palm trees thrive in Cornwall, which has the gulfstream to keep winters quite mild.  Parts of Scotland do know all about powerful, monstrously deep snows, but here in the English Midlands, chaos reigns.  No one owns a snow shovel. (‘What’s that?’) There’s no salt to put down, and no snowplows exist to manage the icy, snow-packed roads. Slip-sliding cars wander crazily into other cars or kerbs; seasoned drivers have no idea how to cope. Frantic commuters can’t clear windscreens- no tools to do this are available. 
Motoring our narrow country lanes is surely very dangerous. People, especially the elderly, dare not step outside their cottages for fear of falling.  (Villagers, who frequent local shops every day or two for basic needs, are finding these shops closed. The shopkeepers can’t get there to open. And trucks can’t deliver supplies.) It’s a shocking 19 degrees out there, not the more usual high 30s or low 40s. Folks caught away from home risk their pipes bursting, as our cottage’s had. This sort of cold and snow is practically unprecedented. 

Tuesday, all the airports gave up. One big jet skidded right off the runway at Heathrow. Ten inches is simply overwhelming. And still, the snow falls. 

Dire weather predictions of ‘worse to come’ pepper radio reports. People hike through London streets, begging for taxis, but alas, those drivers have abandoned their cabs right in the streets to try to walk home. Most will not make it, and so will have to find accommodation somewhere. (Imagine walking through that much snow with just casual footwear- or high heels!) 
Good luck to them. Millions of other folks trapped without transport are scouring the city for digs too: competition will be fierce as this continues. 

Buckingham Palace’s Changing of the Guard looks ethereal, reports the BBC. Coal-black horses draped in red, carrying snowy guards with plumed hats crushed from snow weight, check constantly to make sure they have firm ground under their hooves. 

Here at Bryn Garth Cottage, three hours west of London, my long, steep driveway leading down to the busy two-lane motorway is a sheet of ice. I’m trapped up here, maybe for days. So I’ve had to make do with three pieces of sliced ham, tea, and half-loaf of stale bread. 
I snooze by the fire, waking to robins coaxing food from the wire feeders that line our porch. I’ve witnessed these little birds simply freeze on their branch-perches and topple to the ground, dead. The few who’ve found my feeders may survive; oily seeds and nuts are great fuel. 

Throughout it all, amid reports of school-free kids gleefully constructing snowmen and thumping cars with snowballs, I look out at a scene of incredible beauty. Our giant, centuries-old oaks are etched in white; the huge laurel hedge sags; wet snow makes curious changes in its posture. Snuggling my hot water bottle I retreat to an icy bed with the radio still squawking about impassable roads. Accidents clog the few that are still open.  The government has ground to a halt. 

Good heavens!  The English are actually suffering Wilting Upper Lip Syndrome. 

It’s not a bit funny, but I smile, anyway. At least, regarding snow management, Michiganders are made of tougher stuff. 


Visit www.deeblair.com for recent columns, garden pictures and music.

Leave a comment

    Add comment