Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
Among you taking notes, as ever, I did find it extraordinary the effect that last week's winter weather had upon the general populace. It was interesting, for one thing, because of the news which we didn't get. The climate change doom-mongers were oddly quiet. Nobody, so far as I know, wrote in to say that various botanical species were blooming far too early, or that the birds were already laying eggs. Flu scares abated too, the folk wisdom being that a good winter will 'kill off all the bugs'. We've just had a very good example of a season doing exactly what it says on the tin.
The spectacle of people inching cautiously along the town pavements as if they'd just undergone some particularly embarrassing surgery was a common one. The pavements were indeed tricky to negotiate. One sentiment expressed was that this was the council's fault for not gritting them. The gritting teams, in my area at least, actually did very well under the circumstances, as did our bus-drivers. To have kept the main roads as clear as they did and to have run a bus service too was pretty impressive. Even the local trains, mostly, seemed to work. But the pavements were a problem. So, with snow having set in by Wednesday morning and having a bit of spare time, I decided to do an experiment. I went out with spade and yard broom and cleared most of the pavement on one side of my street. A helpful council worker said that I could go and get a bucket of grit from a pile behind the council offices if I wished. So, after I'd cleared, I gritted. A couple of hours work left me glowing, limbered-up and, as with gardening, I found the work strangely satsifying, since I could see where I'd been.
In Germany, it is not the government's job to clear the pavements, it falls to the citizens. They are required by law if it snows, to clear the pavement outside their house and that of their neighbour's too – if the neighbour is elderly or infirm. The responses of passers-by while I was sweepng and shovelling, varied. The most common reactions were: “Thank you.” or “You're doing a grand job.” Often, too, people stopped to talk. Two or three people said that I was taking a risk, since I could: 'be liable if someone fell over'. I'm pretty sure that this is nonsense, and anyway, it would be interesting to be prosecuted for clearing snow, because in such an unlikely event, I would probably appeal and then, drown my opponents in all the circumfluences of a European court.
My snow-clearing, which continued for four consecutive mornings, was to maybe plant the idea in other's heads that they, too could be doing such a thing. If this were to happen, and everybody just cleared the area in front of their house and perhaps, one of their neighbour's, our pavements would all be traversible. I later heard the distant sound of shovels, though, usually, it was only people trying to dig cars out of their drives. One heroic neighbour, though, off his own bat, took a wheelbarrow and gritted a large part of our sidestreet – which is on a hill. The pavements, however, mostly stayed snowbound with fresh snow mounting up on hard-packed ice. The same people who would probably complain about Nanny State's interference were now miffed that Nanny hadn't personally turned up outside their house with a shovel. With so many people off work, my point, I suppose, is that if you're not doing anything else, you could probably give it twenty minutes or so outside with a brush each morning. You soon warm up, it's not hard work and it's cheaper than using Wii-Fit .
In my local Co-op store, meanwhile, which did its valiant best, despite late-running supply lorries, I stood for some time behind a woman in the queue who'd just bought three loaves and what I estimated to be about a gallon of milk. She laughed: “Well, that's my bit of panic-buying done, I can go home and watch telly now.” Now I waited while she had six Lottery tickets processed and all those of her neighbour's too. Naturally, despite regular if late-running deliveries, the shop's shelves were regularly stripped of milk, bread, eggs and vegetables soon after being refilled again. I allowed for those townsfolk who didn't feel able to drive to Tesco but there did seem to be an element of unneccessary stocking-up going on. A friend of mine said she'd sat with some other people on the bus home from Colchester, all twittering excitedly: “We managed to get some food!” She also learned that those hardier souls prepared to walk a couple of miles up the track had found that the local farm shop was as well-stocked as usual.
Now look, it wasn't a crisis as such, it wasn't climate change, it wasn't the council's fault and nor did Gordon Brown mastermind the whole thing in order to draw fire away from his own predicament. Essex just had a bit of old-fashioned, old money January weather, that's all. In 1963, an older local recalled, the Army had to use explosives in order to blast holes in an iced-up River Colne, just so that the ships could get moving. Now that's an extreme weather event. Can we all do a bit better next time, please?