During the last week of January, the media extensively covered the newly built British Destroyer HMS Daring as it docked in at Portsmouth, its home port. Set to join active service later this year, the Royal Navy’s Type 45 vessel was hailed as the most advanced battleship ever and British Glory was flying at high mast again. With the latest radar, missiles, air defence system, propulsion plant and ultra modern shape, HMS Daring would be extremely fast, accelerating quicker and turning faster. Revolutionary naval architecture ensures that on enemy radar, it would appear no bigger than a modest fishing boat. It was indeed a very proud moment for entire Britain.
Yet just four days later, on the morning of February the second, a mere ten inches of snow in the southwest forced Britain to grind to a standstill. Such is the power of nature, which constantly puts human pride at its humble lowest, appearing out of nowhere, as a puff of wind, a plume of fire or a sheet of water. For a Canadian, Austrian or Siberian* citizen, ten inches of snow would be no more formidable that the layer of butter on his toast. For nature, surprise is the x-factor, like dropping a cube of ice down a Bedouin’s collar in the middle of the Sahara.
Though the weather stations had sounded the warning well in advance, no one took the forecast seriously, foolishly judging it to be no more than a possible minor irritant to everyday life. The nation was indeed caught short and experienced chaos of Titanic proportions. To be fair, though the snow was only ten inches deep, it was the heaviest fall in eighteen years. Airports, roads and hospitals were forced to close. Flights, train and bus services were cancelled. The old Croydon tram service did not run. Eurostar, the cross channel train service from St Pancras International to Europe was disrupted. There were delays and suspensions on the London underground.
About 4500 schools were closed by authorities in Wales, Birmingham, Hampshire, Essex, Leicester, Rutland, East Sussex, West Sussex, Somerset, East Staffordshire, Dudley and Kent. Drivers in southern England had a tough time as snow turned to ice later in the day. Severe shortage of resources meant that gritting was done only on the major roads.
Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has since admitted that the city could not deal with the situation on hand. “This is the kind of snow we haven’t seen in London in decades. We don’t have the snow-ploughs that we would otherwise need to be sure of getting the roads free,” he said. However, experts are of the opinion that an investment in snow-ploughs and other road clearing equipment is not justified since snowfalls of such magnitudes happen only once in two decades or so.
Side roads had thick snow that trapped parked cars, ensuring that owners could not drive to work. Families did not have snow shovels to clear driveways or to dig the cars free. Many were seen using bin covers or pieces of cardboard to scoop away the snow. Almost all city buses were cancelled and the same had not happened even during the blitzkrieg. Major airports including Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton were closed. Military rescue helicopters were called in to assist ambulance services.
The Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao who was visiting UK would have been amused to see a solitary man shovelling snow in front of Number 10 Downing Street, his counterpart’s official residence.
For this single day of disruption, business losses were calculated at £1.2 billion. An estimated 6.5 million people were kept away from work. Forced to run on a skeleton crew, many restaurants and takeaways had scaled their menus down to basics. Even the ever-faithful Black cabs stayed away in most areas.
Finally, to end on a merry note, children set free from schools made snowmen on pavements and stray snowballs slammed into shop windows and trapped cars. The only regret seemed to be that it did not happen on Christmas Eve. Thanks to global warming and an errant weather, we may still have a White Easter. Cheers.
1. 36 hours later, while I am posting this, things have not improved much.
*2. Siberia is not a free state yet. But the way Communism is ‘progressing’ we should soon have Siberian and Tibetan citizens. I also propose the name of Aung San Suu Kyi as the next Prime Minister of Myanmar.
3. The photograph that appears above is clicked outside my flat.
-Your special correspondent, reporting from The George, George Street, Croydon, Surrey ;p