Friday, 15 January 2010

At last, a proper winter

IT'S amused me these past few weeks to hear people referring to what we're going through in Britain as a "cold snap". This isn’t a snap. It’s winter.
A winter like I remember from my childhood. A winter such as I knew them in the north. (Of 16 winters in Suffolk, this is only the second proper winter I’ve seen here.)
I’ve talked in a cheery way with people – some of them near-neighbours – I’ve hardly if ever met before. I’ve joined with total strangers to push cars for other total strangers. Cleared snow and ice in a jolly community of folk who wouldn’t normally give each other a second glance.
Community, that’s the word. And one of the reasons I’ve been enjoying this winter more than any for many years.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many youngsters (and adults) having so much fun on sledges.
Pity the wooden tabogan we managed to pick up on eBay showed its 45 years by collapsing in splinters after about an hour’s use. But never mind. At a pinch, a plastic dog-food sack can be made to do the job.
Another of the satisfactions of these weeks can only be described properly by borrowing a word from German. Schadenfreude. Which, according to my dictionary, means "malicious pleasure in the misfortunes of others".
The pleasure really only comes when you can feel that people have brought their misfortunes on themselves. That it’s all essentially their own silly fault. And it’s even sweeter when it’s a case of smugness undone.
How many times at the beginning of this icy blast did you hear people crowing that their 4x4 vehicles would really show their worth now?
And how many of those same 4x4s have you seen since slithered off the road into ditches and verges?
I haven’t been counting, but I’ve seen several. I’d say they’ve made up at least half the cars I’ve spotted in trouble. Off-road when they didn’t want to be.
They don’t account for half the cars on the road, so that tells me that 4x4 drivers have actually been in greater peril than the rest of us, not less.
Not that I think 4x4s are less able to cope with snow and ice than other vehicles. That obviously isn’t the case.
Just that too many of their drivers swan around as if they’re invulnerable. Which they’re not – especially if they don’t really know how to drive their special vehicles in the special conditions.
I’m not saying all 4x4 owners are bad drivers. Or that every 4x4 is inappropriate.
For farmers, forestry workers and the wildlife trust, for example, they’re just the thing.
But I bet the bloke I saw fuming by the roadside after hitting an ice patch too fast and wrapping his 4x4 round a tree wasn’t any of those.
Neither was the chap whose monster Mercedes I helped shift after he’d blocked a street by slithering to a stop broadside on.
As computer help-desk people have been known to put it, PBSAT (problem between seat and terminal). In other words, it’s not the machine at fault, but the idiot at the controls.
When that idiot’s just been boasting about how much better his machine is than yours, it’s particularly satisfying.
I do, of course, hope none of the downfallen drivers have suffered serious injury to anything more than their pride. Even more, I hope they haven’t inflicted injury - or worse - on anyone else.
But the stupidest reaction to this bout of cold weather has come from those who think it puts the lie to global warming.
The very fact that this cold spell has been so notable shows real winters are becoming rarer here.
Then there was the claim that one night Britain had become "colder than the Antarctic".
If true (and it was a very partial, twisted truth) that might be taken as evidence that the Antarctic was alarmingly warm.
Above all, though, you shouldn’t confuse climate with weather.
Climate is immensely complex. It has long been suggested that by altering the Gulf Stream, global warming could actually make British winters colder.
Is what we’re seeing now evidence of that? It’s far too early to tell.


AND talking of smugness undone, what a jolly mess Peter and Iris Robinson have got themselves into.
The uncovering of dodgy loans arranged by the Northern Irish premier’s wife for her teenage lover was an entertaining story from the start. But it becomes really sweet when you consider how these holier-than-thou holy-rollers used to point judgmental fingers at others for their lifestyles.
As one man stopped in a Belfast street neatly put it, Iris is "an avaricious, mendacious hypocrite".
Few there, I think, will mourn the downfall of the swish family Robinson.
But I still want to know what the 19-year-old toyboy of then 59-year-old Iris got out of it. Other than the cash to set up his restaurant, of course.

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