Let it Snow…or not

A blanket of snow covered much of the UK last week. I love/hate snow though I dare say the same applies to many of us and the fun is over when it turns to ice. I remember visiting Canada and when they talked about the temperatures and conditions they face I felt embarrassed by how we struggle in the UK.

A friend of mine can be snowed in by a mere four or six inches. She lives at the top of a huge hill and no way can cars get in and out of those streets when they’re iced; she and many of her neighbours park at the base of the hill and walk up during winter. Bad planning on the part of the property developer. At times she’s walked out of her estate to take a bus… if buses are running. She’s been so cut off she’s trudged into town, hoping there are enough supplies, and carted food home on a sled. Every winter there’s often a shortage of bread or milk because of people stocking up. In some years this has left not enough for everyone. Some years shops have considered rationing, and I’ve never forgotten the year friends close to London tried to visit one of the large supermarkets only to discover it was closing the doors. They tried another and got told the same: closing early owing to staff shortages.

Fortunately, this year we’ve not had it so bad. Last year was worse. There’s a reason people and services are often caught out in the UK. We’ve gone from winters where many of us recall walking to school and disappearing into snow drifts up to our thighs (my husband used to tramp across deep fields of snow only to be told to turn around and go home; a health and safety nightmare nowadays), to winters that have for many years been mild. We’ve had several years without snow so local authorities got rid of the snow ploughs. Everyone has had to reinvest, including ourselves. We’ve bought good snowboots — the kind we can walk across a skating rink on and not slip. I make sure my husband has his in the car when he’s going to work as well as thermal gloves, hat, and scarf. I‘ve even made him wear a pair of my earmuffs when the weather’s terrible (though I gave him the plain ones, not the fluffy animal print ones I have).

Of course, it used to be we cleared our own drives, paths, and pavement out front. We didn’t just expect local authorities to do it. I can definitely remember my grandfather, shovel in hand, so why is it that street upon street these days there’s so much snow left untouched? There’s a good reason for it in the UK. Apparently, people are afraid to touch the snow on the pavement because if you clear it and someone slips they can sue you — a state of madness heavily discussed. The rules here aren’t entirely clear as this old article on the BBC clarifies: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8443745.stm

Apparently, if someone slips on pavement you’ve cleared there’s as much of a slim chance you may be sued as there is if you don‘t clear your personal land — so drives and paths are the homeowner’s responsibility, but not the pavement. It’s difficult to decide the best answer — if the law stated we must clear the snow, this would cause hardship for those who cannot do so. And let’s me truthful — the days when people offer to do the ‘neighbourly’ thing for those who need help can be rarer than the snow.