It’s amazing what a little slow can do. Like paralyse civilisation. Here in Central Scotland we are on our second day of Red weather alerts after two prelude days of biting East winds and a whole prior week of dire warnings that’s Siberia was about to be visited upon us. Because they used it at every opportunity, the BBC was obviously chuffed with the epithet they had dreamed up for it: “The Beast from the East”. It’s certainly Baltic: last night down to 25°F (-4°C for any millennials may be reading this).
So you can’t say we didn’t get fear warning. And, as a write with the snow drifting to 30 cm in the street outside, the forecast is for worse to come. Granted, this combination of cold, wind and heavy snowfall has not been seen this decade anywhere south of the Highland Line. But I can’t resist the opportunity it gives a card-carrying bufti like me to Slide into grumpy old git mode.
Yesterday laid bare the fragility of our 21st century lifestyle. Despite ample warning and running empty trains overnight to keep track clear, all trains were halted by 6 PM on the first day. Bus services were also suspended and many people heeded the red warning and stayed at home. But articulated lorries, by which virtually all our goods and food move, thought they could tough it out. But they couldn’t make the hills, resulting in then swerving all over the road and turning the M80 into an overnight parking lot.
Because almost everyone drives in from afar, half the shops and businesses closed for lack of staff—and the other half closed for a lack of customers. Bufties like me Will recall 55 years ago when the storm of cold that hit at Christmas 1962 lasted until March 1963 and saw 6 foot snowdrifts, temperatures of-20 C (at Braemar) that froze streams, lakess and even small parts of the sea. But daily life did not freeze. Because most people Live close to their work, factories and shops carried on. Trains kept running because they were drawn by 100 tons en steam locomotive, which took a lot of stopping. The local postie and I both piled our bags on sledges, bundling his letters and my newspapers to minimise how much snow either had to slog through.
This is not a plea for us to all return to 1963—nor even a claim that life was better then (though 1/6d = 7p for a Fruit & Nut bar would be a fine thing). But just 18 years after the huge trauma and many sacrifices of World War II, people were more social, more resilient and found happiness with much less. They had not yet discovered jet holidays, mobile phones, central heating, the property ladder or their legal rights. The respected neighbours, doctors, policemen and politicians alike. They typically stayed in the same house and job all of their adult life. Friends no longer live in the same neighbourhood, let alone Street; now hobbies are for the retired; we have remote services tend to garden, laundry, car, children, repairs, even nan.
This frigid blast may last hours, instead of months—and we may not get another one until 2073. In which case, grumpy old gits like me will be overplaying their hand like this as the watch the snow eddy down deserted streets. But if we did get a long, sustained, bitter winter like 1963, could we cope?
Or, by making 50-mile commutes common, by relying on distribution centres 200 miles from their outlets, by having all our food reach us by motorway in 22-wheelers, by relying on the Internet to carry essential but complex systems on which productivity (and therefore jobs) depend, are we not increasingly dependent on road, rail and power which—to judge from the last couple of days—are anything but fail-safe?
Or am I just being a grumpy old git?