The city’s in a panic with its first inch of snow

It’s not often that we get snow here in London, and even less often that I have to drive in it. I must say, it’s the condition I most fear as a professional driver, because we get almost no training when we learn to drive. You get such training in specialised advanced training courses, but when taking lessons for your normal car licence you learn to drive in whatever conditions exist then. Which is usually neither snow nor ice. I have had a frightening experience involving icy roads, namely nearly crashing into a Class A Merc on a road called Horseblock Hollow, near Cranleigh in Surrey. As I just about brought my little white van to a stop within inches of the Merc, I looked in terror at the woman driving it and she just smiled at me.

Anyway, last night we had a bit of snow here in London and they are forecasting a bit more to fall (probably further east than here, thankfully) tonight. On the news this morning they were describing the snow as severe, which is absolute bunk. This was light snow. Severe snow is what they get in Canada. I remember a song by the Canadian singer-songwriter Ferron, which began with the lines, “I thank you your letters though they come to me slowly / I hear the city’s in a panic with its first foot of snow”. Note, first foot. What we had last night was, on average, less than an inch.

What makes a tiny bit of snow, which melts within six hours of the sun coming up, “severe” in London is the simple fact that it’s not dealt with properly. I had four separate dealings with this on my way to work this morning, some of which combined (along with my leaving the house a bit late) to make me more than an hour late for work. The first was the fact that the idiot driving the number 152 bus from New Malden to Raynes Park (and on to Mitcham, but Raynes Park is where I got off) about 7am this morning had no clue that you have to drive carefully when there is snow and ice about. You do not put your foot down and drive like a 30mph urban road is a race track.

(This is actually symptomatic of the fact that, in the quest to drive up bus driver recruitment to use all that cash raised by the congestion charge, quality control on such recruits seems to have gone out the window. The number of times I have encountered plain rude, manically driving or jobsworthian bus drivers in the last few years I can’t count. About 8pm this evening, outside New Malden train station, a woman who said she had lost her phone complained that the driver of the London United K1 bus refused to let her on to look for it, and was very rude and hostile to her.)

When I got to Raynes Park station I discovered that the indicator boards were malfunctioning, showing a train “on time” to reach the station about 40 minutes previously. The train I got was more or less on time, but several other trains were delayed or cancelled. I got off at Wimbledon and got myself a coffee, but then joined the District Line, reasoning that the next train would get me to Clapham Junction too late for my connection, and judging by past experience, if any line would have trouble in the snow, it would be the Silverlink Clapham to Willesden “Cinderella” line. (Infrequent, adds time by stopping twice between Kensington Olympia and Willesden Junction, delayed very often, filthy trains which are also too short.)

So I got on a District Line train that was headed for Edgware Road, intending to change onto the Picadilly Line to go to Park Royal rather than my usual work station, Stonebridge Park. It all goes fine until we get to Parson’s Green, at which point the train stops, opens up, then stays open, and might have closed again and opened again, but we end up stuck at Parson’s Green for ages. It turns out that the signals failed somewhere near Westminster. I’m not sure if that was snow related, because Westminster station is actually underground, although not deeply. But the BBC reported that “points failed and hi-tech systems designed to protect trains from the effects of ice on power rails left them ‘stuck’ and unable to move”. There’s modern technology for you. How do they deal with this in countries where there are major cities with metros and commuter railways and they get feet of snow?

Anyway, once I get to Earl’s Court my journey went pretty smoothly until I reached Park Royal, at which point I had to trudge along various pavements and a back alley to my place of work. I’m perhaps naive in expecting them to grit the back alley from the old Guinness plant to Cumberland Avenue, but the pavement from Park Royal station to the subway underneath the Western Avenue, and the one alongside Abbey Road? That really should get a dose of grit, but it had seen not a grain of salt or grit. Where was everyone? Snow had been forecasted for at least the previous two days, and I could see it in the clouds and we could all feel the chill in the air. You can’t tell it will snow, but you can tell when there’s a fair chance.

Anyway, if I didn’t have to work in it, I’d quite like the snow. When I was “speeding” though Chiswick on the fast bit of the Picadilly Line, the snow on the tops of the trees and houses made everything look beautiful, and I wished I had a camera with me. The snow need not be a disaster; all it takes is for people to be careful and those responsible to prepare for it when it looks like it’s coming.

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