Thursday, February 05, 2009

To quote Bernard: snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow etc

It was slightly disconcerting to wake up on Monday morning to discover that London and the South East were effectively closed! The capital’s buses had come to a complete standstill for the first time ever. The tube was mostly closed down. The taxis had all gone home. London was covered in snow!

I realise that London is not very often hit by snow and very, very seldom by lots of snow. But the arrival of snow on Sunday night could hardly have come as a surprise. The Met Office had been warning about it for a week or more. And I do know that you can’t keep the infrastructure in place to deal with something that only happens every 20 years or so. I know that London doesn’t need to have gritters and snow ploughs at the ready most of the time. But given that they had known for a week that a snow blizzard was likely, you’d have thought they could have borrowed some from somewhere. After all – London is the nation’s capital!

Sheffield doesn’t use its gritters very much at all. They could have borrowed some from here!!

Actually, it was all a bit odd, sat at home on Monday, listening to the news reports and getting text messages and emails from people in snowy places. It’s true it was snowing in Tupton, but not excessively so. It was just – well, snow really. The cat wasn’t all that impressed at first, but then went out to have a potter in it. People kept asking me if and how I was going to work for my evening duty. Couldn’t not go to work. I could hardly argue extreme weather conditions! Snow showers and sunny spells are quite mannerly in February, really.

However, the forecast for Chesterfield was for heavy snow at about the time I would be heading home and I didn’t fancy driving the Dronfield Bypass in a blizzard! I decided to go by train.

The Builder’s firm shut up shop early. Many of the workers commute from Manchester, where the firm is based and the two main routes to Manchester were already closed. The Builder got home in time to take me to the station.

Just as we were about to leave, Peter rang from work to see if I was really OK about getting in. No extreme weather here, said I. And off we set.

Mind you – I had fun getting in to work. Not because of the weather but because of the ticket machine. It had decided to chew up the paper and the bloke couldn’t clear it. The people who wanted the Manchester train only just made it on! I didn’t even try. I still didn’t have a ticket! But then next train was delayed by 45 minutes :-( I got to work in plenty of time but it was EXTREMELY cold sat at Chesterfield station for an hour!

Can’t say that the weather seemed too bad around the station when I arrived in Sheffield. It’s true it was snowing, but the road and station concourse seemed fairly clear. It would appear, however, that this was not the case in the rest of Sheffield.

I got to the desk for my shift, to find that Counter Services were shutting up shop. It seems that, in their wisdom, the bus companies had decided to pull all the buses! At quarter past five. Excellent time to withdraw public transport services! I appreciate that the buses wouldn’t get up Sheffield’s steep, steep hills – but they could surely get most of the way along their routes? Alas, no. So as many staff as possible, including the evening staff, had taken off to catch the last buses out. So that left two information staff to keep the service going! And there were a surprising number of students in.

People kept asking me how I was going to get home. On the train.

But what if the trains stop running? Why would the trains stop running?

Well – what if the buses aren’t running when you get back to Chesterfield? The buses are still running. Yes – but what if they aren’t? And what if the trains stop running?

Several other people sent messages saying that if the trains did stop running I could stay at their place. That was extremely thoughtful of them. Although, to get to most of these places, I would have had to walk past Freyja’s place and I knew she was at home because her office had closed for the evening!

The Builder sent messages to say it was snowing harder in Tupton. I decided to abandon my post, leave Dan to his own devices and leave early, catching the half past seven train. (We did have a senior manager in the building who had suggested I might care to leave. I didn’t just amble off!). The London trains were all delayed but the other trains were running OK. The Builder met me at the station and we made our way slowly, carefully, cautiously back to The Sidings.

Actually – I think it would probably have been just as successful a trip home if I had caught the half past eight train. Might have been pushing it to stay until nine and catch the half nine one. But half eight would probably have been OK. Still. Hindsight and all!

We never got the forecast blizzard, but we did get quite a lot of steady snow overnight and it was about 10 or 12cm deep in our garden by morning. Which would be difficult to drive through on ungritted roads for people who are not really used to driving in snow (which is most of us in England!)

We got up even earlier than our usual early start on Tuesday. And left 15 or 20 minutes earlier than normal. The A61 through Chesterfield was easily passable with care. Even the Dronfield bypass was easily passable, with quite a lot of care. The inside lane was more or less clear (but icy) and we all processed at a stately 35mph towards Sheffield. The outside lane was not clear and was being used by a few mad people trying to overtake the stately procession.

Then we got to Sheffield. And the roads were an absolute disgrace (see – I said Sheffield didn’t make much use of its gritters). And it was bedlam. Traffic was at a standstill, the roads were covered in sludgy snow. Cars trying to get out of Sheffield were really, really struggling to get up the Woodseats hill. Fortunately, we were going down, not up!

It took us three times as long to get into work yesterday as it does on a normal day. Most of the delay was in Sheffield, when you might have expected it to be on the high country road we had been on earlier!

“How on earth did you get in today?” was how most people greeted me as people dribbled in. “In the car!” Lots of people didn’t get in. Schools were closed and roads were closed and there were still problems with the buses. Poor Rupert (one of my teammates) had had to walk 5 or 6 miles to get home on Monday. A pleasant enough activity during the day when the sun is shining on your fluffy, new fallen snow. Not so pleasant in the dark at the end of a long day when it is still snowing. He nevertheless managed to struggle in yesterday morning.

The council, responding to comments that the roads hadn’t been properly gritted, said that they had had all their gritters out overnight, gritting away. “Really?” asked an incredulous populace. “WHERE?!?!?!?!?!?”

And many, many people, fearful of another arduous journey home, left around half three, four o’clock yesterday afternoon.

I couldn’t leave early. I was Duty Adviser until 5. The Builder and I resigned ourselves to a lengthy, difficult drive home.

And found that the council must have had lots and lots of complaints. Because lo – the main roads had in fact been gritted. Nearly snow free. Driving out through Woodseats was a doddle. Not only was there no snow – there was no traffic either! It was like driving through on a Sunday morning. You almost wish it could be like that everyday :-) Took about 35 minutes to get home!

Normal service is more or less restored today. Here, at least. And for the moment. There is more snow, sleet and ice forecast.


Here is the link to Freyja and the hippos' photos

http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/bernardbusinesshippo/BernardAndSleepyHippoAndSleepyBearAndPandaSExcellentSnowTimeAdventure#

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