Wednesday 6 January 2010

Extreme weather event

15st 3lb, 5.0 units. Things are bad. Seriously bad. My club in Liverpool e-mailed this morning to report that it would not be open today, owing to “the weather conditions and the difficulties of transport for our staff” which was a roundabout way of saying “the snow”. I’m not sure even Hitler succeeded in depriving the gentlemen of Merseyside of their lunch.

For me, the main consequence has been that my no-alcohol, carefully calorie-controlled diet went out of the window yesterday evening. By the time I made it through the front door I felt like one of those dusty, stubbly cowboys who bursts through the swing doors of a saloon, grabs a bottle of Old Red Eye from the bar, removes the cork with his teeth and glugs most of it straight down, to try and efface the memory of battling with a hundred fierce Apache warriors (an appallingly unfair stereotype of these noble and peace-loving people, I am sure), evading a gang of hoodlums in black hats (always a bad sign) and dealing with a steer with the staggers (yes, I know that it is a disease of sheep, but the alliteration appealed to me).

My own trauma was the result of a simple mistake: I left my comfortable desk at home and went to visit a client, lulled into a false sense of security by the BBC weather forecast which distinctly said that the snow was moving into the south of England during the day. And, since I could see with my own eyes that there was precisely no evidence of the heavy fall we were supposed to have experienced overnight, there seemed no reason to amend my travel plans.

I arrived in time to catch the client’s New Year pep talk about how the competition had copied all their bright ideas and were now snapping at their heels, so that everyone needed to work harder than ever to keep the business moving forward in 2010.

Then, all of about half an hour later, someone poked their head around the door and suggested that we might all like to bugger off home early because the weather looked a bit dicey.

He was not wrong. The car park outside, which had been clear when I arrived, was now suddenly under about a foot of snow. I watched a woman with a broom conscientiously removing it from her people carrier, clearing the bonnet and roof as well as more obvious features like the windscreen and headlights. But by the time I had closed my laptop, said my farewells and started to head for the door, some bright spark had drawn my attention to the long queue of vehicles trying to get out of the car park, and suggested that I might as well leave it for an hour or so until the rush was over.

After a carefully timed 60 minutes I returned to the window and, blow me down, the same woman with the broom was still sweeping the same people carrier. One could only conclude that the snow was falling faster than she could remove it. I was reminded of the Disney short of Mickey Mouse as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which was inexplicably popular in my childhood.

The queue to leave the car park had grown no shorter, but I concluded that the time had come when I might as well join it. So I did, with my usual impeccable timing, at precisely the moment when it ceased to be a very slow moving queue and became a completely stationary one. An hour later I had advanced a few hundred yards to a roundabout completely blocked by a queue of stationary lorries hoping to travel further west.

Then, joy of joys, a deus ex machina arrived in the shape of a member of the local constabulary, who evidently told the truckers not to be so bloody stupid, and created a gap through which those of us who wished to head east were permitted to escape. Hurrah!

All went well until I followed the advice of my sat nav to avoid the by-pass and travel through the neighbouring city centre, which proved to be in a state of total paralysis. A whole generation has now grown up with virtually no experience of how to drive in snow, and they simply cannot cope. Cars were being abandoned at the side of the road and, in one classic instance, slap bang in the middle of it. To add to the joy of life, when I finally escaped from the queue by following an ambulance with flashing blue lights, which entailed a lengthy detour to the local hospital, a gang of scratters bombarbed my new car with what felt suspiciously like half bricks disguised as snowballs.

Three hours into my journey and I finally reached the main road home, where I was able to make stately progress in a convoy sometimes reaching the dizzying heights of 30mph. The ladies of Cranford would have found it a perfectly comfortable experience.

Naturally I maintained a safe distance from the car in front, so was a bit miffed when I found myself being followed so closely that I could not even see the vehicle’s headlights in my rear view mirror. I touched my brake pedal lightly a couple of times, to warn him to back off, and found myself being overtaken with an angry roar by a blue grey Transit van which also took the opportunity to pass a few vehicles in front of me before rejoining the 30mph convoy, point presumably made. I was torn between an urgent desire to see him crash, and the fear that in doing so he might block the road and make it impossible to get home at all.

The perennially ungritted lane to our house was as exciting as ever. Later in the evening I saw a bloke on the TV news explaining that ABS braking made it possible to retain control of your car even under these conditions. For a self-appointed expert, he was talking first class bollocks, but at least there wasn’t anyone daft enough to be coming the other way as I slid inelegantly all over the road.

In statistics: total distance travelled 25 miles; normal journey time 40 minutes; last night’s journey time 3 hours 40 minutes. I’ve covered the 220-odd miles from Chester to Northumberland in less.

After that I needed a drink, and hang the consequences. If failing to take the Christmas decorations down on the evening of 5 January guarantees a year of bad luck, then we’re well and truly buggered. I’m not going anywhere else by car in a hurry. But, on the other hand, I have gained a first class opportunity to go out and build my son his first-ever snowman.

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