Chaos to Cosmos
The path from chaos to cosmos was discovered by telling one's life story

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A state of total unpreparedness

Old farm at Overtown in deep snow in 1963 by Richard Johnson

Making myself sound old, but back in the Big Freeze of 1963, I remember trudging across Selly Oak Park in Birmingham, thigh-deep in snow (I was just coming up to 6 years old) to go to my Gran's house. We lived over the other side of the city in Great Barr, so we must have got to there somehow and I'm certain we didn't walk the entire 8.7 miles. That means buses - at least on main roads - must have been running. School remained open. My father worked just south of the city centre, to which he drove, and I certainly don't remember him ever being stuck at home during that weather.

This video will show you, from the same 1963 winter, "British Rail's dedication to blizzard-battling ... Tough-as-boots workers struggling to keep the line clear ..."

Good grief, such notions are laughable today. Terms like "dedication", "battling", "Tough-as-boots" and even "workers", seem to have disappeared from the vocabulary, probably long before the privatization of British Rail (little did we think we'd ever miss their efforts in getting there!) These days, trains don't run if there is "a leaf" on the line, as someone told me recently and I really, really can't imagine ever seeing a train ploughing through roof-level snow again!

By the late 80's / early 90's when I lived in Birmingham again, there were a few grumblings about councils not salting and gritting enough, but mostly, main roads were kept clear and buses ran; schools stayed open, people could get to work, deliveries got delivered, trash was collected ... Fast forward to 2010 and no doubt due to those now ubiquitous evil twins, 'Elf and Safety, Britain has regressed to the sort of chaos you'd only expect in the Third-World, in Medieval times!

Less snow than icing sugar on a mince pie

Where I am now sits in a strange little pocket of microclimate that doesn't get a lot of snow, even if nearby towns get several inches of the stuff. Indeed, above is most of what we got last week. And 99% of that has gone now, yet as a result of this "snow drift" lighter than icing sugar sprinkled on mince pie, we've been effectively cut off from civilization.

Last week, our refuse wasn't collected. This week, the council should be making a double collection, but then again, they may not if the truck cannot get down our road, they say. If so, they want residents to haul trash out to the main road and, as most of the residents here are old folk, one of the neighbours got onto the council to see if they could spare a plough to clear the road. The reply was that this was very unlikely. Do you even see snow ploughs now? Nothing around here has even been gritted or salted.

Being now 80% incapacitated by ME and fibromyalgia, there is no way that I can do anything about it either. As it is, I can barely drag the cats' shit tray as far as the dustbin. I couldn't get a whole bag of trash to the end of the driveway even, let alone the end of the road.

Of course, because it's mostly old folk, getting help would be a case of "the blind leading the blind," as there isn't anyone left who isn't, who could check on the "aged and housebound." In this atmosphere, nobody is going to consider that a 52 year old will need help, no matter how incapacitated I am, although admittedly things might have been better if my mother hadn't gone round telling neighbours that she "does not believe there is anything wrong with me."

At the end of December, I had to go out in the cold for a hospital appointment and that caused me a terrible flare for several days. Walking hurts enough in fair weather conditions. In cold, my thigh muscles spasm, making it even more painful so there is no way I'm going to walk out in the cold again and I'm certainly not going to walk on ice or snow, which would require me to walk carefully, or awkwardly, which would lead to even more stiffness, pain and flare ups of symptoms. Hell, my balance is bad enough already, so I'm not prepared to risk the falls either. And anyway, I'm still waiting for treatment for the effects of the last fall I had: be stupid to risk another.

We finally had a few groceries delivered by Tesco on Monday, but there were items missing from our order. Most notably, you can't buy salt (for food, for the dishwasher, for the path ...) for love or money. The driver said that the supermarket shelves were almost empty and that Monday was the first day that they'd started doing deliveries again, pretty much since the New Year. Other deliveries have been infrequent, but our postman mostly managed to get through to deliver letters. Parcels were being held back (until a special delivery on Sunday), but he said that yesterday, Monday, had probably been the worst day, as the snow that had melted on the previous day had frozen over and was more slippery than it had been when it was just snow, naturally.

The thing is that there has been so little snow and ice here it really would not have been any problem at all, IF it had been adequately gritted / salted at the outset of the cold snap.

And the last time we had our "full" (using the term loosely) bus service was on Christmas EveNo, I kid you not. Well, as far as a "full" service goes, as that's just 5 buses per day (they do a circular route, so that's 5 total, not 5 out and 5 back), starting at 10 am. I asked my friend what time she thought the last bus home from town was. "Oh, about 9 pm," she replied. No, it leaves town at 4.50 pm in the afternoon. (Since reduced to around 2 pm.) You should have heard the loud guffaw in response to that. Quite right too. Who in civilized society has to be limited to those hours? Oh, and that's only Monday to Friday too! On Saturdays, there are only 2 buses - effectively, one out at 10 am, one back at 11.30 - which doesn't provide enough time to do anything, so you might as well totally disregard them. On Sunday's and Bank Holidays, there's no service at all.

So, starting with Christmas Day, there were no buses. On the Saturday, 26th, there'd have been the 2 total (one out at 10 am, one back at 11.30), Sunday and Monday nothing. On the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 29th, 30th and 31st, they also ran only the useless 2 bus Saturday service and, on New Years Day, no service at all. Then it got icy and we ain't seen a bus since! When I had to get to the health centre and hospital in the last week of December, I had to use taxis to and from the train station, but otherwise, I've been housebound since mid-December. And it has to be said that £4.00 each way for the mile to town by taxi would soon get prohibitive if one had to rely on it frequently. If one could rely on it: it took me 10 goes to get through to the taxi firm one day when it was merely raining, because they were so busy, which is usual.

Up until yesterday, the local bus company, Wilts & Dorset, had been doing a pretty good job of keeping us up to date every morning via their Facebook page (yes, I was amazed that anyone around here had heard of the internet, let alone Facebook), so at least we knew in advance that the bus wouldn't run. Yesterday and today, they've abandoned morning updates for ones at 2 pm. There were certainly no buses today and it doesn't look promising for tomorrow either.

Clearly this is a situation that's been repeated up and down the country, but it riles me even more that we've been so badly affected here, considering how little snow we've had - not even uniform cover - and, I have to agree with Ron's point here that, "... if the bus company hadn’t bailed so early on the first day, maybe the council would have gritted the road." Yeah, maybe not too, but there was a time when councils considered it a "civic duty" to keep roads cleared for bus routes, so people could get to work, life and services could continue. Of course, councillors these days won't give a damn about buses and bus users, as has been said to me before, because "they all drive to the Town Hall in their Rolls Royces."

Nowhere near enough is being done and certainly much less than was in the past, yet Councils have now been told to cut gritting by half to protect salt supplies. Like Ron calculates, in my maths that 50% of nothing still adds up to a massive fuck all. Priorities here are all arse-upwards.

Companies are moaning about losses and threatening to dock wages, but then they wouldn't have lost so much and staff wouldn't have been stuck, if councils had cleared roads to keep the country moving. And I don't buy that "we aren't used to this kind of weather" excuse, because I remember that being used 20+ years ago too. By now the surprise SHOULD have worn off.

To say that this country has gone to the dogs would be a gross injustice to canines.