David Behrens: Beast from the East bites us hard after forecasters crying ‘wolf’

Making the best of it in the snow
Making the best of it in the snow
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THEY interrupted the Today programme on Monday to announce that it was snowing in London. Poor dears; it must have been awful for them.

It has long been the case that bad weather is news only in the South. I could write Huw Edwards’ autocue script for the 10 o’clock bulletin now.

“Bad weather’s brought large parts of London to a standstill, with hundreds of schools closed and drivers forced to abandon their vehicles.”

And here’s the northern version:

“And finally... they’ve been enjoying the snow in Yorkshire, with children given the day off school to use the usually busy streets as sledging slopes.”

Huw ought to know better: he’s from Wales, where they also have proper snow.

I had not been expecting the blanket to which we awoke on Wednesday. I should have been because it had been forecast days in advance, but I have become immune to exaggerated “clickbait” telling me how bad it’s going to be. Headlines like “You won’t believe how much snow is going to be dumped on your town” have become the lingua franca of the internet.

The Met Office is one of the worst offenders, with its “yellow snow warnings” whenever there’s a flake on the horizon. It’s so frightened of being criticised again for not forecasting a hurricane that its position has defaulted to that of worst case scenario – often to the detriment of the tourist industry, whose casual trade is put off by bad weather that never materialises.

But this time, like Aesop’s boy who cried wolf, they were right. I can’t remember the last time there was this much snow in the centre of Leeds, this late in the season.

There were, according to one radio bulletin, 700 gritters out around the county, but it wasn’t always clear whether they were in vehicles. The evening gritting that did take place was rendered useless by the overnight snowfall, and by Wednesday morning the traffic map of the region looked like a blood chart, with red arteries radiating from every town centre.

The truth is that, despite our readiness to revel in our rugged northern stereotype, we are no longer used to bad weather on this scale.

Forty-odd years ago, when I first came to Yorkshire to work, we had slush up to our ankles from what felt like Christmas to Valentine’s Day. One January evening, a snow so deep fell on Bradford that you could barely walk out of the city centre, let alone drive.

Journalists and the police enjoyed a convivial relationship in those days, and a quick phone call was all it took to arrange an expedition to the Lancashire border of the M62 in a patrol vehicle. The motorway, still fairly new, was closed and deserted, save for abandoned Morris Marinas scattered across the lanes like Dinky toys.

At the Hartshead Moor services, hundreds of drivers were sleeping on benches or just walking around aimlessly, which, I think, was preferable to eating the food there. The queue for the payphones snaked around the concourse.

On the carriageway, we stopped at the border and got out. My colleague, Chris, about a foot shorter than me, was less high than the drifted snow.

Yet I don’t remember there being schools closed by the dozen, or people phoning in to say they were “working from home” – which, by the way, is a privilege only the public sector seems to have fully embraced.

I don’t think my own school was ever closed by snow – though we did have to leave early when the chimney smoke from all the coal fires in the neighbourhood made the morning fog linger past lunchtime.

Our expectations were lower in those days; that was the difference. We had learned not to rely on the phones working or the power staying on. Everyone over 35 had lived through the ration, so a little snow – or even a lot of it – was to be taken in one’s stride.

This was true of southerners as well, but it’s a quality we have all lost. I was reminded of it on another snowy day two weeks ago when I attended the simple and eloquent funeral of Hannah Hauxwell, the hardy spinster who farmed alone in the remotest of the Dales without a crumb of modern comfort. What would she have made of today’s “me” generation, complaining at the slightest inconvenience?

Maybe Huw is right after all: bad weather up here really shouldn’t be news.