Jayne Dowle: Digging deep to help each other through the big freeze

I HAVE done my share of moaning at the weather. Indeed, I am guilty of using rude and abusive language to the television weatherman, especially when he can't contain his excitement at the prospect of the lowest December temperatures on record and 10 inches of the white stuff appearing overnight.

And I could quite cheerfully lob a snowball at the Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, especially after my sister got marooned in Kent last weekend, desperate to get up north to see our mum, who has been in hospital having a new hip. Mr Hammond might not think there is a major problem, but the anguish the treacherous conditions are causing is ruining many a family's Christmas.

So, I am not saying that I welcome this weather. But as it looks like we're stuck with it for a while, perhaps the most vital one is how to drive in the blasted stuff. My husband had sat me down and explained, in terms usually reserved for small children, exactly what gear/revs ratio one should employ when caught in a blizzard.

But stuck on a hill in Sheffield with a truck slithering in front of me, a broken-down car in the outside lane and trams, my mind went totally blank. I touched the brake and skidded like a puppy on ice.

By the time I made it to the bottom, sweating and shaking, I got a grip – literally – and engaged my brain and first gear. For 10 miles. First rule of driving in snow; don't panic.

At least I had managed to get the car out. A friend saw me and the kids faffing with the shovel, stepped in manfully and showed us some effective digging techniques. Digging is definitely a bloke thing, but if there's no bloke around, you just have to get on with it.

My neighbour, barely five foot tall, and with a husband working away, was struggling to rescue her car from a huge drift. Now confident with the shovel, I gave her a hand, and together we cleared the snow so she could go to work.

And when she gingerly manoeuvred the car into the traffic, other motorists stopped patiently. That's another thing I've learnt. You won't find this in the Highway Code, but understanding the etiquette of who should pass first in a snowstorm is pretty vital right now.

I reckon the weather has taught us all a bit about generosity; like the teenage girl down the road – and to my shame, I don't even know her name – who came out and gave us a bucketful of rock-salt to sprinkle around our cars.

So that's another thing. Learning how to put others first and pulling together. The only way any working parent can get through four days of school closures is to join forces with others in the same situation.

This is not a time to get precious about your pristine Christmas decorations, or stress yourself about the noise a room full of under-10s makes.

There have been times these past few weeks when I've lost count of the number of kids I've had to feed. But at least I've learnt how to use my new slow cooker. I never knew there were so many variations on stew, but now I've got a few intriguing recipes, mostly involving random bits of meat I found in the bottom of the freezer and carrots.

The children, studying the Second World War at school, have had a few real-life lessons in rationing. When the snow was coming down so thick, I thought we might never get to the supermarket again this side of March so I warned them to eat absolutely everything on their plate because we had no guarantee where their next meal was coming from.

And speaking of lessons, four days at home with my two gave me the greatest respect for those who decide to permanently home-school their children. For once, the homework was done and dusted without last-minute trauma. But what next?

I never expected my children to actually ask for school-work, but they got so bored, they wanted to practise their writing and do their sums.

Sorting out the Christmas cards covered the writing, but when it came to maths, thank goodness for the wonderful resource that is the internet.

This all took multi-tasking to a whole new level. The slow cooker cooked, the phone rang constantly, and the laptop buzzed, alternating between my work, the kids' work, local radio for traffic and school updates, shopping for Christmas presents, and the weather forecast.

So what have I really learnt in the snow? That just when we think we can do it all, we can always do a bit more. Some lessons here for all of us, I reckon, especially those in charge of keeping Britain going for the next few months. Hope you're taking notes, Mr Hammond.