Jayne Dowle: Bad weather is no excuse to turn into a snowflake

I WOULD never advise an inexperienced driver to set out alone in a snowstorm.

The scene at Chapel Allerton School, one of the few to open in Leeds during last week's snow.
The scene at Chapel Allerton School, one of the few to open in Leeds during last week's snow.

I despise bullying middle-managers who demand that staff trudge to work through treacherous weather or lose their jobs.

And, as for people driving to the seaside for the sole purpose of watching 20 foot waves crash over a harbour wall, I have no words.

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In short, I don’t think anyone should put themselves in serious danger in bad weather, because life is very precious and can so easily be ripped away.

However, I do think that the terrible combination of the so-called “Beast from the East” and Storm Emma which blighted the UK has highlighted the serious need to reassess our resilience. Whatever happened to having faith in your own judgement and pulling together for the common good?

Let’s take schools, for example. When the snow started to fall in South Yorkshire last Wednesday morning my Facebook feed was literally frothing at the mouth with indignation.

Half the parents were whingeing because their darling children were being obliged to make their way to school in what amounted to (at that point) not much more than a few flakes; the other half were fuming that schools were closing and children were being sent home.

I felt for the head teachers who had to make the big decision. Soldier on with lessons and risk being sued by parents whose children had been hit by a snowball in the playground? Or call an early close and encounter criticism for giving in too easily?

For the record, I took no nonsense from my own would-be millennial snowflakes. I got my two children out of bed half an hour early so they had plenty of time to walk, made them put on their big coats and sent them off to see what happened. I told them that not everything in life is certain and if you don’t practise facing uncertainty you’ll never learn how to make a decision.

My son, who is 15, stuck out his chin like Scott of the Antarctic and set off. His more rebellious younger sister demanded that I burn her school uniform so she didn’t have to go. I admire her spirit. It will serve her well in life.

In a world which supposedly welcomes and celebrates individuality, we succumb far too easily to herd mentality.

In any kind of crisis, I’m a strong believer in listening carefully to those with authority; police, the Army and yes, head-teachers. They are paid to take decisions on our behalf and whether we agree with their assessment or not, we should take notice of what they tell us.

It’s the same with public transport. Much as we might rail – no pun intended – against trains being cancelled due to any kind of adverse conditions, we have to accept, however grudgingly, that those in charge know more than we do.

However, the problem with herd mentality is that we forget that we are in charge of our own destiny.

If a train is cancelled, it’s up to us to seek out an alternative arrangement. If we’re told a road is impassable for whatever reason – and it could be a security alert, or cows on the carriageway – we must accept it and find another route. If going to work is simply not feasible one day, we should stay at home and find something useful to do instead of gluing ourselves to the television news and heightening our panic.

As soon as a testing moment strikes we’re too quick to see what others think first. This means we end up with far too many people listening to those with no authority at all. Social media is much to blame, where self-appointed crusaders pontificate from the safety of their keyboard whenever a crisis strikes. This constant buzz clouds judgement like a blizzard clouds a windscreen and makes individuals incapable of making a choice using only basic facts and gut instinct.

Why else would my children’s school stay closed for two days, even when the weather forecast for Friday morning said simply “cloud”? Why else did so many public buildings remain securely bolted when the blizzards and high winds had subsided, leaving people without recourse to local councils, job centres, universities and Government offices? If hospitals can stay open and operate on a skeleton staff if they have to, why can’t other public services?

I’ve heard of far too many office workers gleefully snuggling down for a “duvet day”, when farmers still have to go out and feed their animals and rescue patrols still have to tend to stranded motorists. It makes you wonder just how certain sectors of the workforce justify their constant demands for more pay if their work is so easily shelved.

Not for the first time, I’ve wondered how we would all carry on in a war. To borrow a few lessons from the 1940s, in future I’d like to see a lot less of “Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring” and a lot more “keep calm and carry on”, not just when it snows, but all year round. If we learn nothing else from extreme weather, it should teach us how to cope with life.