Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Why we should all just lie back and think of Narnia

By Sharon Owens

Published 23/12/2010

A woman makes her way to the shops after heavy snowfall across Northern Ireland
A woman makes her way to the shops after heavy snowfall across Northern Ireland

With hundreds of schools closed early for Christmas, most flights in and out of the country grounded and festive shopping centres deserted, maybe it's time we all got used to living in Narnia.

Last weekend saw the lowest temperature on record in Northern Ireland: a bitterly cold -18C in Castlederg, Co Tyrone. Footpaths everywhere are a shimmering sheet of ice.

Minor and rural roads are not gritted and there's no possibility of funding hundreds of dedicated snow-clearers in the current recession.

So what's to be done if severe weather like this is to become the norm?

For a start, I suggest the summer holidays should be reduced to the first two weeks in July (the Easter holidays could be cancelled to compensate for this) and schools should close down completely for the months of December and January.

Children used to be given July and August off school so they could help to gather in the harvest, but these days that's no longer relevant.

Children don't even play outside any more during the summer months, so what's the point in giving them eight weeks off in July and August?

I feel it would make more sense to re-arrange the school year than to have our children battling through snow, ice, sleet and sub-zero temperatures to reach freezing schools that are only half-full and partially staffed anyway.

I also think many people will have to consider not travelling long distances to be with loved ones at Christmas-time.

It's a lovely idea to gather round the hearth as the snow falls prettily outside the window, but surely the stress of worrying about cancelled flights and icy roads makes the Great Christmas Get-together more trouble than it's worth.

This everlasting winter has hit shops, pubs and restaurants hard as people stay at home to avoid the treacherous conditions. To avoid the last-minute panic we'll have to do our Christmas shopping in October from now on and post cards and gifts by early November.

We'll have to buy in enough canned and dry goods to last several weeks. We'll have to get boilers and pipes serviced in the autumn and we'll have to budget for spending more money on heating oil.

I think medical staff should be given first preference when it comes to buying homes close to hospitals, clinics and GPs' surgeries so that staff can walk to work during a prolonged cold spell.

We may even need to introduce the widespread use of snow tyres and create lay-bys where motorists can pull in to remove snow chains when they reach the clearer main roads.

I'd love to be able to buy walking boots with spiked soles as I usually walk for at least an hour each day, but I've been more or less housebound for three weeks now.

The rubber grips on my walking shoes have been laughably ineffective. There's no enjoyment in walking in a winter wonderland when you're clinging to walls and fences for dear life.

Where I live, even the buses and taxis occasionally admit defeat, so you really are in trouble if you're miles from home and you get a sprained ankle, for example.

It'd be lovely if I had some family and friends living close by, but as it happens, the nearest family member is a 90-minute drive away and my closest friend in Belfast lives a half-hour bus trip across the city.

Luckily, I'm not a big foodie, or much of a drinker either, so I'm coping well enough with the enforced isolation, but I'm sure many thousands of people in Northern Ireland are suffering from cabin-fever.

Finally, I wonder if Northern Ireland's divorce solicitors will be busy when the snow finally melts away sometime in March 2011.

They say the stress of Christmas can be the final straw for many a shaky marriage and this Christmas looks as if it'll be more stressful than most.

Picture the scene: you're stranded with your in-laws for a week or more, your Christmas presents are sitting in a warehouse in Milton Keynes and home heating oil is costing a king's ransom.

The food and drink are running out, the car has broken down and the children are going stir-crazy. Will some people be freaking out like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation? Where's that chainsaw? Merry Christmas, everyone!

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