Belfast Telegraph

Mark Steel: Unseasonal apocalypse forecast

The moment a single flake drifts on to the Lake District, every news report tells us: "The police advise you not to go anywhere unless your journey is necessary", which is pointless because who makes journeys they don't think are necessary?

Are there people who say: "Yesterday I drove from Coventry to Leeds, and when I arrived I realised there was no reason why I'd gone, so I drove back again, via Plymouth."

By the time there's a thin covering of snow, the statements are apocalyptic. One weather report began: "Britain is literally frozen solid", and should have carried on: "This means the real danger will come when it thaws out, as Britain will literally melt into the sea, and police are advising when this happens not to go out unless you have developed gills."

It seems certain that historians of the future will discuss how the British civilisation died out because no one could cope with two inches of snow falling unexpectedly on A-roads and runways, and by the end of February the whole country was dead.

Every spokesman and airline executive tells us no one could do anything to stop the chaos, because it is colder than the Ice Age and more slippery than the rings of ice around Saturn, and Devon has become a stalactite. The Transport minister, Julian Brazier, said: "We were perfectly ready for these conditions, we just couldn't predict these conditions would come so early." I think Custer said a similar thing.

The most entertaining part is watching these characters make their statements, such as: "In order to be prepared, plans for icy weather must be drawn up in July, and back then it was scorching so no one could have predicted that the temperature would change this much in six months."

Or they'll get technical and say: "The problem we've had is the combination of snow and cold. If we had just one of these, for example, if it snowed in the summer, it would quickly evaporate and be easily cleared away. But this snow has coincided with it being very cold, which is extremely unlucky and has caused it to turn into a substance known as ice."

Then they'll say: "As I've said on each of the five occasions in the past two years that the entire transport system has ground to a halt because of snow, there's no point in spending money on a situation that only occurs every 200 years. How many more times must I spell this out?"

But the most common complaint from people stuck for days on roads, trains and in airports has been that no one offers any information, and if Julian Assange was at Heathrow he'd come away saying: "Sorry, I couldn't find out a thing from anyone." So pensioners and toddlers and the sick wander indefinitely round the terminal, occasionally hearing an announcement that they may or may not get away, no one knows when but they can't go home as no one can say when they'll know they can't go either, which suggests the airport has been taken over by Buddhist philosophers. When an information office is set up, it will probably be a monk sitting on a mat saying: "Ah my friend, the most important journey we make is that of our own mind travelling towards that which is honest and true. Are you ready to cross the ice to find that destination, my child? Right, NEXT."

But some information has seeped out. For example, Heathrow employed 50 people to clear the snow compared to 150 at Gatwick, which is smaller. And Heathrow has fewer snowploughs than Gatwick, and cancelled far more flights. So I wonder if an expert meteorologist might find a connection between those random statistics. Also BAA, the company that runs the airports, made £1bn profit last year, and paid its chief executive Colin Matthews a salary of £1m. So, in the absence of anything else definite to announce to people waiting, they could at least repeat those figures over the tannoy to calm people down.

Belfast Telegraph


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