This past week Britain has been buffeted by icy winds, and large parts of the country blanketed in snow. These extreme weather conditions have occurred (the BBC weatherman has assured me) as a result of an unusual prolonged period of cold air sweeping down across Britain from the arctic.
Yet it is not the meteorological cause of our recent snowfall that has dominated the news and headlines, but rather the general ineptitude of the nation that occurs as a result of it. In the wake of a few inches of snow the news becomes dominated with stories of disrupted travel, school closures and the failings of the emergency services. But is this really the answer, to gather up all the evidence of failure and throw it back in the face of those who are supposed to provide.
Indeed, one argument readily voiced when Britain struggles with snow, is why can’t we cope when other countries such as Sweden and Finland experience minimum disruption during far longer and harsher winters than ours. The answer, which is articulated after every snowfall, and then promptly ignored, is that the majority of Britain does not experience heavy or prolonged snowfall on a regular basis. In general we have a rather mild climate as a result of the gulf stream, therefore it makes little economic sense for local councils to spend billions of pounds on equipment, that at best would see service two or three times a year. For countries such as Sweden and Finland it is essential to invest into this infrastructure to ensure that public services continue to run despite the wintery weather which they experience every year.
Such a logical explanation seems a bit much for the majority of the population, who feel that their hardship must be blamed on someone else. This seems a far cry from the bulldog spirit that is supposed to characterise our nation, once or twice a year our national grit and determination is thwarted by a few inches of frozen rain. In the modern world the majority of public services are run by central or local government. In other words they are controlled and run by people you are not familiar with. They simply exist and come to your aid when you need it. Because of this distance it becomes very easy to blame someone else when extreme weather conditions such as the recent snowfall occur. When services are provided by a central body, people expect them to teach their children, treat them when they are ill and rescue them when they need help. It is this expectation which is changing our national character, and it is not surprising when someone is always expected to be there to provide that rescue. Yet as the recent snowfall has shown, nationally controlled services can not always cope with an emergency, and maybe, as a nation, we should not be so quick to rely on the service of other people, maybe we should think about how we can help ourselves, and not be so quick to blame others for our misfortunes.
Why the arts editor is interested in this topic may be unclear, it is because the recent snowfall has worried me that the attitude mentioned above is seeping into the next generation. If this happens we may have nurtured a generation of hapless, health and safety conscious worriers. And this is dangerous, not only for their personal safety but for the art and literature that will inevitably emerge from their generation. Call me old fashioned but whoever heard of a hero wearing a high visibility jacket?