I’ve always been a bit cynical about the way the country will grind to a halt following a bit of snow, but I have to say that the past couple of days have changed my opinion.
I trudged to the Town Hall last night (walking there and back, along Lavender Hill, St John’s Hill and East Hill). There were a few things that stood out. First, was how eerily quiet it was. There were very few vehicles on the roads, very few pedestrians and the pubs, bars and restaurants along the route were almost empty. What really surprised me when I walked back was that even places like the Slug and Lettuce and the Falcon (which has it’s own staff accommodation) next to Clapham Junction had decided to close early.
Second, was that the main roads were absolutely clear. Not a spot of snow on them.
There was a bit of discussion about the council’s response to the snow at the meeting I attended at the Town Hall. The response was formidable. We’d had eight gritters out since 3pm on Sunday and staff had been diverted from other tasks to help in the operation. On Monday morning gritting of key pavements, such as outside schools and stations started – even though many schools were closed and trains services severely disrupted.
Perhaps most importantly was that services to vulnerable people, like meals on wheels, continued.
And all this despite staff shortages because people couldn’t make it in. Having said that, there were some stories of real endurance – one council employee made it in from Loughborough.
Did we get absolutely everything right? Maybe not; on Twitter I picked up on a Tweet questioning why we only had 8 gritters – well, how many should we get to cover extraordinary snowfall and then stand unused for months or even years on end, I think we have the balance about right. There was even one guy claiming there hadn’t been any gritting at all easy to disprove and I think a bit offensive to the staff who have been working so hard over the past few days – it might be he actually lives in a neighbouring borough who ran out of grit yesterday.*
It was a heavy snowfall, there is no doubt about that, but I think the council did a great job in tackling it. Yes, they had to prioritise, so the pavement outside your house may have to wait, but all-in-all an admirable response to some extraordinary weather. All the people involved deserve congratulations.
* UPDATE: I think I was a bit unfair to the Twitter commentator. I did Tweet him and he replied that although the roads were clear, there was no evidence of grit (he’s deleted the relevant Tweets, so I can’t link to the conversation).
This does cause some confusion, the grit is actually a white salt, so it doesn’t show up too well when mixed with snow. Having said that, satisfaction is still hard to come by, he also Tweeted “Well, they might sue me for libel, but I’ve been licking the roads of Tooting, and they’re not remotely salty.”
It seems our roads are failing the taste test!