A little bit of weather, and the city grinds to a halt. Pathetic, yes. But what fun


In 10 years living in London I can recall three occasions on which the Blitz has been invoked. The power cut in 2003; the terrorist attack of July 2005; and then, today: a bit of snow. It was the “Blitz spirit” talked about the first two times (spuriously, probably); but today, after a cold front ripped in from Russia, there was a delight in pointing out, as did the Evening Standard in 48-point this afternoon: “Not even the Blitz stopped the buses – but snow does today”.

It was alright for some of us. I trudged from north London down the Cally Road and along the canal to work. But half my colleagues didn’t make it. Those that did had good tales. One had flagged down a stranger to get a ride to a stop on the Victoria Line, one of the only lines operating. Wouldn't happen on a normal day. Two had cycled – both had bruises to prove it. Another, having walked in from Dalston, reported being hit by a snowball – but only after being asked politely by the assailant if she would mind if he threw it. The only bit of fury I heard was someone who had suffered three hours at Heathrow just back from the World Economic Forum in Davos. “They know how to cope with snow in Europe," he seethed.

It’s true – Britain, or the south-east at least, is laughably incapable in the face of a bit of weather. Heat, cold, wind, rain, whatever: trains just stop running - and today it was buses, too. The forecast for this burst of bad snow was plain 48 hours before it struck. In most big cities, councils would be out in force to forestall urban breakdown. In London, it looked on Sunday afternoon, as the first flakes floated down, as if someone had wandered around town with one wheelbarrow of grit to cover the lot.

But what fun, and what conversation, this weather. I've just seen a run-through of tomorrow's front pages on Sky News. All nine dailies (except the Financial Times, of course), have the snow on the front page. Great pictures.

In London, Boris Johnson suspended the congestion charge for the day. The football transfer window was extended. And cold old hands the world over – be they Canadians, Italians or Estonians, raged delightedly at London’s hopelessness.

But, fuck it, what fun.

When I looked out the window this morning my memory cut to a similar view in the early part of 1981. Probably it was February; an overnight dump of snow had closed St George the Martyr, the cheerful little primary school my sister and I were going to during a year-long stay in London. School closed. Too much snow. Bliss.

That glorious day, full of snowfights and snowmen, is frozen in my memory, and on my walk into work this morning I saw countless small people in just that adventure. If only for the break from the drudgery of economic doom, there's pleasure in a city that stops when the weather rolls in.

Comments (3)

by Tim Watkin on February 03, 2009
Tim Watkin

Lovely Toby, it was like I was there. Adore the bit about the person asking your colleague if she could throw a snowball at him. How English!

by Jane Young on February 04, 2009
Jane Young

Hey Toby you are right about the "cold old hands" I swear the only reason London's plight made it on the telly news in Quebec was so the half-frozen zombies we all are in winter could have a little light relief chucking at a major world city stopping for a light flurry!  Meanwhile the snow pile in what used to be our backyard is about 6ft deep and going nowhere due to the continual freeze. At the top of the driveway yesterday the remnants of last week's snow storm were finally being graded so instead of the road, I was faced with a wall of snow higher than my jeep! Enjoy snow for beginners - luckily for you it will melt ever so quickly. Why was this place ever settled? 


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