Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Snow Day

If you look at the news today, you'll see that Britain is in the grip of yet another snowfall. Work-wise, it doesn't affect me. I'd booked today off in order to get Toy fixed ASAP; since he has a problem with his wheels, I didn't want to drive one mile further than was necessary. On Monday, sacrificing a day off to get him fixed seemed the best option - today was the first day they could fit him in, they couldn't give me a loan car and whilst DH is currently driving his sister's car, that was also booked in for a service today so he couldn't drive me to work. Bad weather didn't rear its ugly head until yesterday, when the weather warnings came through. It snowed overnight; this morning, we dropped both cars off and walked back through virgin snow.

The first time I drove in snow, it was the week before Christmas 1999. I was sitting in the Metro (Toy's predecessor) at a set of traffic lights in Selsdon, south of London, when I realised the stuff making the strange wet blotches on the windscreen wasn't rain. It was snow! Further along, the Epsom Downs wore a nice snowy blanket. I remember feeling excited, like I'd finally made it as a driver, "Hello, world! I've driven in Snow!!!!".

When I got to work that morning, I quizzed everyone about how to drive in snow. I got fairly general advice: stay in second gear, brake slowly, double or treble the distance between the car and the one ahead, etc.

The next time I recall driving in snow was January 2003, when it started falling as I drove into the office car park on the morning I was due to fly to Australia for my sister's wedding (the flight was at 10pm). I sat in the office that day watching it fall, watching it settle, until 2pm when I turned to my then boss (PVC) and said I was leaving - I had a plane to catch and I couldn't risk staying any longer. PVC is Canadian. He responded with, "You're Australian. What do you know about driving in snow?" and proceeded to give me a driving lecture. It's thanks to him that I carry a bag of kitty litter in the boot during winter (for grip on the ice).

Fast forward to December 2009 and our current bout of snowy weather. You know about my journey home on the Monday before Christmas, but I haven't mentioned Friday 18th December. I was at Site. Thursday, it was snowing as I drove to the hotel - a dry snow, almost hail, that blew over the road like a dust storm, complete with swirls and eddies.

Thursday night was the Site Christmas Party at a big hotel so I stayed at the venue; Friday lunchtime was the Reading Finance Christmas Wake (we'd organised it and paid for it ourselves, without company support). The plan was that I'd claim driving time for once, leave the hotel before 8am, drive home as quickly as possible, collect DH who'd drop me at the station then get the express train into Reading for our party at 1pm. No drinking and driving for me.

Friday morning's news was full of talk about the overnight snowfalls and an impending "Big One" that was due to start "any minute now" and would be focused over Lincolnshire. Since there were clear skies when I left Scunthorpe, I thought it was safe to take my usual route instead of heading out to the M1 and adding an hour to the journey (usual route is country roads to Lincoln, go round the Lincoln bypass, then join the A1 near Newark. That'd take me to the M25 and home).

I was about a third of the way down the A1 when the Big One hit. Gradually, over the next 20 miles, we slowed down into a single file convoy of traffic, travelling at approximately 40 miles an hour. The snowfall got heavier and settled on the road. Every now and again, an idiot would wiz down the fast lane at 60 mph; that stopped after one of them spun out of control and ended up sideways with their nose across the central reservation.

We plodded on. The snow got heavier. The vehicles got slower. The road surface disappeared; even the tyre marks were filling up. At 10.30am I pulled into Colsterworth Services and considered my options. By this point, the A1 was practically stationary. There was no way I'd get to Reading for 1pm. It was time to admit defeat. I phoned the office and told them I wasn't going to make it. I phoned DH and told him where I was, then bought a coffee and sat in the Little Chef for an hour, reading, until the snow plough/gritter went through and the traffic started moving.

I gritted my teeth, got back in the Toy and set off again. The reason we'd ground to a stop became clear - there had been an accident closing the fast lane and the emergency vehicles were still clearing up when I drove past. The snowstorm eased. The road surface cleared. Driving got faster.

It was 3pm when I got home that day. I'd had a long scary drive. Sometimes, I'd been really frightened but mainly about getting stuck. I wasn't scared (most of the time) about crashing, only when those idiots went flying past at 60. I have never been more grateful to see the road works on the M25 near Watford.

- Pam

No comments: