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Everything's gonna be all white…

A general election on the horizon, wars, famine and swine flu sweeping the globe, and the continuation of Sussex’s ever-steady tumble towards financial oblivion…So what’s everybody talking about? Snow. Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

In all fairness, it’s not difficult to see why even the gentlest sprinkling of snowflakes (let alone the nation’s recent obliteration by blizzard) instantly becomes the indisputable champion of conversation topics. Snow is the rarity of all rarities for the British public, the stuff of Hollywood Christmas fodder (in which, be it A Christmas Carol or Bridget Jones’ Diary, English yuletide scenes are unanimously – and ironically – knee deep in picture perfect flurries), an utter transformation of the cityscapes and countryside we know so well, a force reducing young and old alike to snowball-wielding 5 year-olds and, best of all, the God-given Hoover Dam of watertight excuses to pull a sickie.

Considering the usual seasonal offering – intervals of watery sleet and the occasional bout of ‘real’ snow which, almost before the premature cries of ‘it’s settling!’, is lining curbs and gutters as slush, that ever-appealing staple of the British winter – it’s hardly surprising that a proper blizzard gets us all a bit overexcited.

But it isn’t all fun and games. Local shops providing groceries to those unable to go further afield and television broadcasters experiencing huge ratings boosts are benefitting, but they are very much in the minority. Though we haven’t had a winter this chilly since 1962, recent years have shown the national infrastructure fundamentally incapable of dealing with a cold snap – and this one has, unsurprisingly, been no exception. With a major surge in gas usage threatening a potential shortage, an end to grit supplies constantly imminent, a predicted 40,000 excess cold-related deaths this winter and chaos on the roads and rails after every snowfall, the country has proved, yet again, that past white-outs have taught us very little when it comes to being prepared.

Indeed, it seems Brighton has dealt with this winter’s adverse weather with even less capability and competence than most. After the first heavy snowfall in mid-December, the Brighton & Hove city council found themselves under fire following their decision to focus gritting efforts on Lewes Road, omitting pretty much everywhere else. This is perhaps unfair, as we are reliably informed such a decision was owing to a shortage of gritters – nevertheless, they paid the price with the numbers admitted to the local A&E department rocketing five-fold, not to mention their share in the estimated £14.5bn cost to the economy due to snowed-in workers and disruptions to transport.

But is Britain really so incredibly hopeless when it comes to dealing with snowfall? Yes, responses could be a little faster. Yes, reserves could be a little better. Yes, resources could be a little more plentiful. The truth, however, is that the British public, for all the pride we take in our stiff upper lips, really do love a bit of drama – and the snow, with its unpredictability and sheer domination, is just that. Even Midwest and Northeastern America had a spot of bother dealing with their familiar snow storms this winter, with road and rail alike suffering in a manner not radically dissimilar to ours and, when you take a good look, our responses were almost on a par.

Secretly, for all the hassle it provides, all the plans it changes, all the power shortages and chaos it bestows, we love the sense of camaraderie that suddenly emerges when we’re all schlepping through blizzards to get home, or trapped indoors watching tomorrow’s weather report with bated breath. Snow is one of the few remaining occurrences which unites us – in our eternal grumbling if nothing else – and, if only for a little while, breaks the tedium of our everyday. If nothing else, it really does look rather pretty.

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