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We must learn to live with the snow.

Byline: HUGH MORGAN

SO the New Year has arrived surprising us all that the North East can still experience bitterly cold weather. The unpleasant consequences of higher heating bills will no doubt follow and the cost to businesses has yet to be calculated, in terms of lost business, staff absences and weather related damage.

For someone who spent their early life in Switzerland where snow is an everyday occurrence, I am always somewhat bemused by the way the country becomes completely paralysed by a few inches of snow, and then the consequent efforts to clear every last scrap from our roads and pavements consume huge resources of salt and manpower.

Schools close at the mere prospect of a sharp frost and ice in the playground, and employees look forward to a few days off because they don''t want to run the risk of getting stuck or, worse, having an accident.

I was reassured last week that we are not all like that. The story on BBC1's Look North of a community in Upper Weardale having their power restored demonstrated a common sense approach to snow. It's a nuisance but let's get on with it.

Half-mile walks to the shop through metre-deep drifts send a sharp message to towns and cities in the south, where reporters appear on television informing us in awed tones that the temperature hasn't risen above freezing all day, and that as a result roads and pavements are slippery.

The consequent nationalisation of our salt and grit stocks (shame we didn't get a minister of snow), and the constant whingeing that pavements weren't being gritted, really ground my gears.

Where I live, the roads don't get gritted; we have no pavements; the farmer's snowplough clears the roads in a rough and ready fashion once every few days; we stoke up the fire, and get on with earning a living.

Only if the wind blows drifting snow across the roads and physically blocks them does life come to a grinding halt temporarily.

Can I make a few suggestions to the good citizens of the south and their local authorities? Go out and buy a good pair of non-slip shoes or boots, wear another pullover and buy a good shovel. Use sand on the footpaths and minor roads, not expensive salt which should be reserved for motorways and the main arterial roads.

Above all, we as a nation, need to learn how to drive safely on snow and ice. The sight of heavy lorries and cars belting down a snow covered A1 and A19 at 60mph is sobering and scary.

These measures would not only improve our safety, they would also save money. Most important of all, we would not be subjected to complete ridicule by our Continental neighbours.

So having had one surprise this year, I wonder what the rest of 2010 will throw at us. Maybe a gentle economic recovery that starts to rebuild our confidence. Maybe a new government that will listen to people for a couple of years. Maybe a greater tolerance for each other. Maybe.

Hugh Morgan Williams is chairman of the Washington-based Canford Group
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Title Annotation:Letters
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 20, 2010
Words:521
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