Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Have I got it wrong about the sanguine, polite, decent Brit?
Martin Newell relives Snowmageddon and The Beast from the East.
I am heartily glad that the winter’s last little sucker-punch has been thrown.
I know it made for some dramatic headlines last week but for once, I think, they were warranted.
The freezing conditions brought out the same examples of good and sometimes bad behaviour I have come to expect.
As usual, I went out daily to clear snow from a length of pavement in front of my house, gritting it afterwards.
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From two sources I heard the same hoary dog of a myth I always do: “You don’t want to be doing that, because if you clear the pavement and someone slips over you could be liable.”
I have to really bridle my tongue when confronted with such pants. It is the type of legal expertise proffered by the-man-in-the-pub or a-bloke-at-our-work.
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Who, then, will they sue if I don’t clear the pavement and they still fall over? The Beast from the East perhaps?
I’ll believe it the day I read that “.... Darren Smith, formerly of Southwold, trading under the name ‘The Beast from the East’ did wilfully and without due regard for overly-litigious people with ill-chosen footwear, obstruct a number of public thoroughfares with frozen substances intended for injurious purposes.”
So I got on with clearing the pavements, as did very few other people.
In Germany it is required by law that if it snows, which it tends to do more frequently there, you must clear the pavement in front of your house. Most people in the UK don’t bother, however.
On the roads, despite regular bulletins and warnings not to drive cars unless really necessary, many people still deemed it really necessary to do so, with predictably unhappy results.
In the local shops, meanwhile, the bread shelves emptied as if by magic. This, I believe, was not because people had run out of bread but because they feared they might.
Naturally, in our modern technical age, once a shop is out of bread the news spreads instantly. This means that if a bread delivery later gets through, which, last week, some did, the re-stocked shelves will empty even more quickly.
Now it so happened that I didn’t get low on bread until the third day of Snowmageddon.
Upon entering my local Co-op at what is usually a quiet time of day, the place was packed.
Many of the customers within, although they may have been local, were not Co-op regulars.
I discerned this from the bewildered and slightly sniffy way in which they blundered aimlessly around the place, many with slightly distressed looks on their faces.
A few of these sufferers seemed “of a type”. The kind of people, as a fellow columnist once wittily observed, who keep fruit on the sideboard “even when nobody in the house is ill”.
You could also tell by the fact there were no leeks and only a few baking potatoes left on shelves that some Pavlovian instinct to make soup had taken over. The pitta bread had vanished too. Now there’s a sure sign of a robust middle-class migration into your village community.
Being the prurient sadist I am, I browsed a local Internet forum. I was unsurprised to discover entire conversational threads dedicated to blocked roads, bread shortages and, yes, the beleaguered train service. In fact, with all the free time enforced by The B from the E, a general online blame-fest ensued. It became satisfyingly ratty at times. One thing that did make me laugh out loud was one contributor who angrily blamed the snow blockages on local council decisions.
Here a moderator stepped smartly in, admonishing the contributor for trying to “politicise the snow.” Less funny were tales of scenes on commuter trains stuttering back and forth between countryside and capital. A friend of mine reported that on one train the only thing which had prevented fist-fights breaking out was overcrowding. People’s arms were so tightly pinioned to their sides that it prevented them punching each other.
I studied his face for some glimmer of irony while he related this. There was none. He was deadly serious and had endured, he said, a horrendous week travelling back and forth to work.
This was a former services chap who only a few years earlier had been stationed in places like Kabul.
I occasionally fear I must harbour very naïve and old-fashioned ideas about my fellow Brits. I like to think of us chiefly as sanguine, polite and generally decent. In fact, I know many of us are. Sometimes, however, I fear that increasing numbers of us actually aren’t.