Where’s Florence Nightingale when you need her?

by Daniel on January 29, 2004

There’s a wide spread of political opinions at Crooked Timber; as you can tell, we run the gamut from social democrat to democratic socialist. All sorts, I tell you. But I think that there’s one issue which divides us neatly into two groups. Or rather, into one group consisting of me, and one group consisting of all the others. And that’s the fact that I’m a nationalist. Horrible to admit it but it’s true. I genuinely do believe that, according to my standards (and who else’s standards might I use?), Britain is the best place to live that there is, and the British are the finest people in the world. After that, Irish, Turks, Czechs, Danes and French in that order, and after that there’s quite a steep drop-off. Sorry, where was I? Anyway, yes, the British are best.

If I were to criticise my fellow countrymen at all, however, it would be to say that we do have something of a tendency to panic when we see two flakes of frost sticking together. Look at this bloody circus. It snowed for precisely one hour yesterday evening round our way, a snowfall that had been forecast a week in advance, and left about half an inch of light white dust on the ground, which promptly started to melt. I was four hours late getting into work this morning because the trains couldn’t cope with it. The bloody Russians run trains across Siberia, for Christ’s sake. I actually watched an interview with some London Transport bod on the TV explaining that the Metropolitan line had to be shut down because of “severe weather”, in which it was possible to see over his shoulder a beautiful clear blue cloudless sky. As Peter Cook remarked, the arrival of winter, while usually quite generally expected, seems to always catch London Transport by surprise.

A look back at the history of the Crimean campaign reveals that this has been a bit of a blind spot for the Sons of Albion for quite a while.

UPDATE] I’ve just been told that we’re running “emergency trains” this evening, 24 hours after the event and with the snow entirely melted. Apparently the “severe icy weather conditions” have had serious effects on “both trains and infrastructure”. Apparently water freezes. Who’d a thunk it?



Ghost of a flea 01.29.04 at 11:52 am

My frequent train trips around England were all too frequently delayed for a variety of reasons though I never encountered the wrong kind of snow or the dreaded leaves on the tracks.


John Kozak 01.29.04 at 12:01 pm

Luxury! We (Chelsea) had a 27 hour power outage, ending early hours of this morning. Bloody privatisation ;-)


Andy 01.29.04 at 12:14 pm

British? No, English!

In the words of a once popular tune:

“The English, The English, The English are best
I couldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest”


reuben 01.29.04 at 12:19 pm

And we’re supposed to be capable of hosting an Olympics?


Nabakov 01.29.04 at 12:24 pm

At least it wasn’t the dreaded “We are rerouting this train to Waterloo because of excessive leaf fall on the track” announcement.

For all you steam men, I present a transcript tendered to an inquiry into Melbourne’s worst train disaster this century (total casualties: one case of whiplash and several hundred pissed off commuters.) Just think Pinter rewriting the Little Red Engine.

Spencer Street Signal Box: Yeah?

Metrol: Who is this, ****? (person’s name)

Spencer Street Signal Box: Yeah.

Metrol: Yeah mate, we got a situation here, we got the runaway train, the up train from Broady.

Spencer Street Signal Box: Yeah?

Metrol: It’s already at Glenbervie going towards Essendon. Just wondering, they suggesting that we going to bring it towards you.

Spencer Street Signal Box: You’re going to bring it towards me?

Metrol: Yep, number one box.

Spencer Street Signal Box: Oh really? And where am I going to put it?

Metrol: Anywhere. Anywhere that’s safe for the train to stop. If that one, if that will come towards Spencer Street.

Spencer Street Signal Box: I haven’t got, I haven’t got a platform to put it in.

Metrol: You got no platform to put it in?

Spencer Street Signal Box: Nope!


Spencer Street Signal Box: The only place I’ll have is platform one when the Adelaide goes. And then it’ll run down and hit the bottom anyway.

Metrol: Yeah, that’s the thing.

Spencer Street Signal Box: And it’ll run out of wire and then, of course, nothing moves.

Metrol: Mmm-hmmm.

Spencer Street Signal Box: And that’s what they want to do?

Metrol: Yep, that’s right.

Spencer Street Signal Box: Righto.

Metrol: OK?

Spencer Street Signal Box: No worries.

Metrol: No worries, seeya.


dsquared 01.29.04 at 12:33 pm

“The English, The English, The English are best
I couldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest”

To be honest, I’d put the English somewhere between Czechs and Danes. They’re alright, but I mean really. The high rating for “British” is mainly the result of the positive effect of my own people, the Welsh. Though thinking about it, the South Welsh get on my nerves a bit.


steve 01.29.04 at 1:09 pm

Hmmmmm… it appears we Americas are in the area of the “steep drop-off”. No matter. I will say this in our defense though, those of us in the Northeastern United States are quite comfortable with the idea of snow and quite adept at navigating about the world when it is falling and has fallen. No late trains (full disclosure: we don’t use trains much). In fact, we are even given to travelling several hours so that we may frolick – yes frolick – in the snow and ice. Hearty indeed!

Viva la Yankee!


dsquared 01.29.04 at 1:16 pm

Just to make this clear by the way, the described hierarchy of nationalities above was a joke, and no offence should be taken by nations left off it.


Tom T. 01.29.04 at 1:22 pm

No offense taken; I thought your post was quite charming. Besides, Washington DC is similarly thrown into chaos by the smallest amount of winter weather.


reuben 01.29.04 at 1:23 pm

A colleague has just returned from Sri Lanka, where one of her trains was briefly delayed by… chickens on the tracks. The problem was dealt with promptly, and no stations had to be closed.


Matthew 01.29.04 at 1:36 pm

What gave a bitter edge to the hours waiting for a non-existing bus yesterday night was remembering all the talk this Week-End: “this year, we will be prepared for the snow, to avoid a repeat of last year’s chaotic situation”.


steve 01.29.04 at 1:41 pm

Taken as intended. Love the blog.


Maria 01.29.04 at 2:33 pm

It’s astonishing. Last weekend I took a train that went at a 30-40 degree angle up through the French Alps, and with a good foot or two of snow on either side. Not only did the thing leave on time, arrive on time, and chug along happily through all the intervening points, it even had fully functioning heating (which you cannot take for granted on the Irish train service, which also has the disadvantage of being run for the purpose of its employees rather than the passengers).

But anyway, Paris is full of snow and ice but would be functioning perfectly. Except that whole swathes of the city’s transport infrastructure have been summarily halted at a moment’s notice all week – because the charming Chinese leader is in town. Buses are cancelled out of the blue, roads closed, the place is full of riot police, and last night I came across a man wandering confusedly across the Pont de l’Alma asking repeatedly, ‘but how are we supposed to get home?’

The Eiffel tower is red this week in honour of chinese new year. gorgeous, but when the searchlight swoops around it looks ominously like the Eye of Sauron.

But it’s all been worth it. The sub-head of today’s freesheet says ‘Jacques Chirac criticises the referendum organised by Taiwan and condemned by Bejing. 30 minutes later, President Hu Jintao anounces the purchase of 21 Airbuses’.

Sell planes and piss off the Americans? Fantastic.


harry 01.29.04 at 2:42 pm

As one of the rootless cosmopolitans on the roster I want to say that you are being completely unfair to the British, Daniel. Two reasons. 1) Their apparent tendency to panic in times of bad weather is completely illusory — acting as if the apocalypse has arrived is a collective leisure activity, and an utterly charming one. If only the Americans knew so well how to have fun.
2) A little bit of snow in Britain is a much more serious thing than a little bit of snow in (say) Wisconsin, because the infrastructure to deal with it isn’t in place. Better, surely, to have a couple of days off every few years than to pay a fortune to maintain an infrastructure to deal with snow that hardly ever arrives.
3) Ok, a third reason — in fact as all the Americans know, there are multiple deaths on the roads every winter during the first snow of winter because drivers DON’T panic, but believe they can continue to drive 20 miles over the speed limit, refrain from signalling, and generally behave obnoxiously even in a snowstorm.


dsquared 01.29.04 at 2:53 pm

Their apparent tendency to panic in times of bad weather is completely illusory — acting as if the apocalypse has arrived is a collective leisure activity, and an utterly charming one.

True, although the Crimea suggests that you can take a good thing too far.


des 01.29.04 at 3:25 pm

I have conducted an extensive, if utterly pointless, longditudinal study of the phenomenon of snökaos in the Scandewegian press, and I can assure the collected Timb’rites and Splinters that they are just as surprised by winter as the Brits and at least as often.

Item: The Oslo tube was motionless, yesterday, and traffic barely crawling.

Item: I was in Helsinki just before Christmas when a surprise (!) snöfall caught the snöploughs napping, inspiring caustic remarks in the national Swedish-language newspaper Hufvedstadbladet.

Item: Over the Christmas period, the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet (imagine the English Mail if it was centre-left and wasn’t in thrall to Satan, if you can. It won’t be very like Aftonbladet, I just want to watch the facial expressions of persons trying) had great sport with snökaos-induced electricity failures, with the inevitable photogenic family facing a Christmas by candlelight, and without even plumbing.

I could continue, at some length, but my point, which is mine, is that the transition from no snö to snö seems to be the traumatic part, and to be so (and, indeed, thus) everywhere. There’s no direct equivalent, of course, to this in lands of permafrost, as to which the “perma” will have tipped off the attentive reader. On the other hand, last January the plane took off from Tallinn airport when it was in the -20s and the gulf of Finland was frozen solid, which is more than could be said for Bristol Slightly International Airport yesterday.

Swings for courses, and half a dozen on the roundabouts, isn’t it?


des 01.29.04 at 3:48 pm

And just now news has reached me of snekaos in Denmark. (Sne is of course Danish for snö.) So that’s a full set, hoorah!


maurinsky 01.29.04 at 3:49 pm

Steve – there certainly are hearty Yankees, but in my next of the woods (Eastern Connecticut), there was nary a gallon of milk or loaf of bread to be found on Tuesday.


maurinsky 01.29.04 at 3:50 pm

Er, that would be “neck” of the woods, not next of the woods.

Ah, look – a preview button! I think I shall remember to use that from now on.


Hepcat 01.29.04 at 4:04 pm

I remember being stuck at Waterloo last summer because it was too hot! The perils of a temperate climate…


Redshift 01.29.04 at 4:06 pm

That must be why I feel so much at home there, having grown up near Washington, DC, where people have a similar reaction.


gwendolyn 01.29.04 at 4:51 pm

Well, at least the army wasn’t called in to dig out London! Toronto may never live that one down, and there was a perfectly respectable amount of snow.


Bob 01.29.04 at 5:05 pm

In this and related contexts, by established tradition, I’m impelled to post the link to The True-Born Englishman (1701), a long, deliciously satirical poem by Daniel Defoe, a Londoner with a colourful carrer, probably better known nowadays as the author of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders (1722).

He is widely regarded as the first novelist in the English language but he also wrote many pieces on social trends and current affairs. In: An Essay Upon Projects (1697), he wrote: “I have often thought of it as one of the most barbarous customs in the world, considering us as a civilised and Christian country, that we deny the advantages of learning to women. . .”, an extraordinarily avant-garde notion for the time.

Some memorable lines from: The True-Born Englishman:

A True-Born Englishman’s a Contradiction,
In Speech an Irony, in Fact a Fiction.

All these their Barb’rous Off-spring left behind,
The Dregs of Armies, they of all Mankind;
Blended with Britains who before were here,
Of whom the Welsh ha’ blest the Character.
From this Amphibious Ill-born Mob began
That vain ill-natur’d thing, an English-man,
. . .
Your Roman-Saxon-Danish-Norman English.

Dutch, Walloons, Flemmings, Irishmen, and Scots,
Vaudois and Valtolins, and Hugonots,
In good Queen Bess’s Charitable Reign,
Supply’d us with three hundred thousand Men.
Religion, God we thank thee, sent them hither,
Priests, Protestants, the Devil and all together:
Of all Professions, and of ev’ry Trade,
All that were persecuted or afraid;

Link: http://www.blackmask.com/books63c/trueborneng.htm


psm 01.29.04 at 5:08 pm

I was in London last summer when the trains all slowed down to 60mph because it was too hot. We had to wait until we got to (even hotter) France before the EuroStar sped up.

Then again, I live in San Diego, where all the cars pile into each other on the freeway every time there’s a little rain.


a different chris 01.29.04 at 5:29 pm

>Ah, look – a preview button! I think I shall remember to use that from now on.

To save you from excessive disappointment I will tell you now that it hardly helps. You can read it 1000x and continue to see the words you intended to type instead of what’s actually there. Only when you actually promote your contribution into the ranks of vastly more competent commenters will the flaws suddenly make themselves visible, grinning evilly back at you from your monitor.

–signed, one who’s been there too often


DJW 01.29.04 at 5:30 pm

The response to a little snow is quite similar here in Seattle. Buses become useless and everything shuts down. The best part, though, is the local news. They go into such a frenzy that the weather takes up the first 15 minutes of the broadcast. Then, for a closing segment, they show a montage of cars sliding into ditches and bumping into each other at 5 MPH.


Micha Ghertner 01.29.04 at 5:39 pm

So, does that make you a national socialist democrat or a democratic national socialist?

Just askin’.


psm 01.29.04 at 6:19 pm

So, does that make you a national socialist democrat or a democratic national socialist?

“Right. You’re in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People’s Front.”


J. Michael Neal 01.29.04 at 6:39 pm

The fun part, once you get out on the prairie (Russians know this, too, but call it something else) is when you get a foot of snow while it’s (Wait, celsius fans here. Subtract 32, multiply by .8, carry the two, and add a half hour if you’re in Newfoundland) 30 degrees below zero. It adds a whole new layer of fun to shovelling the walk.

When I grew up in the Northeast, we thought this was too cold to snow. However, if it makes the rest of you feel better, we *used* to have efficient plowing service here in Minnesota, but Gov. Pawlenty thought it wasn’t nice to make the rest of you so jealous, so he slashed the funding, and now it’s a mess.


kevin_k 01.29.04 at 6:48 pm

This week in my town (Yellowknife, NWT, Canada) the temperature reached minus 57 celcius. Yesterday I couldn’t see across the street through the ice fog. Frostbite is a constant danger.

Even so, buses are running on schedule; children still walk to school.


kevin_k 01.29.04 at 6:59 pm

Oops. Make that “celsius.” Bloody cold either way.


Casmir Radon 01.29.04 at 7:25 pm

Hoowee! There was a rumor of snow here in southeast Tennessee last week. I’m pretty sure the supermarkets started said rumor to boost milk and bread sales.

And what are these “trains” you speak of? Just kidding, actually our Representative to Congress (Zach “I was fucked up on drugs before I got fucked up on Jesus” Wamp) ran his last campaign on his efforts to get train service between Chattanooga and Atlanta. Yep, he actually made a failed attempt to get us train service a plank in his campaign. And he won!

And my inner syndicalist just must say: Nationalism!? HA! Primitive.


Another Damned Medievalist 01.29.04 at 8:20 pm

Ah … snow. Funny, we left Eustace station on the Flying Scotsman (neither flying nor Scot) just after Christmas for our honeymoon trip several years back. Delays all the way north — no snow. No delays back, plenty of snow. Go figure.

Here in lovely Seattle, they cancelled national programming for the SNOWSTORM. I drove to work both days, from where it dumped 8″ overnight at my house and we had tree branches down all over, 35 miles to a campus they closed ten minutes before I arrived, safe and sound. Hmph!

Of course I hope y’all realize that the worst side-effect of the snow is this. Thank goodness it’s only the Carling Cup. and Middlesbrough.


susan 01.29.04 at 8:57 pm

Here in Denver, Colorado, mayors lose elections if they don’t get our streets cleared within 24 hours of a snow storm. They can engage in all kinds of mischief and chicanery and keep winning elections, but we do not tolerate snow clogged streets.


Scott Martens 01.29.04 at 10:05 pm

And none of you had to commute in Belgium this morning. Two centimetres of snow and the buses are an hour late! Honestly! In Canada, we don’t even drive slower when there’s two centimetres of snow.


Yukoner 01.29.04 at 11:47 pm

I was going to put in the obligatory “You think that’s cold?!” post but I see that kevin k in Yellowknife beat me to it. But I think he’s cheating and adding a wind chill factor to the air temperature, Yellowknife only hit minus 44 or so while we got down to minus 49 celsius!

But the local radio got some old timers on today to talk about the legendary winter of 1946-47 to remind us youngsters that winters used to really get cold in the old days. A truly astonishing winter, the coldest temperature ever officially recorded in North America (84 below Farenheit) unofficial temperatures (with photos of thermometers) of 88 below, and weeks worth of 60 and 70 below.


Mary Kay 01.30.04 at 12:24 am

I was in London in February 1991 when it snowed 4 inches. The entire town shut down. It was — interesting.



kevin_k 01.30.04 at 12:38 am

Caught red-handed by a yukoner! I did include the windchill factor. I thought of explaining more fully, but I didn’t think anyone but the Canadians in the audience would understand.

Besides, one of the finest pleasures of living in the north is weather one-upmanship. Everybody knows that Yellowknife has the most extreme weather in Canada.


Yukoner 01.30.04 at 1:18 am

Everybody knows that Yellowknife has the most extreme weather in Canada.

Stuff and nonsense! Why, Yellowknife has never recorded a temperature (a real temperature!)lower than -51.2 celsius. That is practically beach and suntanning weather!

(And we all know that only temperature counts, not such silly things as fog and whatnot).

Yes, weather one-upmanship is certainly a favourite way to pass the winter.


ChrisS 01.30.04 at 1:48 am

And here I sit in upstate New York where the expected snow storm total over the next 24 hours is estimated to be 4 to 6 feet.



rea 01.30.04 at 2:34 pm

“Two centimetres of snow and the buses are an hour late!”

See, that’s the key right there. Here in the nonmetric midwestern US, the snow never falls in centimetres; therefore, no problem!

But I would have thought that any true-born Welshman would take a leek on any notions of BRITISH nationalism . . .


zizka 01.31.04 at 12:15 am

Hm. Portland OR USA had more snow than I remember in ~30-35 years here. Montreal reports an unusually cold winter. Meanwhile in Minnesota the winters are unsatisfyingly bland. The times are out of joint.

Trivia: The Mongols campaigned in the winter by preference, since the rivers and swamps would be frozen. Napoleon was a weenie.


Annie Mole 01.31.04 at 2:34 am

Yes we’ve had lots of comments about the “OHMIGOD it’s snowing – we never knew about the snow in London” reaction from London Transport bods over at my blog

and this morning in Metro – London’s free commuter paper there was a top lettter:

A quick note to London Underground: the white fluffy stuff currently falling from the sky is called snow. It is not a rain of frogs, The Winged Victory of Samothrace, or Rodan the flying monster. Furthermore it is the right kind of snow (ie the kind that doesn’t fall underground), so let’s have the trains running properly, eh?

And if you are really stuck, give the Swedish transport authorities a call and ask them how they manage to run a seamless, delay-free service through ice, snow and sub-zero temperatures.

Cheers (PS thanks to Nick Barlow for bringing this post to my attention).

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