There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Staffordshire, Quebec and Kunming: Coping with a Cold Snap

Snow on the roofs of North Staffs
I went swimming yesterday morning, as is my thrice-weekly wont. Driving home about eight o’clock, I glanced at the thermometer and saw it registered -6°. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘that’s cold.’

Why the extreme cold had not registered as I walked from house to garage, or to and from the doors of the leisure centre, I do not know – maybe it was too early in the morning to notice anything. It certainly registered on the walk from the car back to the front door, all five freezing paces of it.

But I was being a wuss. In February 1998 I went skiing in Quebec. Watching breakfast television one morning, I heard the newsreader say: ‘It’s going to be a mild one today, with a top temperature of –7.’ Yesterday’s top temperature was a balmy +2, but I was still shivering.

Several weeks ago I was complaining about the cold in Kunming, when the temperature was - only just - in double figures. Perhaps I was justified, nowhere in Kunming - with the merciful exception of our hotel room - had any heating and the cold and damp seemed to seep into your bones.

A dusting of snow on Dandly Acres

This morning I woke up to a clear pale blue sky and a light dusting of snow. The rest of the country had snow yesterday, and along with it came the predictable chaos. Equally predictable was the moaning about how it is only in Britain that a little snow brings everything to a halt and how everywhere else deals with it so much better. Canada is always held up as the example, and indeed they cope with snow admirably – but then, it lies around for months on end, so they have to. This is the our first November snow for over twenty years; most years snow lies on the ground for two or three days in January or February, sometimes there is none at all. If Staffordshire spent the same money on snow shifting as Quebec, there would be letters in the local press moaning about expensive equipment sitting idle for 360 days a year. They would probably be from the same people who moan about the current situation.

We had a conversation with Wang about snow in Kunming, which is as frequent as snow here. ‘It’s chaos,’ he said, ‘the schools close, the buses slide off the road, everything grinds to a halt.’ The only difference between here and there is that the Kunming authorities do not have to put up with carping and ignorant criticism in the local press. Indeed, they do not have to put up with criticism at all. ‘The price of freedom,’ said Thomas Jefferson, ‘is eternal vigilance.’ It is also eternal moaning, but he never mentioned that.

Back to Quebec for a final thought. That week in 1998 eventually became so mild it rained. Not proper rain, but the sort of drizzle that might make you think about putting up an umbrella. What happened? The schools were closed, there was traffic chaos and the fire brigade had a backlog of cellars to pump out that would keep them busy until the thaw.

The observation that there ‘is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes,’ has been ascribed to Roald Amundsen, Billy Connolly and Dr Johnson, among others. I prefer Dr Johnson because he was earlier – and Staffordshire born – but whoever said it, it seems they were right, both literally and in a much larger sense.

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