Like the vast majority of the U.K. this week, my schedule has been disrupted by the unusually cold weather and resultant snow. My daughter is still at home with me, as her secondary school is closed for the third day, whilst my son has returned to his local primary (in the same town).
I know that the headmaster of the secondary school will be subjected to criticism for his decision. But in my opinion, his judgment has been correct. The school has a largely rural catchment area, covering tens of miles. Country roads are impassable to the school buses and the large site itself covered in ice and snow.
Despite the severe and unpredictable nature of the weather this week, I feel there is a strong majority opinion in the country that we must be able to carry on exactly as normal. This means that schools and clubs should continue and the roads made passable by the local council and landowners.
But with public sector budgets cut to the bone and the nature of the weather system unprecedented in its longevity and persistence, I’m not sure we have the right to make this assumption any longer. I work from home as an independent novelist, so you may argue that I am immune to the worst effects of the deterioration of the climate and therefore don’t have a right to judge.
But if these freak weather phenomenon keep happening, we are all set to suffer. Power and food supplies will be disrupted if transport grinds to a halt. So, is it time for a re-think to our approach? I work in the digital world and it feels to me as if some of the answers must lie in a better use of new technology.
Schools (who are not required to provide childcare for parents) could easily devise an online curriculum to be accessed on ‘snow days’. Teachers can be available to answer questions during allotted ‘lessons’. Many businesses could adopt a similar practice with their administrative staff. Meetings could be conducted through Skype.
This would remove a huge pressure from the road systems. Emergency services and police could focus on getting essential goods around the country, rather than digging lone drivers out of drifts. It would also be safer for the workforce and their children.
I can sense that many folk would be uncomfortable with this solution. Perhaps imagining that they would be left entertaining their children at home for weeks on end. But this is not how these bad weather snaps tend to work out. We would be looking at a week, max. In some parts of the USA, these lost days are added onto the end of the summer term or in September, which could be another option for us.
It has to be better than the uncertainty and risk-taking which currently accompanies bad weather. I have seen much being made on social media about how overcoming the awful conditions is a sign of ‘grit’ or ‘resilience’, yet too often this undefinable concept gets confused with irresponsibility and inflicting unnecessary hardship on yourself and others.
Five years ago, I suffered a nervous and physical illness brought on by overwork and stress. I’ve always been a healthy, ‘resilient’ person who turns up for every appointment and never took a sick day off work in ten years. Until I collapsed with an exhaustion I didn’t even fully know I was suffering from! So when I hear about staff being required to undergo an ordeal to overcome the bad conditions and getting praised for their resilience, it makes me sad.
Everyday life is often already tough enough for most people. It is a misplaced idea of strength to try and battle against a weather event. We need to encourage a shift in perspective that reflects a more respectful appreciation of our environment. If we step off the conveyor belt for a few days, our world will not collapse in on us. In fact, we may be buying ourselves an extra few years of productivity down the line.
I am much better now and still work hard (as I did throughout my illness) But a legacy of tiredness remains. I know my limits and have to stick to them. I will be setting out into the cold wind and snow later to pick up my son. The effort will exhaust me for the remainder of the day. I am certainly not the only person who will have had this experience. It doesn’t make us weak or without value to society.
In fact, I always think there is an old-fashioned machismo to the claims I see on social media from headteachers who proudly announce their school is the only one staying open in the area. That they’ve been out since dawn scraping the paths. These managers need to put aside their desire to meet and complete a personal challenge to consider the wider picture. Should they be encouraging their staff and parents to take to the roads? Is it of benefit to the local area? To the students?
It will undoubtedly take a long time for attitudes to change and it will have to come from employers and headteachers. They need to look beyond their individual institution or company, viewing themselves as part of a wider network. Perhaps the only way to ‘overcome’ these weather events is to accept their power over us and recognise that we will need to adapt to accommodate them as part of our lives.