What follows is for those who have asked me how my weekend was:
Friday proved very tricky for many of us in the UK who were trying to get from one bit of it to another. The bit I was trying to get from was the ancient English city of Gloucester and the bit I was trying to get to was the ancient (now) Welsh town of Monmouth, about twenty-seven miles away over the border, depending on the route you choose. As Friday dawned, snow had fallen and begun melting the day before and the weather forecasters were being particularly smug about how accurately they had forecast it.
By Friday lunchtime, however, word was getting through that unforecasted snow was beginning to fall heavily in south-west England, the the English Midlands and Wales, the three regions of the UK that I traverse on my route to and from work. I walked briskly to the shops in central Gloucester at about midday to pick up a copy of Fortean Times magazine and ate a bit of lunch. By the time I got back to work, I was getting concerned that I might have to go before the snow got too bad, but a part of me (my conscience?) was telling me that “we don’t really do snow here in the UK”, “it’s a temperate climate bla bla bla” and it’ll look like I’m just extending my weekend by leaving work very early. The cautious Taurean part of my psyche won the day though and I walked to the Park and Ride at about 1 o’clock, got in my car and headed out of Gloucester for the M50 motorway, which takes me through the town of Newent, famous for an Onion Festival and a Bird of Prey sanctuary.
About a mile from Newent the snow had begun falling very heavily and the traffic slowed to a sensible speed. As we reached Newent proper, though came almost to a standstill as we approached the main traffic lights of the town. Here a man was advising people trying to continue through the town that a juggernaut ahead had jackknifed and was blocking the route to the M50. The obvious choice was to turn around and take a route through the Forest of Dean, but I was persuaded not to because:
- the cars turning around were sliding badly in the snow and weren’t able to go above walking pace, braking was very scary. Twenty something miles in those conditions wasn’t an appealing prospect.
- the alternative route went through some areas with lots of hills that were badly affected by snow.
My suspicions were born out the next day by, among other things, the sight of cars abandoned on the road I would have taken.
So I made the decision that getting home without (a) sliding my car into another car or a tree or (b) getting stranded in snow overnight would be pretty unlikely and called K. to ask her to find a room in Newent for the night. I turned into the town and parked the car in the local car park, got out and trudged through the slush to the George Hotel, a seventeenth century coaching inn in the town centre. On the way I discovered a hole in my right boot and on checking into the pub/hotel was directed to a shop that sold mostly tweed and things for green-wellie wearing folk. The woman there was very kind offered my, yes, some green wellies, but in the end sold me a pair of (leather, oh yes) brogues for £20 plus a pair of khaki hiking socks. I went to the supermarket, where I bought a toothbrush and toothpaste and retired to my room. There I watched Countdown and The Weakest Link as the residents of Newent peered out of their windows at the cars skating and the lorries failing to get up the hill.
Bored by the TV for the retired, with muffled crunching footsteps I walked to the town’s lake on which the ducks were skidding around. On the way back I helped a car pull away from the kerb with a push. The driver headed straight for the other kerb, at first unable to control the steering, but quickly straightened his path. My conscience is still bothering me that I didn’t tell him that his chances of getting out of town were slim, as lorries were getting stuck on the main road up to the traffic lights where a tractor, guided by firemen was pulling juggernauts into three point turns.
I went back to the pub and sat at the bar, which was busy by this time, read the newspaper, chatted with landlord and drank two pints of Butty Bach ale and one of Mordred. I didn’t know what the latter was but heard other people ordering so though I’d try one to fit in.
During this time big A. was having her own traumatic journey back from Leeds. Her coach had stopped in Birmingham but the connecting one to Monmouth had been cancelled. K. cleverly asked a fellow member of the UK Down’s Syndrome Mailing List – who lives in Walsall – to pick her up from Walsall Station and give her a bed for the night.
When I went to bed, the rest of the pub’s rooms were taken, unusual for the middle of February: the landlord was reportedly very pleased. I woke up at six and wasn’t able to get back to sleep so read until breakfast. At breakfast a group of twenty-somethings led by a middle aged man with a posher accent than theirs was discussing a murder, coffins and a murder weapon. Shamelessly eavesdropping I worked out that they were a film crew and actors who were going to spend the day in the town filming the recreation of a Victorian era murder. One of the team suggested a shot of blood in the snow for a bit of melodrama, but the posh director chap vetoed the idea as it was the “wrong type of snow”.
After getting home uneventfully but gratefully I arranged with big A. to pick her up from Newport station just after lunch. As I set off, however, I managed to break the windscreen wipers on my mother’s car by turning them on while they were covered in thick snow. So I didn’t go to Newport. Big A. was saved by a friend who was driving to Cardiff to visit a mutual friend and picked up big A. from Newport.
Snow is nice if you dont have to travel through it.