We called it the “Beast from the East”. The Dutch named it the “Siberian Bear”. The Swedes dubbed it the “Snow Cannon”. People in Canada just sighed and posted pictures of snow chains…
It was brutally cold the other week, wasn’t it? Most winters, we seem to get caught out by the weather. But, was the BftE (Beast from the…yeah, you’ve got it!) worse than usual? I must admit, sitting snuggly (shivering slightly?) in Manchester, it all seemed a bit remote. Of course, we were sorry for the folk up there in central Scotland and down in the southwest, round Cardiff, Taunton and Exeter. But all the talk of inches – or even feet – of snow was hard to process. We had a third of an inch and the tram signals broke!
So, did you survive the BftE? If you’re reading this, then probably. But, on a serious note, dozens didn’t. The week of blizzards and freezing temperatures saw at least 10 people die from the cold in the UK. One was a girl of just 7 years old. In Poland, by the Thursday, 21 people had died, mostly rough sleepers.
It makes you think doesn’t it? Yes, we joke and moan about the weather but even here, even with our mild climate and welfare state, the weather can still wreak havoc. I must admit I only really started taking it seriously when it impacted people I know. When mates at work had to check if the trams would get them home, it made me think, will we get through the BftE. Then a friend in Huddersfield couldn’t get to the pharmacy, because all the buses were cancelled. The M62 was closed overnight – just hours after my mum decided not to risk trying to get along it. When you think of the near misses that happened on some of our roads, I’m glad she made that call.
I suppose I was being a bit flippant, saying, “did you survive the BftE?” In light of the dozens across Europe who tragically didn’t. But, it did make me realise how many people were trying to help. I saw friends in Bristol and London, sharing details of their local emergency shelters. Urging us to contact them if we saw anyone sleeping rough. There were the families in Yorkshire, who’d stayed home from school, clearing the roads so others could get through. A doctor in central Scotland walked miles to perform surgery. NHS staff slept on the floor to keep hospitals open. It reminded me of growing up in a rural village in Cumbria, back in the 90s. It was quite normal to hear a knock on the door with the local teens clearing the pavements. Or to see farmers in outlying hamlets bringing the kids through to school by tractor. Health and Safety now would have a nightmare – but it was community spirit.
And for me, I suppose that’s now the bigger question. Not, “did we survive the Beast from the East?”. But more, “did it show us what community can be?”. Maybe you’ve got unsung heroes in your village, town or city – people who went out of their way to help others through the snow and cold. Why not give them a shout out? Let them know they’re appreciated.
Maybe we don’t have to wait ’til the next extreme weather to experience real community in our neighbourhoods.
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