Think blizzards, hurricanes, floods, avalanches: nuclear winter has descended.
Schools have closed in their thousands. Homes without power, roads closed, airports crippled, trains cancelled.
A Martian who descended upon Britain this week would gaze in awe upon a society half-paralysed, locked down by the elements.
Except that it is all nonsense. Only the uplands have faced genuinely severe snowfalls.
Schools have closed in their thousands. Homes without power, roads closed, airports crippled, trains cancelled
Most of the country has received six inches of snow, or less. Water is not frozen nearly hard enough to make it safe to skate on ponds.
Victorians, who knew heavy weather when they saw it, such as caused icicles to form on horses’ nostrils and bedroom basins to freeze over, would scarcely admit there is a chill in the air.
Yet so pathetically debilitated have some British people become, so bereft of anything resembling Blitz spirit, that the response of many transport companies and public services to the weather which arrived at the weekend was to collapse in a heap.
Many of their workers downed tools; refused to get cars out of the garage; warned children to stay indoors, lest they got their poor little tootsies cold.
Some 50,000 BA passengers were stranded following flight cancellations. Thousands of people were obliged to camp overnight at airports. Rail services have suffered delays and cancellations.
Some 50,000 BA passengers were stranded following flight cancellations. Thousands of people were obliged to camp overnight at airports. Rail services have suffered delays and cancellations
The most shocking news, however, concerns our schools. More than 2,000 closed their doors.
Head teachers, who have discretion about whether to soldier on or throw in the frozen sponge, justified the latter choice by citing inadequate classroom heating, a risk to children – such as icy playgrounds – and above all a lack of teachers, who claimed that they could not get to work.
Some of us are cynical enough to bet our socks that 90 per cent of the pedagogues who pleaded their inability to reach schools would have made the trip quickly enough if there had been a rave party or a Christmas dinner waiting.
They were simply unwilling to get their feet mushy, the nice clean car filthy, to spend a few hours addressing snotty-nosed kids who do not listen anyway.
Moreover, among head teachers the plague virus of Health & Safety rears its head once more.
If little Justine or Marvin trips on an icy path, catches a cold in social science or chilblains in the sex education lab, some parents and an ambulance-chasing lawyer will jump on the school like Boris Johnson on a photo-opportunity.
What sort of example do the shuttered classrooms, the absent teachers, set for a child’s life?
Once upon a time, an inspirational schoolmaster or mistress would urge a pupil to strive and not to heed the cost.
They would declare that success comes from refusing to bow to difficulties; that courage and fortitude are the foremost virtues, after charity.
Now, instead, the very school that a child attends is likely to buckle beneath a few inches of snow, and the inspirational teacher has been succeeded by one whose highest ambition is to take a sickie.
Rather than tell pupils to keep coats on in class because it’s a mite chilly, they tell them to stick in front of the telly at home, or go tobogganing. Who can be surprised that we are becoming a limp-wristed nation, a society of whingers and suers?
Commuters and tourists make their way through snow and sleet on Westminster Bridge in London today
In the post-mortems about our weather troubles, there will be some MPs – not all Corbynistas – who wail that it is the Government’s fault ‘thanks to those wicked spending cuts’.
We shall be told that local authorities should be given more money for snow ploughs, gritting and school heating.
Yet no grown-up should point a finger at Theresa May, Philip Hammond, or even at their local council for the embarrassments of this week.
If we insist upon complaining to anyone, it should be God, or Allah, or whoever else arranged the unusually heavy precipitation. This is just part of what we call real life, and if we do not like it we should clamber back into the womb.
We do not, thank goodness, suffer from tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis – and not often from heavy snow.
I once spent a winter in the US mid-Western state of Minnesota, where several feet of snow makes the earth invisible for months on end, and ice-yachting and snowmobiling are the hottest sports.
AA vans wait for callouts at a depot near Leicester, East Midlands, UK. The right response to the weekend whiteness, and for that matter to today’s deep freeze, is for each and every one of us to show a bit of gumption
There, naturally, authorities spend huge sums on keeping Minnesota moving between November and March.
In Britain, by contrast, in an average year – and governments should be expected to plan for average conditions, not freak ones – extreme weather causes extreme difficulties only on a handful of days of year, except in the remotenesses of Scotland, Wales and parts of Northern England.
Thus poor threadbare Mr Hammond in 11 Downing Street should not be expected to provide millions for more snow-ploughs, nor Mrs May to take the blame for school closures.
The right response to the weekend whiteness, and for that matter to today’s deep freeze, is for each and every one of us to show a bit of gumption – to use nanny’s excellent old word – and get on with our lives with as little fuss and as much laughter as possible. Above all, without looking for people to blame.
We have good reason to be furious with transport bosses, airport owners and school heads, because they proved unable to motivate their staff to rise to a not-very-demanding challenge.
The failures reflect an attitude that caused P.G Wodehouse to dub one of his characters ‘a spineless invertebrate’.
In many rail companies, airlines, teachers’ common rooms, too many people lack the ‘can-do spirit’ which makes our armed forces justly famous, and are instead imbued with ‘can’t do’.
The most shocking news, however, concerns our schools. More than 2,000 closed their doors. Pictured: Manor Park Academy in Birmingham was closed yesterday
Heathrow, especially, covered itself with shame on Monday, while its spokesman gabbled rubbish about ‘our first priorities are the safety and comfort of passengers’.
B A, whose customer service is nowadays on a par with that of British Railways in the late steam era, produced a pitiful performance.
Cities which cancelled the collection of rubbish bins, on the grounds that it was ‘too dangerous for people to put them out’, made themselves look ridiculous.
Tens of millions of people, who got on with life and work as usual, felt both ashamed and angry about the ‘no-shows’ and shutdowns.
Like the man who tweeted that in nine years as a child in Sweden, he remembered only one school closure because of snow.
Because I am a historian of wars, I am often asked how the modern British would respond if confronted today by perils such as those posed by the Nazis in 1940.
On the evidence of the past few days, a dismaying number of supposed adults would run sobbing for their mummies.