A few days ago an old school friend of mine posted a link to a CHCH-TV clip about at the famous Blizzard of 1977. I recall it well. I was attending Grade 13, back when we had one, at HCI on Sanford Avenue. Oh sure, there was a lot of snow but I still caught the bus to school that morning and if memory serves me, we were all sent home at noon anyway because of low numbers. No panic, no problem, and an afternoon off while the roads were cleared.
Two weeks ago, here in Oxford, the UK weather forecast called for the possibility of snow and all hell broke loose. Emergency call lists were issued to all teachers, contingency plans were put in place, etc, etc… The last time we had snow here was 2 years ago (see photo) and everything shut down that day. No trains, no buses, schools and businesses were shut, as were parts of the A34 highway near here – the country literally ground to a halt. It’s the standard reaction.
When I was teaching in Croydon, in the south end of London, we had a similar panic due to pending snow. I recall standing at the windows of the IT room with another teacher, staring out at the yard and seeing one or two flakes starting to fall. He looked over at me and said, in all seriousness, “this looks bad, they may have to shut the school”. My laughter then prompted him to remind me that the hill where the school was situated was known by some as Little Siberia because it got snow before the surrounding area. I didn’t argue. I wouldn’t refuse an afternoon off school. Later that day, some intrepid children, taking advantage of the day off school, took out their rectangular plastic sleds – referred to here as sledges – and made the most of it. So far, since I arrived here in late 2009, I have seen snow three times and it rarely stays on the ground longer than a day or so.
You may recall that I ride my motorcycle to the school each day. I’m still doing that and have been all year – something you could never do in Canada. Though we’re at the same latitude here as Edmonton (51⁰ N), the climate is a maritime one – thanks to the Gulf Stream. Never too hot, never too cold – at least by Canadian standards. We’ve had one day of -7⁰ here but otherwise it’s damp but tolerable. I’m one of 2 foreign trained teachers at my current school in Witney (just west of Oxford), the other being Norwegian. We both had a laugh during the snow alerts of that week, knowing from our childhoods what northern winters are like and how you properly prepare for them. As northern types, we’re also notorious at rubbing it in when the weather gets down near zero. I used to walk between buildings without a coat at my school in Surrey, often passing other teachers dressed up in snow suits like Charlie Brown. Sure, it was brisk but hey, we have that Crazy Canucks reputation to live up to.
On our class outing this past Friday I noticed that the early snowdrops are popping up through the soil – a sure sign of the pending arrival of spring. By the end of February, it will likely average around 10-12⁰ and the trees will all be starting to bud. I know now that when I return to Canada, the early spring will be one thing I will definitely miss.
Oh well, I guess you can’t have it both ways!
– Bob Houghton
Broadcasting – Television & Communications Media, ’81