Friday, 3 December 2010

Stuck In A Snowdrift In A Bus......................Again

Today has been a challenge.

It was always going to be when the local schools announced that, come hell or high water, they were going to open after four days of closure because of the snow. The forecast was for no more or a little snow, but for extreme cold and ice. That meant going round the long way to the depot. It took an hour to complete the roundabout way, over some equally steep hills, round some equally icy corners and over the top of some equally remote moor. In the moonlight I could make out lots of black dots. Shivering and starving red and black grouse.

The cold snap is beginning to really hurt nature. The hares and the barn owls are dying. There is nothing for them to eat. It has been one week now without food. No end seems to be in sight.

Cumbria was buried. I could hardly see the buildings or the cars. The county, or the North Pennines part of the county has passed unnoticed in the media frenzy about the British weather. You know it's cold when you co for a pee in the depot's lavatory and find the water in the bowl is frozen solid.

It was -12 when I took the little bus - the 33 seater back over the top. A heatwave compared with parts of the Scottish Highlands, but cold nonetheless. I was the only vehicle on the road. Madness? There was no alternative when you work for a company which has operated on the ethos that "We will get you there."

The route to the start of the school run took fifteen minutes on a normal day. Today the circuitous route took an hour. I had to go up the road I usually come down, turn around and then start the run. It is the only way. The snowplough looked as if it had been up and furrowed a way just wide enough for the bus. This was fine as the road in many places was not wide enough for two vehicles.

It was no surprise to meet the rush hour of traffic coming the other way. Three cars. They were worried and would not go slightly into the verge of hard packed snow to let me squeeze past. The only way was convoluted. It revolved around the bus reversing to allow a car into a gateway, pulling forward to let the car go on its way, reversing again to let the next car in and so on.

Idiotically I opened the bus door to get out to speak to a driver. I had to do this because the driver's side window was frozen solid. I disappeared into a wall of snow and when I reappeared I couldn't close it again. The shovel and the salt were positioned by the front, so I had to dig my way out.

On the next corner catastrophe happened. A yellow gritter came flying round the corner. It was him or me. There was no room for the both of us, so I chickened out and drove into a snowdrift. The wheels whined and made impressive whistling noises. The bus went nowhere.

The gritter drivers gave me a descriptive look which could have said: Bloody idiot. But they got down out of their cab and tried to help.

"Great," I said in an annoying way, trying to lighten the mood of the situation. "At least I haven't got to walk far to collect some grit."

"No," they said without a flicker of a smile. "We've run out. We're empty." But they dug. I dug. The small bag of salt might just be enough to get the bus moving again.

"Just a minute," one of them said as he leant into their cab. I thought I was going to have to sign a formal complaint about a stupid bus driver, collect a bill or worse. But they handed me a box of council workers' baby wipes.

"It's good for your hands, mate."

An hour later, three skids, two blocked roads, some more snow and ice and I made it to the school. Only four children had caught the bus. But that wasn't the point. The service had run. It had got there, only 12 minutes late.

I felt I had conquered the North West Passage. It is sad what small events give man such pleasure and a feeling of importance. But don't hold your breath. There is the return trip to do yet, this afternoon. The wind is getting up. That's a bad sign and will mean drifting and possible blocked roads.

Think of me in your nice warm offices and homes.

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