Friday, 18 December 2009

Snow Day, aka “Stuck-on the-Bus-For-4-Hours Day” - 18th December 2009

Snow covered fields, originally uploaded by soulmate02.

As with most days where I have an early start, I woke up at 5.30am. It had been snowing heavily overnight and a quick peek outside certified this. Truth be told, I wasn’t too keen on travelling. I checked the university’s intranet to see if there were any updates regarding whether campus was open; there were none. I braced myself before stepping outside. The entire garden was covered in snow, almost reaching knee high. The car seemed to be caked in more snow than the entire garden – after removing the majority of it from the windscreen to ensure safe driving, we departed.

We live on a side-road, and due to its “unimportance”, it had not been gritted, and was extremely icy. We slowly skidded down road after road, until reaching my bus stop. I was surprised to find that it was easier to stand on the icy pavement rather than sit in the bus shelter. Apparently, when standing, all your body weight is evenly displaced upon your feet, so it’s easy to stand. On the other hand, sitting on a miniscule bench at an angle means that your legs are left dangling in an awkward manner, resulting in your feet slipping and sliding all over the place. I was wearing boots to avoid getting my feet wet, rather than my usual sneakers, but this did not help my footing.

As I sat and stood indeterminately, I saw my bus go past on the opposite side of the road, ready to start the bus route. I glanced at my watch - it was running 5 minutes late. Considering the conditions, I thought that this was quite impressive. Half an hour went by, and I was still standing at the bus shelter, shivering in anticipation. The bus was now half an hour late. Other local buses had come and gone in that time. I had been asked several times if the buses were running, and if I had seen theirs. The answer was always the same – “yeah, they are running. I’ve just seen that bus, so another one will be along in a minute”. I should’ve been paid for this service, as I was more or less reciting the bus timetable of various buses.

Eventually, my bus came puttering along. As it stopped, I realised that I was the only person getting on it. Usually there are at least five of us; even on the bus, there was only a small handful of people. Another notion struck me as soon as I set foot on the bus: it was an old one. Usually, this sort of thing doesn’t bother me. Sure, I’ve spent £350 for an annual bus-pass, but as long as a bus does come and gets me from A to B, I don’t mind what kind of state the bus is in. However, on this day it made a difference; older buses don’t have proper heating. By this, I mean there are means of heating, but it doesn’t work.

The journey to town was slow and arduous, with drivers battling against the ice and sludge of the roads. A friend was texting me to know of the bus’s journey status, as he too was getting this bus today. As we approached his bus stop, I was stunned. Typically this open air bus stop is crowded with potential passengers, which frequently fills the bus, meaning that passengers at subsequent stops have to stand for the rest of the journey (around an hour or so). However, today there were only two people at the bus stop. Altogether, there were now seven of us on the bus. I didn’t blame all the people for not wanting to go into work/university today – weather conditions were atrocious, and all anyone really wanted to do was curl up in the warmth with a cup of hot chocolate.

As we reached the main route of the bus journey, we realised that it was closed by the police due to an accident (no doubt weather related). As the bus driver circled the roundabout four times, he contacted the bus company to ask which route he should take in order to ensure that those expecting the bus were able to catch it. There was a muffled response on the loudspeaker, and we continued down an unfamiliar road. As we carried on, the bus driver was unsure of where he was going, and asked us for help. A few of the passengers advised him to go down a country lane.

As we progressed up a hill, there was a car up ahead which was stuck in the snow – it was blocking the road. A few of the passengers got out and successfully helped push the car out of its rut. As they returned, the bus driver re-started the bus, but we soon realised that we were in fact stuck now. One of the rear tires had sunk into a pit of ice – this meant that it would only skid on the ice and not move out. The driver tried in vain to rev the engine several times, to force the bus to move, but this resulted in excessive friction caused on the wheel, leading to a “burnt rubber” smell. The driver decided to stop this tactic as we didn’t want to run the risk of bursting the tire.

As I looked around, I could see that we were more or less in the middle of nowhere. We were surrounded my fields and trees blanketed by snow. My mind was cast back to my parents telling me about their home lands, where they would often see postcards and photos of snow-covered landscapes – this would often evoke feelings of curiosity and wonder. When they came to England, they were able to experience snow, but soon appreciated that aesthetics weren’t enough – they had never experienced such cold and somewhat crippling conditions.

The temperature in the bus was slowly reducing; if this had been a typical day, the bus would have been packed to the brim, thus resulting in a lot of heat. But today wasn’t such a day. The bus driver contacted the bus company who confirmed that they were sending an “engineer” to come and find and help us. Truth be told, we didn’t need one – there was absolutely nothing wrong with the bus. The only problem was its surrounding. All we really needed was a way to melt the ice, and get the wheel out of it. To make matters worse, a friend contacted one of our peers and we soon found out that the campus had been closed for the day, and all classes were cancelled; apparently, they had placed a message on the intranet just after we had caught the bus. Too little, too late.

As time went by, numerous 4x4 cars came and went, most of which were old Land Rovers. A brand new 4x4 Audi was seemingly struggling to get through the snow; considering that this was a new, high performance car, we deduced that its driver simply didn’t know how to drive it properly, and had only purchased it as it was a "trendy" car. A local farmer in his tractor with a plough attached came by several times; he was clearing the surrounding roads, and was helping to tow other cars. He offered to tow us, but as the bus driver contacted the company, he was told that we shouldn’t accept the help as the farmer could not be held responsible of any damage done to the vehicle.

Our only means of entertainment was watching a speeding minivan driving too fast up the hill, resulting in it skidding haphazardly and somewhat comically. Two hours had elapsed and we were still waiting for the engineer to come for us. Needless to say, we started to get annoyed. As the driver re-contacted the company, they were reluctant to talk to him on the loudspeaker, and asked to speak with him “more privately”; basically, this meant they wanted to talk to him on the mobile instead, so that the passengers didn't hear. After the conversation, the disgruntled driver told us that the engineer himself had gotten stuck en route to help us – we were abandoned. Our only hope was to wait for the farmer to pass by on his tractor again. Nevertheless, we decided that enough was enough and we chose to be proactive. One passenger reasoned that we weren’t exactly sure when the farmer would be passing again, so decided to walk to try and find help. Whilst he went, a few other passengers chose to gather branches and rocks. These were placed under the affected wheel to try and create a sort of traction ramp. Whilst the passengers and driver collected and assembled their resources, I stood by and took some photos of their efforts as well as the surrounding area.

The technique worked! We were on our way! We picked up the passenger who was still attempting to walk for help. We headed back home, but there was more trouble ahead. The road which had initially been closed by the police at the start of our journey was now open. As we drove across it, we hit heavy traffic. Another bus (form the same company) had broken down en route; on top of that, two lorries were stuck up ahead, blocking the road. I thought that the ordeal would never end, but luckily a friend was getting a lift from his spouse in the opposite direction, and I managed to get a lift too.

We had been on the bus for more than four hours, and I managed to get home around 12.30pm. Personally, I’ve always loved snow, despite how cold it gets, but this was the first time that I’d been “snowed out”. I’ll definitely think twice before considering travelling in snow. Whilst I was tweeting throughout the entire ordeal, I got a reply from a friend who lives in Germany - she stated: "..with a bit of snow England is lost". Sadly, this is an understatement, which I completely agree with. I still don't understand why we are completely lost when it comes to snow. Countries in Europe, as well as Canada, have to put up with copious amounts of year-round snowfall and they manage fine - why is it that we can't?  :(

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