Friday February 9, 2007
Any readers from Canada will scoff, of course, but an inch and a half snow here in the UK is a big thing. Trains stop running. Schools close. The radio news if full of nothing else. And people lie in bed in the morning and think, “Hmm…. there’s an inch and a half of snow outside. Perhaps I shouldn’t go to work.”
Last night, before the snow started to fall, I was checking the severe weather warnings online. The following morning – that is, today – I was to be going to Stoke-on-Trent to teach a philosophy class (Kantian ethics, if you must know…), and I was just looking to see what the chances were of the often unreliable railway line from Birmingham to Stoke being open. As I browsed the web, it seemed that the omens were not good. There were train cancellations predicted due to the snow. Stoke-on-Trent station was closed due to a gas leak, and on the website were those words that strike fear into the heart of any commuter on UK trains – “replacement coach service.” I continued to explore my options. By the time I finished getting second and third opinions from weather sites, rail sites and so on, I was discontented. And it was thus that I went to bed, thus that I slept, and thus that I awoke.
When I looked out of the window this morning the snow had fallen. There was at least an inch and a half. I turned on the radio and listened to the forecast. There were dire warnings about the weather and train cancellations. I felt the discontent that had not left me since last night growing. Instead of meditating, I went online and checked to see what the train companies were saying about which of their services were running. The Virgin Trains website said “find out more about severe weather travel restrictions” and directed me to the National Rail website for information on cancelled services. The National Rail website was down. I visited the BBC and a couple of other news sources. The news headlines all said things like “Travel Chaos Strikes Britain”. I listened to the radio again. “Do not travel unless you have to,” said a spokesperson for something or other. He sounded as if he meant it.
At that moment, I wanted to go back to bed. I imagined the bus journey into town, the traffic queues, the railway station milling with angry people, the train information boards full of cancellations. Or, even worse, getting half way to my destination only to find that the promised replacement bus was cancelled due to snow and that I was stranded in Stafford, in the snow, with only a bag full of Kant for company.
I moped around grumpily, stuffing bits and pieces I needed for my teaching session into my bag, still not fully decided whether I should risk leaving the house. But then I relented. I should at least make an effort and go to the station to find out what the situation was. If there was a train, I would get on it. But, I thought, it was almost certain that there wouldn’t be. Almost certainly I’d come back home. Then I’d go back to bed. Or I’d hang out with the cat. I’d sip hot chocolate and look out at the snow. Forget Kant! It was all too much. Travelling one hundred miles a day – fifty there, and fifty back – through heavy snow and treacherous conditions, just for the sake of Kant. No way.
I sat on the bus in to town thinking these and similar thoughts. I headed down to the station, arriving just before nine. Far from being full of angry people, the station was quiet. Most people had stayed in bed, I suppose. I looked at the board. My train was there. It was stopping at Stoke. There were no delays on that particular service. I climbed on a train. It was half empty and the journey was peaceful. I arrived in good time for my classes.
So I spent four hours talking about Kant. It was surprisingly good fun. And when I got on the train home – once again expecting delays, cancellations, diversions, replacement coaches, misery – I was almost disappointed to find that the journey back was smooth. I stepped out of the station and caught a bus, without having to wait for one. The roads were half empty of traffic. Most people had obviously decided to leave their cars at home. The bus home took only twenty minutes, instead of the fifty minutes it usually takes. I cooked myself dinner. I talked to the cat. And I had to admit to him, it had been a pretty good day.
Strange then, this anxiety, this indecision, this general fretfulness… for what? I wonder. To what purpose? To what end? What did it achieve?
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