Sunday, February 15, 2009

The terror of 2/2

Photo by the inimitable Vincent Cahill

Three days that shook the world!
Many of us who lived through the terrifying ordeal that began on February 2nd 2009 (or 2/2 as it has come to be known) will be impatient for our offspring to beget further offspring, so we can sit our grandchildren on our laps and tell them the blood-curdling stories of the Terrible Snow.
It began on the Monday morning as a terrified populace awoke to a world that was completely shrouded in white, except for the bits that weren’t. As is the wont in times of crises, the peasantry turned to religion, and rosary beads were clutched and Hail Marys recited in response to the world turned upside down during the hours of darkness.
Slowly, fearfully, people began to appear from their houses like survivors of an apocalyptic attack, wondering if it was safe to go outside. You immediately sensed something was wrong when teenage girls, well-used to venturing out in the harshest of weather wearing but a string top and a mini skirt came teetering back in on their high heels “to put on another belly-top,” hoping to goodness that nobody would see them.
Radios were tuned to RTE and every item of information was gleefully relayed to other family members hugging each other in fright. “Tailbacks on the Navan Road inbound.” “Truck has hit a hedgehog on the M50.” “Food parcels being dropped by the army on parts of Corduff.”
In our estate, hundreds of cars were coughed into life and left idling on drives and grass verges in an attempt to clear windscreens of the strangely cold white stuff that was obliterating the view. An enterprising joy-rider could have had his pick of Toyota, Nissan or Hyundai, had he chanced down our street that first morning. It is a good job they mainly work evenings.
But despite the traumatic events, a spirit of the blitz still prevailed. Grown men nodded knowingly to each other as they tiptoed down their drives with kettles of water. Schoolgirls’ spirits were raised considerably by the fondness of their male counterparts for throwing snowballs and they laughed joyously as they ran the gauntlet. And everyone did their best to stifle laughter when somebody slipped on a particularly treacherous bit of ice.
Reliable estimates put the thickness of the snow at between four inches and several miles. Apparently it was at its worst in the estate of whoever you were talking to at the time. “You should have seen it around our way...” began a thousand conversations in workplaces all around the Dublin 15 area.
Lurid tales of hardship began to emerge. Grown men had walked nearly a mile in freezing conditions to get into work, dressed only in thick woolly clothing, five pairs of socks, a hat and scarf. Shackleton’s Heart of Antarctica was made to seem like a stroll in the Phoenix Park in mid-July as red noses became “the first stages of frostbite.”
Motorists spoke of dices with death, relating how their wheels had skidded on the ungritted road surfaces and only their quick thinking in righting the steering wheel had prevented a nasty accident. Women spoke in horror at how their shoes had been destroyed by the slush. For the first time in history, children actually asked their mothers for a carrot, before dashing back out to the garden, yelling the puzzling words “I’ve got his nose!”
Of course, there were some who struggled into the workplace on those three calamitous days who weren’t impressed. Depending on their age, it wasn’t half as bad as the snow of 1982 / 1963 / 1947 (delete as appropriate), all coincidentally times of recession. In those days, they averred, people were tough and had walked sixty miles in bare feet through snow of ice-age proportions, done a 22 hour day and then walked back.
Motorists, advised by AA Roadwatch only to make journeys that were absolutely necessary, decided that it was absolutely necessary to venture out on the treacherous surfaces so they could relate how bad it was. The Navan Road became totally blocked, reminiscent of the Terrible Floods of 2002 or the Terrible Earthquake of 1984 or the Terrible Bit of Cloudy Weather of 1996. Traffic and travel helicopters buzzed overhead, relating in joyous terms that people should turn around at Scott’s Roundabout unless they wanted to freeze to death.
And still the snow kept falling.
On the second day, people started to build arks and shelters, worried that the Day of Atonement was at hand. With the exception of the East Europeans, who strolled breezily into work in shirt sleeves wondering what all the fuss was about, very few people actually made it into their place of employment, and those that did arrive, some time in the mid-morning, stared gloomily out of the window for an hour before declaring that they’d better head off or they’d never get home.
Grief counsellors were called in by distraught mothers, as schoolboys wept bitterly at the news that school was out and they’d have to go and play in the snow instead. Many had to be physically restrained from donning their school uniforms and heading out in the raging blizzard, determined to get their daily fix of Irish and sums.
It wasn’t only the humans that suffered. A fat little robin, completely perplexed by the alien environment, chirped merrily on our washing line for an hour until he realised his feet were stuck fast. Not wishing to waste the opportunity, my daughter did some quick sketches that she intends to send off to Hallmark in time for next Christmas, before de-icing him with some flat Coca-Cola.
At night time, temperatures dipped to -40, according to my five year old neighbour. Planes bound for Arrecife and Sharm el Sheikh were left sitting at Gates 78 and 80, as panicked airport officials debated over endless cups of coffee how best to tackle the unprecedented white stuff that covered the runway. Matters worsened when nobody could find the key to the shed where the broom was kept. Fine Gael blamed the Government. IBEC blamed greedy workers. The Greens blamed The Whites.
And then, on the third day, it began to clear. As we peered forth from our bedroom windows, we scarcely dared hope that the worst was behind us. In the morning, we threw our canary out of the window. He came back five minutes later, giving out about the cold.
At midday, we threw him out again. This time he stayed out for a half an hour before returning empty-beaked.
And then, when we released him a third time, he came back with an empty bag of Tayto. And we knew that we were saved.
And we hugged and vowed to be good to one another for evermore.

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