Snow fun… or ’sno fun?
Keith’s blog about Britain being frightened of snow struck a chord with me. Time was when I used to go out in snow just for the fun of it. An empty snow-covered car park was just the place to practice at being Paddy Hopkirk, with handbrake turns and reverse flicks. If anyone objected, you could always claim that it was safety training, enabling you to gain the skills to control skids and get out of dangerous situations.
Which was true. Not enough people, even in those pre-ABS days, knew how to respond to skids, and it’s much worse today because we’ve had so many years of mild winters. We have two generations of drivers who just don’t understand the need to feel carefully for traction and steering, with or without electronic assistance.
Back in the late sixties I once ran a Zodiac Mk III – not noted for its traction in snow, though a paving slab or two in the vast boot seemed to help. I shared a cottage high on the Lickey Hills with a fellow student from Aston University. One morning we found ourselves well marooned in six inches of snow, but decided to have a go at getting into Aston as a challenge, if nothing else.
The Zodiac had a phenomenal heating and demisting system (probably one of the most powerful ever fitted to any UK-built car before or since) and had de-iced all its windows within minutes of starting up, even before choke (remember those?) could be dispensed with. But it simply couldn’t find the traction to start off up the hill that the cottage was on. The only option was to go to the bottom of the hill and up another hill, turn round and storm it, using momentum to get up the difficult bits. We decided to try this – and if we got stuck at this early stage, we’d just take the day off. However, it worked a treat, great tail-wagging fun, and we got to the main road.
Thereafter, we found that we could pretty well keep going everywhere, except where someone else had got stuck, blocking the road. So, many, many times, we had to turn round and try another route. A journey that normally took an hour, creeping in normal Birmingham traffic, took us two and half hours, but we felt some sense of achievement in actually reaching our destination, where, unusually, there were plenty of parking spaces! Of course, hardly anyone else had made it, so the odd few lecturers who were in decided to shut the University for the day anyway.
Another triumph over the elements that I’m proud of was one Friday evening when I’d gone to a pub with two mates in a Mini. The pub was at the bottom of a valley with steep hills either side. While we were in there, a blizzard blew up, and, in common with everyone else trying to leave the pub, we found that there wasn’t enough traction to go up either hill. Since the road was, perforce, empty, we tried a different approach – going up backwards.
This way round, the Mini was as good as any VW Beetle, and we got to the top of the hill just fine, turned the Mini around and went home facing the normal way from there. This is always an option with one of today’s front-drive cars, except that rear vision in most modern cars (unlike the dear old Mini) is pretty abysmal, so driving any distance in reverse is hairy.