Bulldog spirit helps to see us through

The snow-bound road to Whitehouse Farm, near Morpeth.
The snow-bound road to Whitehouse Farm, near Morpeth.

If there’s one positive message to come out of the atrocious weather conditions we all lived through last week it is perhaps that when push comes to shove you’d be hard pressed to top the British bulldog fighting spirit anywhere in the world.

Time after time stories were emerging of people putting others before themselves as we all battled the elements.

Whether it was the emergency or statutory services, entire communities or just individuals, the consistent story that emerged was that people from all walks of life were simply not going to be beaten by what the media dubbed ‘The Beast from the East’, and they were prepared to go to extraordinary levels to help others.

Conditions were atrocious across the country and although warnings of the most extreme weather sweeping over Britain from Siberia were well flagged up in advance, I would guess that most people didn’t think it would be quite as bad as predicted.

Things were that bad as the whole country virtually ground to a halt. We often think up here in the North that Southerners, ‘softies’ as we sometimes call them, don’t understand the true impact of the sort of bad weather that sometimes affects our part of the world, but from what I saw spending the week at Westminster, conditions were as appalling down South as they were up here.

What was truly heartwarming, however, was the way people responded by working together to get through the worst of the weather.

All week there were stories of people helping stranded travellers and the homeless by providing hot drinks, food and blankets, or even welcoming them into their homes; of looking after elderly and vulnerable housebound neighbours; of farmers using their tractors to open up routes into cut-off villages, even when their most pressing needs were to look after their livestock; and of so many drivers of four-wheel drive vehicles responding to calls from hospitals to get staff into work.

Our emergency services also stepped forward to go beyond the call of duty and deserve the highest praise for their actions. In Northumberland credit must go to council staff who battled to try to keep the roads open and safe.

Credit must also go to the staff of Active Northumberland for opening the Willowburn Sports Centre in Alnwick and the Swan Centre in Berwick to offer temporary overnight shelter to grateful motorists stranded on the A1.

More personal stories I picked up were the Greggs’ bakery van driver who provided cakes and savouries from his vehicle’s stock to motorists stuck on the A1; the café owner in Ashington who battled through the snow to make sure elderly people got a hot meal delivered to their homes; and the businessman who paid for a dozen hotel rooms to get homeless people out of a cold night on the street.

No doubt once things return to normal and we can start to enjoy spring, questions will be asked about our preparedness as a nation for the worst weather to engulf us for decades.

One report I saw suggested that the cause of our problems could be traced to the Arctic Circle, where the temperature has been many degrees above the winter norm, which somehow forced the chilling winds further south and east, eventually dragging them west across the Continent and Britain.

The inference was that this could be an annual pattern, meaning the weather conditions of the past week could become a more regular winter occurrence for all of us.

The one certainty is that we must learn lessons for the future from the past week, and that we must be better prepared to cope if the weather turns as bad as it has done, ironically at what should have been the tail end of winter for us.