Snow: Frequently Asked Questions

(Guardian) – THE ROADS are covered in ice, your kids are driving you mad, and the cupboards are bare – what to do? Let the Guardians’ writers solve all your bad-weather-related difficulties.

The roads near me are well-gritted, traffic is flowing and the buses are running on time. How do I get off work?

Already you’re doing two things wrong: you’re not joining in the hype, and you’re being terribly unimaginative about the number of possible excuses furnished by the Big Freeze™. For all your employer knows, your front door could be frozen shut, trapping you inside. You might have got stuck to your bus shelter seat. Perhaps your car got wedged in a huge drift of rock salt. You could be snow-blind, or worse, snow-intolerant. There are usually a few stories in the morning paper you can adapt to suit your needs. If you don’t feel able to lie, then just skip work without saying anything and go back when everyone else does. Chances are no one will even ask about the reasons for your absence, and if they do, you can just say you had diarrhoea.

Tim Dowling

Which shoes are best for negotiating icy pavements?

There is just one rule: your sole must have a tread. If it doesn’t, no matter how stylish your shoe, you will look try-hard and, possibly worse, are destined to slip. That rules out stilettos, flat pumps, and most cheap Ugg-alike sheepskin boots with flat rubber soles. Wellies remain the best solution. “Fun” wellies will stop you slipping but won’t garner you any kudos unless you own Marc by Marc Jacobs’s amazingly cheap ones with primary coloured treads (just £14, but only available from the boutique in London). Plain black or navy Hunters are becoming hackneyed but will keep you safely stylish. Aigle is currently top of the welly food chain. Other options include the frivolous apres-ski boot – good grip and perfect with skinny jeans – or a traditional hiking boot with bright laces and a chunky sock: very Marc Jacobs. Remember: icy pavements are precarious but provide the perfect conditions in which to carve out your place in the snow-chic hierarchy.

Imogen Fox

And if I fall over, how can I get up with dignity?

1 If the bus queue applauds when you’re flat on your ass, take a bow. Don’t skulk off avoiding eye contact. That’s pathetic.

2 Homer Simpson once noted the golden rule of comedy: “Man fall down. Funny.” People are going to laugh at you. Accept it: you can secretly hate them for their misplaced levity.

3 Don’t get up too quickly, because you’ll probably go back down even faster. Marx noted that history repeats itself: first as tragedy, second as farce. Falling down is different: it’s farcical the first time, the second time it’s even funnier – at least to onlookers, 75% of whom are unfeeling brutes.

4 If you can’t get up because you’ve broken something vital, try defusing the situation by singing the Chumbawamba song about the triumph over adversity while you await the ambulance’s arrival. It’ll be a long wait, but fortunately you can repeat the chorus for hours. This is a great way to disperse crowds. They’ll think concussion has made you temporarily bonkers, and leave you to suffer alone.

5 If someone helps you recover your shopping/hat, think like Blanche Dubois. All of us on occasion depend on the kindness of strangers. Meet kindness with gratitude.

6 If you’ve scratched your BlackBerry/iPhone/Rolex in the tumble, don’t go on about it. You’ll get no pity, but you’ll probably get mugged. And you know what? You’ll deserve it.

Stuart Jeffries

With school shut, how can I keep the children entertained all day?

As realisation dawned that teachers were having a long, snuggly lie-in, my neighbours and I swung into action and set up a kid-pool system. The morning was spent in the garden. Lunch was at Tash’s while I went out for a reviving coffee and emptied the craft section of my nearest pound-shop.

The afternoon then saw 10 children squabbling over scissors and shiny pink paper in my living room while Isabel and I mainlined tea and contemplated what time wine would be appropriate. And 4pm brought the scheduled film: Ice Age (obviously) and bouncing on the sofa for the littlees, with Doctor Who next door for the over-sixes.

Until the Big Freeze ends I imagine we’ll repeat as required. Cut the day into manageable sections. Lots of solidarity-based parenting. And remember that in weather like this, children need to go to bed at six at the latest. It’s for their own good!

Bibi van der Zee

What’s the best substance for de-icing my path?

Despite having strict guidelines for almost everything else, local councils have been curiously remiss on path clearance. Thank God for the Horse & Hound internet chat forum. Top tips are dishwasher salt, sawdust and ashes, though the last two are likely to be in short supply if you live in town. Cat litter also gets a big thumbs up, though you do need to be careful as it turns into a grey claggy goo in the slush and gets everywhere. Especially carpets. You may also want to make sure that every neighbourhood moggy doesn’t come to celebrate the arrival of a new outdoor toilet.

John Crace

How can I drive without writing off my car?

Get the roof and all windows clean of snow and ice before you set off (using the air-con works wonders). If you’re going cross-country, top up the tank and take a mobile phone, torch, blankets, warm coat and boots, food and water, a snow shovel and an old sack or rug (to lay under the wheels if you get stuck). Use major roads, which should have been gritted.

On the road, easy does it. Brake, steer and accelerate as smoothly as possible, says the Institute of Advanced Motorists. Start gently, in second, with low revs, easing your foot off the clutch to avoid wheel-spin. Try to maintain a constant speed, stay in a high gear for better control (less power to the wheels), and slow right down before you start any descents. The point is to drive so you’re not reliant on your brakes to stop you. Treble your normal stopping distance, and if you do have to brake, do it gently. If you skid, take your foot off the brakes and steer; only brake if you can’t steer out of trouble.

Jon Henley

What should I wear to keep warm in bed?

Wear a nightcap, is the Department of Health’s charmingly Dickensian advice. But there are other options. First, don’t let yourself get cold before you get into bed as you’ll struggle to warm up – make a hot drink when you fill your hot water bottle. Dress your bed with a fleecy underblanket and, if you don’t mind channelling the Waltons, flannel sheets. Extra blankets should be kept on hand. A nightie is never going to match pyjamas for keeping you cosy – and bed socks are essential. Edith Povey from NHS Direct favours a dressing gown, which is easy to shrug off if you get too warm, and warns that your bedroom should be kept at 18C at night. And in the black of night, throw style to the wind, tuck your PJs into your socks, add a hooded sweatshirt, pull the duvet over your head and sleep tight.

Homa Khaleeli

What are the most common snow injuries, and how should I treat them?

Anyone who has heard the sound of their own bone break will not be surprised to learn that slips, trips and falls are the most common snow- and ice-related accidents. In particular, “wrist and hip fractures, then nasty fractures of the elbows or the shoulder joints”, says Dr Fiona Lecky, research director of the Trauma Audit and Research Network and honorary consultant in emergency medicine at the University of Manchester and Salford Royal NHS trust. “I’ve also seen a few people who have landed on their bottom and injured their coccyx. If it’s cracked (but not out of position) there is no treatment other than painkillers. Keep mobile, sit on something soft and wait for it to heal. And make sure you don’t get constipated,” she sensibly warns.

Even a sprain can take six weeks to heal. Lecky says you should “elevate the limb and get the swelling down with ice in the first 24 hours. Stay as mobile as possible (once you know it’s not broken) but no heavy lifting or load bearing.” And last of all, “if you are going to sledge, wear a winter sports helmet: head injuries are the thing most likely to kill you.”

Hannah Pool

I’ve got no bread and cereal and can’t get out of the house. What can I have for breakfast?

The short answer is anything. The British breakfast menu – bready things smeared with jammy things, bone-dry cereals mined with dehydrated fruits turned to sludge with low-fat milk – are purely the product of convention. Given that, in Japan, it’s miso soup, pickles and fish, and in Egypt, pitta bread stuffed with falafel, we really can be led by appetite, and pass off indulgence as a matter of necessity.

What you need is something that sates the hunger, while also being manageable from what’s mouldering at the back of the fridge. The obvious solution has to be the Spanish tortilla. Long after everything else has run out, we always seem to have a few potatoes – so what if they are half-green? You can chop that bit off – onions, and a few eggs. Sure, supermarkets may stamp them with use-by dates, but the eggs never pay attention. They can last for months. Cook that lot up with whatever fat you have left and you will easily survive until dusk.

Jay Rayner

Should I let my pet out?

Snowy weather is not wonderful news for most pets, so it’s best to keep them indoors as much as possible. Rock salt and de-icers used on frozen pavements irritate cat and dog paws, and can be ingested if they lick their feet after a walk, say, or chomp on a large piece of ice. De-icer, needless to say, is extremely toxic for animals. Wash your dog’s paws after a walk to ensure they are clean and no grit has caught between their toes, then apply some vaseline. More dogs are lost in the winter than at any other time of year, because they lose their scent in the snow; be sure to keep yours on a lead.

Be aware that cats and other wildlife seeking warmth have a tendency to snuggle down on car engines during cold weather, so check under the bonnet or beep the horn to make sure any lurking critters skidaddle before you drive off.

Laura Barton

Is now a good time to learn to ski?

Probably not. For one thing, unless you live up a hill, skiing as a genuine mode of transport means cross-country skiing, which differs from alpine or holiday skiing in that all the fun parts have been taken out. There are no jumps, no ski-lifts and very few slopes, just hours of trudging your way across cold, flat snow.

A pair of skis will set you back £100 with another £200 for ski boots, poles and humiliatingly bright alpine clothing. But stretch your budget to around £1,000 and you could have your own sled and a pair of Siberian huskies. Faster, easier and more affectionate than a pair of skis, with the added bonus that when the snow melts they can be trained to pull you around in a shopping trolley.

Tom Meltzer

%d bloggers like this: