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Snapping to it in the cold snap

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Maybe because it used to be rare. But also because I never used to have to worry about the mechanics and technicalities of living under a sheet of snow, and could, therefore, innocently, enjoy it.

This week, my management team intended to hold a full-day rehearsal of our emergency planning in general, and our extreme weather planning in particular. This has been in the diary since about May, but I think we managed to jinx the weather. After all, when it comes to emergency planning, you never usually get what you plan for.

Being a chief executive in the snow is a whole different diary experience. All meetings are cancelled – which makes a really liberating change. Both my directors are stuck at home – so they get to spend hours in quiet contemplation of the big picture (corporate plan, budget etc), while I spend my day strolling round the front-line services making sure all the phones are being answered and the website is showing the latest information, and checking how each team is coping. And I get time to phone my leader a couple of times a day.

But after a couple of days, I start feeling a bit restless. The bit of me that enjoys long-term planning, strategic thinking and re-designing things is not getting enough exercise. Maybe I should stop accepting lifts to work from colleagues in favour of the three-mile trudge through the slush and ice. It’s good for the thigh muscles, and is good thinking time too.

The psychology of snow-days in the office is a really interesting thing. My staff team smile more and seem more relaxed, even when they are really busy rearranging hundreds of repairs appointments or handling the benefits counter single-handed. ‘Ask Mary’ (our anonymous intranet complaining forum) has been silent all week. And with the office largely empty of managers – they tend to live further away, so they are mainly working at home – staff are more willing to stretch the boundaries and take the initiative.

Snow days tend to bring out some really interesting behaviour in some of our residents. Someone promised me this week they were going to serve a writ on me. He was disgusted to find when he woke up that there was snow on the ground. The public authorities had promised him in February than next time it snowed we would be better prepared. But we must have lied to him – because if we had been telling the truth, we would have cleared up all the snow by now. And as we had patently failed, he had no option but to seek justice. I really hope he does. As a secret wannabe lawyer, I would enjoy defending that

A lot of the knack of handling snow effectively, it seems to me, lies in getting inside the psychology of the public’s reactions to it. With practice, and a skilled eye out of the window, it is possible to predict exactly when people will start complaining about snow in the car parks. Guess right, and you can organise the snowploughs to clear the bays in the very early morning before this tipping point; guess wrong, and you spend the whole of the next week defending accusations of incompetence.

Interestingly, I have not had any complaints about dustbins yet. But I’m sure they will start to arrive soon. Last time, as the ice started to thaw, I was inundated with floods of bitterness about refuse collections. Mostly along the lines of ‘I’ve paid my council tax, so I want my money back’, or ‘the bus is running, why hasn’t my bin been emptied yet?’.

Some people believe in magic fairy dust that makes snow vanish instantly. Others seem to think that a 20-tonne refuse freighter can travel through the borough like Santa’s sleigh – visiting every house in the space of only one night. But then, there is something a little magical about snow.  

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