A cold win­ter's tale

This morn­ing I saw a pair of large deer in the cas­tle gar­den. These an­i­mals of­ten come up from a nearby val­ley to graze, and are com­pletely un­afraid.

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - Ir­fan Hu­sain

AS I write this, I am con­stantly dis­tracted by the vista out­side my win­dow: there's a blan­ket of snow on the road, and a heavy white cover on the branches that ob­scure my view of the 19th cen­tury cas­tle that stands in the place of the an­cient, 13th cen­tury struc­ture that was de­stroyed by Oliver Cromwell in the civil war.

This morn­ing I saw a pair of large deer in the cas­tle gar­den. These an­i­mals of­ten come up from a nearby val­ley to graze, and are com­pletely un­afraid. I saw some of their tracks in our gar­den this morn­ing, and must re­mem­ber to shut the gate as they can be quite de­struc­tive. Puf­fin, our Jack Rus­sell ter­rier, loves giv­ing chase when­ever he spots them, and I of­ten won­der what he'd do if the deer turned on him. He's sit­ting on my knees right now, watch­ing for squir­rels out­side the win­dow. Sur­pris­ingly, he loves romp­ing in the snow, in­ves­ti­gat­ing strange new odours.

Al­though we haven't have had as much snow here in De­vizes as some parts of Bri­tain, it has still slowed down life to a crawl. A res­tau­rant in Marl­bor­ough where we went for lunch was empty ex­cept for our ta­ble, and the owner com­plained of can­celled reser­va­tions. Why, he asked, did the me­dia have to paint things worse than they were? Peo­ple see­ing con­stant im­ages of cars stuck in long traf­fic jams did not want to risk even short drives to shops or restau­rants. The me­dia is warn­ing of short­ages in su­per­mar­kets and petrol sta­tions if the cur­rent arc­tic con­di­tions per­sist. But a book I or­dered from Ama­zon has duly ar­rived, and the shelves were stacked as I went to buy a news­pa­per and a pint of milk this morn­ing. No doubt there will be dis­tri­bu­tion prob­lems in the north where con­di­tions ap­pear to be truly hellish, but I'm sure the Brits will mud­dle along, as they al­ways have.

But it's un­likely to be a very happy Christ­mas for re­tail­ers. Even com­pa­nies sell­ing on the In­ter­net are hav­ing to refuse or­ders be­cause of the un­cer­tain de­liv­er­ies. Town cen­tres are largely de­serted as shop­pers de­cide to wait for the freez­ing weather to abate a lit­tle. And in truth, it is very cold here in the UK, with the tem­per­a­ture of­ten drop­ping to be­low zero even in the mid­dle of the day. At night, we have been at six be­low zero.

It's not the snow that makes driv­ing haz­ardous, but the sheet of ice that forms on the sur­face af­ter the top layer has thawed briefly, only to freeze when the tem­per­a­ture drops again. Driv­ers, un­aware of the ice, en­ter a curve only to dis­cover that they have lost con­trol, and skid off the road.

Air traf­fic has been es­pe­cially hard hit. Heathrow is in chaos, with hun­dreds of can­celled flights, and thou­sands of stranded pas­sen­gers sleep­ing on the floor in de­par­ture lounges. The prob­lem is not so much the snow on the ru­n­aways, but the ice that has formed on the planes. A friend who was due to fly to Sri Lanka three days ago is still wait­ing for her flight to take off. Not un­ex­pect­edly, there has been a huge out­cry about the lack of prepa­ra­tion for the cold snap that is ex­pected to last for an­other few weeks. But I can say that in our part of Wilt­shire, at least, the lo­cal coun­cils have been very ef­fi­cient in clear­ing the main roads, us­ing grit and snow ploughs to good ef­fect. Nev­er­the­less, on the na­tional level, a per­cep­tion of in­ef­fec­tive cri­sis man­age­ment is tak­ing hold, with the Labour Party seek­ing to score a few points against a coali­tion govern­ment that has seemed im­per­vi­ous to crit­i­cism so far, bar­ring the row over the rise in uni­ver­sity fees.

Wor­ry­ingly, the cold weather will put a fur­ther strain on the re­sources of the mil­lions of un­em­ployed as heat­ing costs soar. Cur­rently, the govern­ment has a 250-pound win­ter heat­ing grant for those over 60, but this fig­ure has not kept pace with the rise in ac­tual costs. With more job cuts to come this win­ter, there will be lit­tle to cel­e­brate in many house­holds this Christ­mas sea­son.

Al­ready, sev­eral deaths have been re­ported as some of the el­derly have suc­cumbed to the bit­ter cold. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of old peo­ple live alone, and with­out any­body to look af­ter them, are vul­ner­a­ble to the cold and to mal­nu­tri­tion. In many cases, this is a life­style choice made by fiercely in­de­pen­dent peo­ple who do not wish to live with any­body, in­clud­ing their own chil­dren.

One of our neigh­bours is June, a lady well into her eight­ies, and I of­ten see her walk­ing slowly into town to do her mea­gre shop­ping. Her son, a pros­per­ous lo­cal farmer, comes to visit her on week­ends, but there is no ques­tion of June giv­ing up her house and her in­de­pen­dence to live with him. In Spain, there was a re­cent protest by grand­par­ents who re­sent be­ing treated as un­paid babysit­ters for their grand­chil­dren while their chil­dren go off to work. They have de­manded the right to their own life.

Sev­eral friends have asked if I re­gret­ted hav­ing come to the UK dur­ing the cur­rent icy weather, and al­though it's much colder than I am used to, the fact is that the coun­try­side is so beau­ti­ful that I'm very glad to be here. The Christ­mas tree has been dec­o­rated, and my wife and step-daugh­ters have been cook­ing nu­mer­ous pud­dings for the oc­ca­sion. There will be 16 here over three days for Christ­mas, and we have bor­rowed a neigh­bour's house to ac­com­mo­date the over­flow. I have my in­struc­tions about what to cook for Christ­mas Eve. As I have writ­ten in this news­pa­per be­fore, I am de­lighted to share in the fes­tiv­i­ties of oth­ers, even though some sour read­ers have rep­ri­manded me for par­tic­i­pat­ing in non-Mus­lim cel­e­bra­tions. To them, I would only point out that Je­sus is a prophet for Mus­lims as well as for Chris­tians. So why the re­luc­tance to cel­e­brate his birth­day? And I al­ways en­joy a good party…

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