Monday, 20 December 2010

Walking, Driving, but not cruising - in a winter wonderland

It's still cold.

The snow has stopped falling, but the temperature here is still resolutely below 0c. That might not sound too cold for you folks in Canada, but here, 0c presents many real problems!

I remember at my Nanny's house, if it got too cold, the pipes would freeze. When they did, she would open up the cupboard in the bathroom through which the pipes travelling and often put an electric heater near by to try to gently warm them up. She lived in an old house, and of course, the pipes never froze in my parent's house - built in 1985.

Because most of the housing stock in England is Victorian (a shocking endictment of English house-building practices since the war - to think that houses, sewers, and general infrastructure built over 100 years ago is still relied on daily by the vast majority of the population), the housing stock has been adapted as new fangled things like electricity and indoor plumbing came into existence. I remember when I first moved here how surprised I was to see the pipes that brought water to the house I lived in and sewage from it were on the outside of the house, and entered through holes drilled in the external wall in bathrooms and kitchens. My first thought was "those must freeze in the winter" - but as English winters (at least in the South, and at least until recently) used to be just 6 months where the rain was colder than usual - the plumbing function perfectly well.

This recent cold snap, though, has tested (and broken!) some of England's most integral infrastructure.

Heathrow Airport, the world's busiest International Hub, has been closed, and now is reopened with very limited service after the recent snowfall - and by recent, I mean on Saturday. Imagine if 15 cm of snow meant that Lester Pearson Airport in Toronto was closed for a day, and experienced severe delays and cancellations for days afterwards - people would be up in arms!

Roads have been closed (though thankfully now many are functioning - if not well, the adequately) - and people have been advised to cancel Christmas travel plans if possible.

I have not escaped the recent cold weather chaos! Aside from having to try to travel through it, we also had our own version of "frozen pipes" this morning when we turned on the water to find that the water pump could not pump any water from our boat's holding tank.

At first, I thought "we've run out of water". We've been low for days, and unable to travel to a marina or "water point" (a standpipe where boats can fill up with water) due to the canal being frozen. So, I went in hunt of a water carrier - (the sort of think you use when camping) and after much searching, found a 25L "jerry can".

I took it to the nearest water point - which was frozen. After struggling to get my car out of the snow around the water point, I journeyed to the next one a few miles up the canal only to discover that rather than having a simple spout like most do, that would mean the water would come straight out of the "tap" and into my jerry can, the tap was located inside a metal box. My can wouldn't fit into this box, but thankfully the box had a drainage hole (presumably for excess water if someone leaves a tap dripping. With apologies to those who ask us not to waste water, I turned on the tap full blast and put my jerry can under the drainage hole to collect as much as I could.

I'm happy to report that water is flowing freely (albeit in less volume - as we are trying to conserve it now) on our boat.

The snow is lovely. The ice is beautiful - but the magic is starting to wear off. Give me an English winter anyday - and take this Canadian one back where it belongs.

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