It’s that wondrous Christmas time of year and it’s been consistently cold here, with around 5 inches of snow on the ground for over 3 weeks now. It’s that lovely compressed snow, with enough of it on the ground to make the world look white and bright. Sufficiency is everything when it comes to snow and while we had some false starts in November, the determined, enduring snow has been here for a while now. We’re enjoying it. We’ve even lost the nervous twitch, no longer pulling back the curtain expecting all of it to be gone each morning. Although temperature is hovering at 0 deg C today and things are looking a bit slushy, we’re hoping that it will be a white Christmas here in our little corner of the world outside Oslo.
A feature of life here in Norway is that it carries on as normal when there is snow and ice on the ground. Schools and kindergartens are open for business, trains and buses run on time. The passengers may be a bit bulkier due to their layers of wool and bulky coats and floors are wet everywhere due to melted snow carried in on big winter boots, but that’s about it.
People here are still talking about that day a few years ago when they were late to work because the buses in Oslo were caught short and had taken the winter tyres off too early. It’s required here to change to winter tyres, usually by the end of October which means that cars have the grip they need to tackle snow and ice safely. If the police catch you with summer tyres in November snow, you’ll get a nice fine and worse, if you have a car accident, your insurer won’t be too backwards in rejecting a claim. And on this particular day in late spring, there was unexpected snow. Buses were out of action for a whole day, although all other transport like trains, t-bans, taxis, and most cars were up and running. I remember thinking, as I listened to grumbles from Norwegians about inconvenience and inefficiency, that they would get a fair old shock at a) how the delays would extend to days in other countries as ALL modes of transport would be out and b) how happy people might be because of such problems as it would like a divine green light to just go home and get under the duvet, sorry, I mean, ammm…. work from home.
You see Norway is literally built to thrive in snow. At the end of our road is a steep pedestrian hill to go down to the train station, basically a very wide footpath. Now, this would be fairly treacherous in snow and ice due to the sheer incline. Slip sliding away would be your only option. Or maybe lying down and rolling. But not here. When this hill was dug out of the mountainous rock years ago and turned into a path, there was heating laid under one side of the tarmac, so there is always a strip of the path totally ice free. It’s the same on the humped pedestrian bridge near the shopping centre, and many different paths in the city centre. I had never seen the likes of it until moving here. It’s impressive.
And at the end of each street is a small fat wheelie bin without wheels (just close your eyes, you’ve got this) filled with grit. When there is heavy snowfall, there’s what seems likes a phantom driver with his John Deere tractor and snow plough that roars onto the streets, always under cover of darkness. He’s phantom to me as I’ve never seen him in daylight, I’m not even sure he’s real. I tried to take a photo of him once and it came out all blurred and spectral, I stopped messing with the dark arts after that. Whoever he is, he does a great job pushing snow aside so that it’s possible to easily walk on street and drive on all the neighbouring streets. Regardless of snowfall, everyone has to get up and go to work and school in the morning. Phantom’s friend, The Gritter, also appears out of nowhere when necessary to spread grit to give grip. These guys are contracted by the local kommune or county council and are really on it.
And then there are the airports. Planes don’t stop flying when temperatures sink and snow falls, although they may be delayed as they go to the de-icing station before lift-off. On a cold, snowy day as you are sitting on a plane ready for take-off, you can see what looks like an army of ants mobilising in their little tractors and snow ploughs, clearing the runway in steady, co-ordinated, efficient movements. Planes taxi to a de-icing station where there is another little army ready to spray de-icer and then off they go up into the skies.
Earlier this month, there was a good covering of snow in the UK and Ireland which brought chaos to airports, the road networks and the ever welcome – for kids anyway – school closures. As usual, there was a flurry of moaning commentary on social media about the need to grind to a halt at ‘the first sign of snow’. “Why can’t we be more prepared?” they asked. “Why does the state infrastructure go into shock every time” people pondered.
I think it’s fair to say that the only reason there is chaos is that it’s not deemed worthwhile to make the capital investment for the few days a year when it’s needed. Apparently some 50,000 passengers were stranded in Heathrow in one freezing snowy day earlier this month, not because they couldn’t de-ice the planes but because the schedule is so tight normally that the extra de-icing step meant they fell behind in no time, resulting in cancellations. The husband flew out to New York from snowy Oslo and arrived on schedule. His colleague flew from Heathrow and arrived a day late. It comes down to commercial considerations and as you never know when snow will come, it’s not worth changing scheduling for the one or two days a year as it would reduce the number of flights and therewith, revenue.
And as for the roads, I don’t think there are the same army of phantom drivers and gritters ready to mobilise as there are here. With no requirement to have winter tyres in most of the UK and Ireland, driving is more uncertain, slower and more accident-ridden. It all adds up.
Snow days are lovely, both those with low, grey skies ready to burst open with snow or those with the wide open blue skies where the blaring sun is reflecting off the snow and you curse yourself for not thinking of sunglasses. They certainly make the short days between October and January a little exciting and varied.
But for now it’s Christmas Eve and the excitement is up, this evening is when Christmas is celebrated here and Julenissen, who looks suspiciously like Santa Claus, comes to deliver the presents. In this house, we are hoping he’ll be his usual burglar self and come in the middle of the night so we can all get up at 5am and scream in wonder and excitement. Because Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, all shops are closed here today so the calm has already begun. Tomorrow we’ll have our roasted pork ribs for Christmas dinner and go out sledging, or at the very least, think about it.
Wishing you all a lovely Christmas and I hope you get to spend it in the warmth of family or friends or both. See you again soon.