Anne de Graaf's blog: International-Intrigue-Injustice

4 December 2010

Scotland snow story

Filed under: PhD: Scotland!,Thin and Thick Places — annedegraaf @ 12:52 am

Of course, one of the golden rules in writing is: Always Avoid Alliteration. But I couldn’t resist the title of this post. And on Wednesday I got my very own Scotland snow story. After spending Monday and Tuesday in Amsterdam airport being bumped from one flight to another to another to another because Edinburgh airport closed, re-opened, closed, re-opened and closed again due to heavy snowfall, I got on a plane to Glasgow. Ordinarily you can drive from Glasgow to Edinburgh in 90 minutes. I caught an airport shuttle and since the highway was closed due to stranded trucks along the shoulder, we took back roads. The trip took 3 hours. I understood maybe one word out of ten that my driver spoke. Something about weather. And football. I didn’t dare bring up the Rangers and Celtics, for fear I might name the wrong team and he would morph into a hooligan. I fell asleep during the drive and when I woke it was to evergreens bowed heavy under the snow, sunshine on near hills and far mountains and a glorious landscape full of light and white.

When we arrived at Edinburgh airport, an elderly gentleman met us at the barrier, “No cars allowed in,” he said. My driver said something incomprehensible and they nodded and laughed and grunted. I smiled. “Shall I just get out here, then?” I asked. “Sure, young lady,” the gatekeeper said. “Can I drive out?” I asked. “Aye,” he said.

So I paid the driver and made my way through two feet of snow to where I thought my car stood in the parking lot. I found her, no longer World Cup Dutch football team orange, but with a thick snowy coat. I stood next to my car and thought, I have no shovel. It was one of those thoughts that stops you cold. So I smiled. A voice from heaven called, “Miss?” I looked around and saw a man coming my way. I looked behind me to see who he was talking to. No one there. “Yes?” I replied. “Would ya like a wee hand?” That I understood. He said, “I’ll just wait for my three gorgeous assistants….” And out of the blue a pickup plowed through the snow and three laughing men emerged. Like the three wise men, I thought. Bearing gifts of shovels.

One of them passed me by, wielding a large piece of hard plastic. “My secret weapon,” he winked at me. Did he just wink at me, I thought. “High-tech,” I said and all four men laughed like I was the most amusing gobsmacked young lady they had ever met. Then they set to work digging out my car.

Once we could see the door again, one of them asked for my keys. In he went and when he turned the ignition, my orange wonder sprang to life. “Ah,” all four men grinned at me. “It’s one of the best kinda cars to have in the snow, this.” Skoda Fabia. Did I mention mine is orange? She’s small, but faithful. I told them, “She’s only 7 months old.” My baby. Maybe the steering wheel is on the wrong side, but she knows front from back. Or top from bottom. Whatever.

So then, more snow clearing, from the roof, and behind the wheels a small road appeared under their careful creative carving and my man in the driver’s seat backs her up. Now comes the hard part. I had just heard that the bridge over the Firth of Forth (don’t say that with a full mouth) had been closed. First time in history for snow. I had heard there was a second bridge an hour away. I asked my man about the route. He said, “Both bridges are closed.” “How do I get to Fife (failing Firth of Forth)?” I asked. “Stirling,” came the answer. Stirling, where Wallace lost to England because Robert the Bruce betrayed him (I know my “Braveheart”). So I’ll have to drive around the Firth, which is like a big Norwegian fjord. That’s like driving from Oakland to San Francisco via San Jose. Or Seattle to Whidbey Island via Tacoma. Or Rotterdam to Amsterdam via Utrecht. Or Cape Town to Jo’berg via Durban. Well, you get the idea. It’s a detour. Or a diversion, as the Scots call it. My man gave me the numbers of the traffic radio station and we all said goodbye as if we were best friends.

So off I went, skidding and sliding through the snow and sleet. I listened to my angels’ radio station and heard that both bridges had closed due to jack-knifed trucks. Heavy traffic getting out of Edinburgh meant the rest of the trucks heaved┬ámud and snow and ice onto my windshield. Whenever my GPS told me to take a shorter route I ignored her. Only the main roads were plowed. I passed highway shoulders that looked like parking lots, there were so many abandoned cars and vans. I listened to the radio tell me of people who had spent 15 hours camping in their cars. Sport halls had become dormitories for stranded motorists and truckers. I drove and drove and drove.

What should have been a 45-minute trip became 5 hours. Erik called me every hour or so. Our plan was that I would stop at a B+B if it became too tough to travel (provided I could find one in the middle of the Scottish countryside). Every time I thought, Whoa, skidded too much on that one, have to find a place to pull over, the black asphalt miraculously re-appeared and I got a grip. The closer I came to my wee fishing village of St Monans, the smaller the roads became and the lighter the traffic. Now when I slipped into the oncoming lane no one was there to meet me.

I parked the car at the top of the hill and walked down, smelling the sea, hearing the waves, cold and brutal, wash up against the harbor wall just a few yards from my front door. I opened it to a cold living room, turned on the tap and as water flowed, knew the pipes hadn’t frozen. I had made it.

The next morning I walked outside and watched Bob the postman make his deliveries. Bob has long gray hair pulled back in a ponytail. In November he wore shorts. I thought he might be in training for kilt-wearing. Now he wore trousers. Bob has the longest fingernails I’ve ever seen on a man. Maybe he plays guitar. This is a photo of a Bob wannabe, but it could be the street in my village.

Today I had to make another trip down some of the same roads to go to my garage and get my winter tires (tyres) fitted. The huge shipment of salt Scotland scored from a ship that originated in Peru (true story!) meant Scotland (unlike a country to the south which will go unnamed but which starts with an “E”) now has enough salt for two months of “strenuous” weather. Today the roads were clear; the salt had done its trick. We have even more snow–up to four feet in some places–but the roads are clear. Yeah Scotland!

So here are my stunning super snow tips:

  • I now have in my car–sleeping bag, water, flashlight and extra batteries, food (cashews and dried fruit), WD-40 (to spray on the frozen lock), two pieces of old carpet (for driving out onto when stuck), cat litter (to use as grit), small shovel, something bright to tie to the door handle to signal for help (old red towel), and first-aid kit. I also keep my tank topped up and mobile phone charged.
  • When starting the car, push in the clutch to ease the engine into life. Then when moving out, shift into 2nd to give it a little extra jump on the ice.
  • When driving, a higher gear has more control, downshift rather than braking, going downhill start slow, when skidding take feet off pedals and steer, triple stopping distance.

So as they say in Scotland, “That’s you.” (Roughly translated: There you go, Hope you’re satisfied, Had enough?)

(And if you have nothing else to do after you read this post, you might want to count the almighty alliterations accordingly and accurately.)

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