Russian winter is 100 times worse than ours – but the country still functions

The Church of the Spilled Blood on the Griboyedov Embankment in St Petersburg

As I peer out of my window on this bright Sunday morning, just a few patches of snow remain.

The blast of warm air that we’ve seen this weekend has melted most of it, with the rest set to disappear as the temperature hits 8C in Canterbury today.

Ghost Tour operator John Hippisley’s pictures are now just a record of our week of proper winter.

Alex Claridge, grey hat, with fellow students in St Petersburg

It will be a different story in St Petersburg, the Russian imperial capital where I spent a year studying in 1996/7.

The temperature there today is -13C and from memory it went as low as -25C.

And yet the country still functioned. The trains ran, the trolleybuses and buses operated and people were expected to be able to get to work – and work they did.

Russia was climbing out of its heinous communist past at the time and most people could no longer rely on the state for a guaranteed job.

The first snow of the winter arrived in mid-December of 1996 and lasted until around April 20, 1997 during which time everything plodded along as normal.

In contrast, Britain effectively shut down for the whole of last week. Train operator Southeastern got in quickly, warning passengers to get home early as it closed stations and cancelled services. Stagecoach bus services in east Kent were also affected.

Meanwhile, Canterbury City Council waste contractor Serco suspended its bin collections.

Can you imagine for a minute if this was the case in St Petersburg, where for four months your rubbish isn’t collected and you can’t get anywhere by public transport.

Ah, but they’re used to it, some might say. Well, they are, but so should we be. Every year something called winter comes round, a time when it might or might not snow.

Sign on the door of New Look

It amused me to see shops closed, pinning notices like this one at New Look in Canterbury which blamed “unforeseen circumstances”.

Unforseen circumstances? What like the yearly winter and the week of snow and cold the forecasters promised us?

To be fair to New Look’s staff, if they can’t get in because there’s no transport running then it’s hardly their fault.

As the snow melts, some commentators are suggesting that the cancellations and suspensions are not the result of the weather, but are rather the result of the fears of litigation.

Transport companies are said to be terrified of the prospect of legal action brought by lawyers acting for people who have slipped on icy platforms or station concourses.

God only knows if we’ll see snow next year, but it’s clear we should take a leaf out of the Russians’ textbooks and show some stoic resistance to the cold.

Speaking of signs near train tracks, I’ve always been amused by those which warn that “no unauthorised persons are allowed on the railway without authorisation”. If a person had authorisation, he wouldn’t be unauthorised…


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