Snow is like the Pussycat Dolls

Snow is starting to get too big for its boots. It needs to be put in its place.

Snow! When I woke up this morning, it had been falling stealthily for hours with that strange, magical, I'm-thicker-than-rain sound. As I glance out of the window at my quiet street, it's coating the cars and hanging thickly in the branches. The pavements and lawns are covered in unblemished white layers of it.

Pretty soon local schools will start admitting there's no point in trying to restrain the kids, who will be let loose like wild animals. By this evening, with a couple more flurries, the whole neighbourhood will look like a Christmas card - fittingly, as local shops have been pretending it's Christmas since mid-September as usual. Good old snow!

White gold

And if we get another couple of days of the white gold, it'll start to bring about all the other magical effects we see every winter. Elderly people will fall over and crack ribs and break legs, but the emergency services won't be able to do much about it, because they'll be dealing with "youths" who've chucked handfuls of it in each other's faces. Public transport will grind to a customary halt, and if there's one thing more tedious than that, it's people complaining that public transport has ground to a customary halt.

Radio phone-ins and local news bulletins will be full of nothing but people asking: "Why, oh why, can't we in this country deal with a little bit of snow?" But even as they're doing this, the national media will be embarking on their annual snow-fest, with wall-to-wall updates on exactly how white everything is at the moment. The blanket (of snow) coverage will push everything else out of the headlines: if Elvis were to fly in to the country during a cold snap, the main focus of the reports would be on whether or not his airport was going to be closed.

On top of this, it will be horribly, horribly cold for weeks. It'll be difficult to get around without slipping and sliding like beginner ice skaters. In fact, the whole of Britain will look like the early stages of Dancing on Ice, except without the alarming leotards. Queues in ­supermarkets and post offices and banks and everywhere else will suddenly be maddeningly long as people get into the British mildly-bad-weather siege mentality ("We might be prisoners for six months! We must withdraw all our money and buy 1,000 tins of beans!").

Events will be cancelled. The public mood will become ugly as cars get trapped in driveways; the poor man whose job it is to explain why the country doesn't have enough grit for the roads will be wheeled out again. Finally, the whole fandango will sputter out about a week before Christmas, just in time for an un-festive dampness to settle as Father Christmas starts to make his rounds.

Yes, I'm sorry to be a Scrooge about this, and I know it isn't a popular viewpoint, but snow really isn't that much fun. It's time for us all to get over it.
I know there's an atavistic thrill when it starts to fall, I know it looks beautiful at night when you're huddled in front of the fire, I know it's a very handy way of getting a day off work. I'm not advocating a complete ban on the stuff. Nor am I crying "humbug" at all the people whose first instinct is to go scampering out to play in the snow until their face freezes over. Good luck to them all. I'm just asking for a bit of common sense and perspective here. Snow is like a lot of today's girl bands: superficially attractive, but quickly tiresome and ultimately quite damaging.

Next time the heavens open with snow, picture the Pussycat Dolls hurtling out of the sky, and I can almost guarantee you'll see it in a less favourable light. Unless you go on to imagine them dashing their brains out on the pavement. In which case, the fantasy has its merits.

Big boots

Perhaps a couple of years ago, the rarity value of snow provided more of an excuse for its worship. But in 2009 and 2010 alone, there have been at least four severe snowfalls, two of them shutting down the roads around me for a week at a time. We can no longer act as if snow is some kind of prodigal son appearing whimsically to light up our lives. It's starting to get too big for its boots. It needs to be put in its place.

And that place is a few days either side of Christmas, a cameo in a few dozen festive films, followed by a dignified disappearance.

When snow starts playing by those rules again, I'll be back on its side. Until then, do excuse me if I don't join in the scramble to put it down someone's neck or throw it at cars, or even jump around in it. I'm off to buy some of those flaming torches used by circus acts. Let's see if
I can tidy things up a bit around here.

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 06 December 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Vietnam: the last battle

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.