Helen Martin: ‘Snowflake’ generation should be protected from storms

Children sledging in Inverleith Park in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Brand
Children sledging in Inverleith Park in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Brand
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AGEISM works in both directions. People as old as I am often refer to today’s “snowflake generation” with a degree of derision … although given the weather over the past week, that phrase could be interpreted in different ways.

The panic, closures and disruption that ensued from the Beast from the East weather front had some pensioners raising eyebrows in confusion at how wimpish the younger population are today.

It was understandable that some old folk on shaky pins would find a foot or so of packed snow a bit of a challenge. But the same elderly people remembered much harsher winters with 15-foot drifts, power black-outs and communication shut-down, which they as youngsters at the time, and their parents, literally took in their stride.

During the late 50s and early 60s, it wasn’t unusual for primary schools to close at least half a dozen times in winter, either because of deep snow or icy fog so thick it was impossible to see more than a couple of feet ahead.

Children were not taken to and from school by parents in those days so they made their own way home regardless of the weather conditions. Most mums didn’t work. Those who did rarely had “childcare” so simply trained their kids to look after themselves wearing their house key on a string round their neck.

READ MORE: Video: Thundersnow lightning strike over Fife

Winter weather was such that we all had sledges which we expected to use every year. Few homes had central heating so we were all used to iced-up windows and wearing layers of clothing while we huddled round the fire or a paraffin heater.

Electricity was standard of course, but power cuts were common. Everyone had an old-fashioned kettle to boil on the fire or a gas ring, and an essential for every home was a box of candles. Cold, snowy or foggy winters were the norm, although 1962–63 was one of the worst.

With relatively recent memories of rationing, running out of basic foodstuffs wasn’t seen as a disaster. As long as there was something to eat, that was fine, at a time when people didn’t have menu choices for family meals. They ate whatever came on the plate.

READ MORE: Revealed: The Edinburgh bus driver who averted snow disaster

So yes, it’s easy to look back on those days and snort at the shock and horror expressed by today’s population – and even our government – when we’re hit with a ten-inch snowfall and windy drifts piling up to a miserable few feet.

But history isn’t always a sound basis for criticism. A harsh winter has a much more devastating effect on the world today because everything in society from food and health care to employment and basic needs such as heating, is now so dependent on good weather, clear roads, commuting, travel, power supply and nationwide delivery.

Parents who expect young children to look after themselves until they come home from work would now be accused of neglect.

Power cuts mean no heating, no communication and often no means of cooking. Candles? Well if you have one now it’s expensive and its job is to emit sweet scent, not light a room.

The more sophisticated, centralised and technological life becomes, the more vulnerable we are to disruption. And as climate change makes the weather more unpredictable, we need more, not fewer, measures in place in Scotland to cope with the risks from desperately cold weather.

The year 2010 was bad, but 2018 is a warning to the Scottish Government to gear up to protect the snowflake generations from more winter disasters.