Sliding into a New Year
As the last few days of 2009 passed by, the icy reach of winter extended across the country forcing everyone indoors around the fire. People here are accustomed to a relatively mild Christmas where it almost never snows. The worst of the weather is usually saved up for around February and March. The bitter cold this year was making the usual back and forth of visiting friends and family a lot more difficult. There was plenty of time to sit inside and contemplate the fact that the country is about as well prepared for extreme weather as it is for a failing economy. What happens when extreme weather conditions occur in Ireland? Chaos ensues. The kind of weather that some countries wouldn’t bat an eyelid at, makes our country come to a grinding halt due to the lack of preparation by most local authorities to deal with the unexpected.
New Year’s Eve was upon us already, just as I was feeling almost back to normal. Despite plans of a quiet night in, we ended up venturing out to the other side of the city for an impromptu house party that turned out rather well. Snow isn’t that rare in Ireland, but a blanket of snow that actually sticks persistently to the ground for long is. The sight of snow falling that evening initially brought much delight and a brief flurry of activity as snowballs whizzed through the air outside the houses. Finishing as suddenly as it had started, the snow left a pristine carpet over the city and the skies were still and quiet as we rang the new year in. Much later in the night we set out for home with three unfortunate passengers crammed into the back seat. No sooner had we exited the pleasantly snow-filled roads of the estate than it became clear that this was going to be a nightmare journey of epic proportions for anyone not accustomed to driving on icy roads. Unfortunately for me, that would be an accurate description of my driving experience. This was a brutal way to learn.
The snow on the roads had already flattened out and hardened into sheets of ice. Lone cars crawled along in the darkness, hugging the centre of the road. Junctions were minefields as cars skidded their way across, usually not managing to stop for red lights. Those that managed to halt and wait patiently for the green light were only just getting moving again on the slippery surface as green turned back to red. Inching along, there were a couple of near misses with the pavement as red lights loomed ahead and the response of the car to tapping the brakes, was to drunkenly slide left. Moisture collected on the inside of the windscreen and even with the heat blasting the windscreen, the temperature difference caused endless layers of condensation that obscured the view ahead. Being petrified of losing grip on the roads left me in a constant state of being high on adrenalin, which did at least ensure there’d be no danger of falling asleep at the wheel.
Having successfully deposited one passenger at the side of the road somewhere in the general location of where they were going, an executive decision was made not to attempt more icy country roads than was absolutely necessary. The remaining two passengers would have to stay the night (if we made it home ourselves). An extra detour onto the back roads towards the coast would have been begging for disaster to strike. I kept to low gears just to avoid the temptation of speeding up too much as the car skidded along to the next main road without incident. Peering through the bottom of the fogged up windscreen revealed mayhem at roundabouts as cars blocked lanes after making the fatal mistake of slowing too much on slick rivers of ice. It was beginning to seem like it would take a miracle to make it through the never-ending journey unscathed. Drivers gestured frantically out their windows that traffic should try and overtake them. Engines roared while wheels span madly and the cars slowly slid backwards instead of forwards. It was a case of picking your moment and praying that nothing would force you to stop again until you had cleared the worst patches. Somehow we made it through without calamity.
On the more remote roads the ice turned to noisy layers of slush. A large train of cars grew behind us as we slowly followed the dimly lit roads. We crossed over a deserted motorway that had been closed due to the ice. Just as well we hadn’t opted for that route home. The roads were now relatively clear, no doubt due to it being almost 4am. The last few major obstacles were on roads heading into the housing estate where the snow and ice had barely been disturbed. It was an effort not to break concentration prematurely before the car was safely pulled into the driveway. With a sigh of relief I switched off the engine with no desire to repeat the experience again. We had somehow survived the mayhem and arrived home in one piece.