This Side of the Pond – Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman – Dec. 6

By Sarah Pridgeon

If you see the wheels of a small, white car spinning from the middle of a snowdrift this winter, please do not be alarmed. It is nothing more worrying than the attempts of an Englishwoman to master the art of snow driving – which, thus far, is not going terribly well.
Partly because we’re an island and mostly because we don’t like to make a fuss, England has been granted a miniscule yearly snow ration compared to that of Wyoming. We seldom see more than a couple of inches during any given winter, especially in the coastal regions from whence I hail.
Even so, not a lot of driving goes on once the first flake has fallen. A quarter of an inch of tentative ground cover and the country shuts down in terror, rightly convinced that the end is nigh.
Those poor souls already on the roads come to a terrified standstill, huddled together in a pointless gridlock while they wait for it all to melt. The rest of us shrug our shoulders and assume we won’t be going to work until British Rail has successfully used its hairdryer to defrost the trains.
It’s not entirely our fault; our transport systems are not built to welcome bad weather, because we so seldom experience it. The most that English tarmac can cope with is the usual bit of drizzle, which makes snowfall a panic-worthy situation.
Coming from a country so willing to roll over and surrender to the elements, I was not prepared for the realities of snow travel… and this is my first winter with a driver’s license.
I’d already (mostly) mastered driving on the incorrect side of the road and my mental encyclopedia had just about accepted all the new markings and signs I must navigate. I was beginning to feel quite pleased with myself, until winter drew in.
After the exploits of this first snow week, however, I have profound respect for every Wyoming resident in possession of a vehicle – I’m still wondering how you make it look so easy. I had no idea what perils I’d be facing because everyone around me is so skilled at avoiding them.
For example, I hope I’m right in thinking ‘Stop’ signs are more of a suggestion in the winter months. Thanks to several deposits of tightly packed ice, I have essentially sailed to town over the past few days and am limiting my self-congratulation to the many incidents of tree destruction that I’ve narrowly avoided.
The problem is that I’m not sure whether my version of common sense has any relevance in this situation. Is it a good idea to find bare road with one tire when the other is on the ice, or does that just seem like the sensible thing to do when it’s actually inviting doom?
Do I turn the wheel into a slide if I’m not yet spinning in circles, or will that lead to cursing from the bottom of a ditch? Should I be traveling at a snail’s pace, or will that just bring the whole enterprise to a standstill?
I know the answer to the last question, as it happens. During my first attempt at snow navigation, I crawled towards our driveway at half a mile per hour – and you can imagine exactly what happened.
Try as I might, I couldn’t move forwards, and reverse didn’t seem like a good idea. And so I sat there, bewildered, as I slid glacially towards the road and the steep incline glaring from the darkness behind it.
As my poor, long-suffering husband trudged down the driveway in his slippers, I stared meaningfully at the windscreen, clenching in anticipation of my backwards demise. Husband arrived, took the wheel and puttered calmly over the grate and up the road with neither incident nor pause.
I’m forced to accept that such a feat is possible, but I’m still not sure how to replicate it – when I took his advice the next day and added a little more speed, my tracks resembled those of a snake, but without the grace. It’s a wonder the fence is intact.
I refuse to be bested by a temperamental Pontiac. However, if you make a habit of using the roadways during the winter, I wouldn’t relax quite yet: should you see a white car wiggling its way towards you up the canyon, the best advice I can offer is to fling yourself over the embankment to safety.