We (the UK) are currently in the grip of a meteorological disaster that has paralysed our entire country. Or to put it another way, a few inches of snow has fallen and everything’s consequently turned to shit. Roads are blocked, buses are cancelled, trains are delayed, and schools and businesses are closed – often because staff can’t get to them owing to the aforementioned transport difficulties.
And as always, the cry goes up from everyone (including me) that: “It wasn’t like this in the old days!” And it wasn’t: I don’t ever recall my school ever being closed because of snow. I just put on my wellies and walked through the snow, as did my teachers – and I think that’s the rub. In the old days, teachers probably lived in the same town where they taught, and walked to work.
Posh commuters aside, everyone did. Since 1995/1997 alone, the average journey distance to work has increased by 6%; think how much it must have increased since 1950, say? Back in those days, people would decide which place had the best balance of work, housing and recreation, and then live there; now we decide that the best housing for us is a point A, the best job is at point B, and the best play to have fun is at point C, and proceed to spend a good chunk of our time travelling between those points. (I’m not criticising: I’ve done exactly that myself).
The point is that when I was a small child, most people either walked to work, or had jobs that were near enough that they could – if necessary – walk to work. A school had a fighting chance of getting enough staff in – 75% say – that it could stay open. Now, it doesn’t.
So it’s not necessarily that people in the old days were better able to cope with snow than us. It might simply be that we’ve built a more geographically diffuse society that is, as a result, less able to cope with transport disruptions.