In/out/in/out, shake us all about…


Last year, I wrote about the general inability this country has to cope with snow.  It appears that we have learned little, if anything from the experience and our recent attack of the frozen white stuff has caused even more confusion and problems than the last.  Partly this is down to a lack of snow-related infrastructure  and contingency – unlike places where heavy snow is a frequent event, our train tracks can’t cope with ice, our cars lack winter tyres and even main roads can quickly become impassable.

Just like everywhere else, the shiny new learning centre was affected by the turn in the weather.  On the first day of snow, a number of staff left early in order not to miss the last busses and trains to their various home towns, then many of them found themselves unable to get in on either the second or third day due to the public transport system running away and whimpering in a corner somewhere.  However, a large number of staff did manage to attend, and services were able to run as normal.  But the general air of panic which seemed to sweep the country (even in areas like mine which were not so seriously affected) meant that before long, services could not continue as usual after all.  The whole university was closed at 12 noon on the Friday (the third day of snow), to reopen after the weekend, much to the surprise of the throng of library staff who were merrily getting on with our various tasks.  Still, we didn’t complain too much, to be honest – I, for one, loved the snowy walk with the dogs which the free afternoon allowed me to take.

Then the confusion set in.

An hour after we had all been told to go home, an email went out with a revised version of the earlier message, saying that the university would, after all, be open for business as usual over the weekend.  Unfortunately, by this time, we were all either heading home or were there already, and were not planning to check our work emails until the return to work on Monday.  Two hours after this, while standing in the middle of a frozen field and watching the dogs bounding through the snow, my boss phoned me to say that it was back to plan A for the weekend – I was originally due to be working Saturday morning, and would once again be required to do so.  The woman who was down to be supervising would probably not make it in, though (due to general rubbishness of trains), so not only would I be the person in charge of library operations for the morning, I’d probably have to stay all day.

The next morning, after a pleasant trek over crisp, white snow, I helped a colleague with the opening-up procedures and was then introduced to a member of the university’s senior management team, who would be responsible for making the decision on whether to stay open or not.  Having informed her that I walk to work and would probably only be hindered from travelling if we received over 10 feet of snow, I busied myself with various tasks and fielded phone calls from students who were understandably confused about whether or not we were open.  A little over 2 hours later, I got word – we were to close at 12 o’clock.  I then set about informing those few students who were in the building that they’d soon be decanted elsewhere and phoned all those who needed to know about the afternoon closure.  One colleague sighed when I told her.  “Are you sure?  That’s the fourth different message I’ve had about this afternoon.”  I was sure.

A little after 12, we persuaded the last lingering student to move on and we closed the building.  I headed back home through the continued light snowfall and used the mighty Facebook to tip the Sunday staff off that they might have to come in after all.    I’m told their tale on Sunday was much the same as mine – a long period of “will we/won’t we?” followed by a quick dash to close up and make sure the afternoon staff didn’t come in.

All in all, a rather unsettling weekend – I was working Saturday morning, then I wasn’t, then I was again, then I’d be working all day, then I went home earlier than originally expected. Most bus routes were running, the main roads were clear, and students seemed to be making it in from the most surprisingly rural areas.  But the trains were a mess, the A2 (of all roads!) gave up in despair and the city had the air of a place that was expecting the end of the world.  The end of the world prevailed for three days in a row, provoking a number of student complaints (mainly from those who had left their assignments to the last minute) and giving the staff a plentiful supply of confusion.  It couldn’t be helped, I suppose – staff and student safety was, we kept being told, the most important thing.  

Just for a little while, the world was a winter wonderland, but we didn’t know whether we were coming or going.  I think it was both at the same time, but I’m still not sure…

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