I’ve been looking at the Hexham Courant today. Not, perhaps, your regular reading nor, I must admit, mine although there was a time when I lived and worked in Northumberland that it was my weekly newspaper of choice.
Back in those days I learned what a British winter is really like. I recall with some embarrassment even now the day when, in my first winter there, I decided to go for a walk after a heavy snowfall just to enjoy the way the landscape had taken on the look of a newly-iced Christmas cake. I made it about four or five meters from my front gate before disappearing up to my armpits in a drift. When a few years later my son’s February birthdate approached I confess to being torn between wanting the road to be clear so I could drive my wife to hospital and wanting to be snowed in so I would be in the ideal place to report her being airlifted down the hill or taken to the delivery room in the cab of a snow blower.
Why, I suspect you are asking, drag all this up now so many years later? It’s simply that it has struck me that while (with the exception of the Cumbria floods) news pages and bulletins have been ripe with stories about our mild winter, that type of reporting just adds to the sense that we report what’s going on in the whole country from the perspective of a small part of it.
So, The Guardian can declare: “December temperatures in London have been warmer than July’”, while the Standard tells us: “Skaters at attractions across the capital, including Hampton Court Palace and the Natural History Museum, have had to dodge puddles as temperatures in excess of 12C wreak havoc for festive revellers.” Meanwhile this week’s ‘Courant’ reports how while the sun shone for the Greenhead village Farmers’ Market “the snow lying everywhere was a seasonal decorative bonus.” Meanwhile at Hexham Racecourse “The blizzarding snow at the weekend forced the abandonment of the inaugural charity mud run, Mission Imp-Possible.”
I’m not suggesting for a second that these events warrant wider coverage but I do wonder if as journalists we always stop to think about the bigger picture when we think we are reporting on Britain. I’m reminded of how in financial news we had to take on board that branding a rise in interest rates (remember those?) as ‘bad news’ only reflected the issue from a borrower’s point of view while for millions of savers the reverse was true. If we could take that lesson board then we can do the same when it comes to our national preoccupation with the weather.
Finally, not wanting to sour the festive season with a curmudgeonly anti-metropolitan post, I should add that back in those days up near Hadrian’s Wall, lack of understanding of weather stories stretched as far north as my Newcastle-upon-Tyne news desk. More than once I took a call along the lines of “Alston’s cut off by snow drifts. Can you go there and do a story about what it’s like?”
So, whatever, the weather – Happy Christmas.