Watching the snow from the sidelines

By Willie Johnston
BBC Scotland

Image caption,
Most routes in Dumfries and Galloway have stayed clear of the heavy snows

Ever felt like a spare part at the proverbial?

Well, that's a bit what it's been like for the past 10 days as the BBC's reporter in Dumfries and Galloway, a region of Scotland left largely untouched by the arctic weather which has brought most of the rest of the country to a standstill.

It was illustrated clearly on that satellite photograph released at the weekend by Dundee University. Note the absence of snow in the bottom-left corner. They're the counties of Wigtownshire and Kirkcudbrightshire, virtually untouched by the white stuff.

Edge your eyes further to the right, and neighbouring Dumfriesshire does appear to be snow-covered.

However, the reality is that it's not exactly the thick blanket others are smothered with - more like a thin sheet, apart from in hillier parts near the Lanarkshire and Scottish Borders boundaries where the serious stuff really starts.

Now, a reporter always wants to be where the news is and it is with more than a touch of envy that I have watched and listened to my Borders counterpart Cameron Buttle reporting from his snow-hole (snow-hell!) in Bowden, near Melrose, on the Armageddon all around. Likewise, colleagues in Edinburgh and the Lothians, Aberdeenshire, the Highlands and Glasgow.

I have heard them describing ever worsening conditions in their areas every day on our early morning news conference call and have felt distinctly left out.

On Monday evening Dumfries and Galloway did, at last, get more snow.

It fell with various degrees of intensity for two to three hours and gave most of the region either a top-up or first covering. For a while, travel was uncomfortable and most side roads still require respect. But, once again, compared with conditions elsewhere, it seems churlish to complain or suggest that what we have is actually newsworthy.

Only one primary school is closed (as I wrote) and no-one here has been stuck for hours on end on a road to nowhere.

Although I might have been.

Image caption,
The scenes witnessed in the rest of the country have not reached the south west

I had to go to Glasgow on Monday for a meeting at BBC HQ.

Luckily I saw the weather forecast on Sunday night. I knew it would be snowing heavily in the Glasgow area at morning rush hour. I knew the snow would last several hours before starting to move southwards. I knew I'd be driving down with it in the afternoon as it made its way towards Dumfries and Galloway.

I saw all that very clearly on the BBC television and online weather forecasts and I knew it was unwise to drive.

I decided instead - along with about 20 other hardy souls - to get the early morning train from Dumfries. The 0630 temperature was minus 10 on the station platform; not much warmer in the carriage!

When I got to Glasgow it was snowing heavily and I got pretty well soaked on the trudge from Central Station to Pacific Quay. At that point I was wondering if I'd made the right decision in leaving behind the warmth and personal space of my car.

A few hours later I knew for sure I had.

There was a short period of angst at Glasgow Central when it appeared that my return train had been cancelled. However, that turned into an acceptable (in the circumstances) half-hour delay and I was back home in time for a late tea. It might have been quite different.

From my meeting room I had watched the snow fall heavily over Glasgow for about five hours and the city centre was pretty much grid-locked when I embarked on my journey home.

What was happening out in the countryside outside was, of course, very, very, very much worse although the reality of that would take some time to emerge.

Had I driven, I'd have been stranded in the car park that the southbound M74 became and remained for many hours.

Now I don't want to appear smug after the event, but I would say this.

Having seen the forecast on Sunday evening it seemed very obvious to me that this kind of disruption was on the cards, so I took steps to avoid it.

Why did so many others apparently not? And - much more pertinently - why did the authorities seem to be caught so completely and hopelessly unawares?

I was astonished when I heard the transport minister Stewart Stevenson actually blame the weather forecasts (although he has retracted that now, at least to some extent).

Well, in my opinion, the forecast (yes, and I'm proud to say it was the BBC one) was pretty much spot-on. It certainly saved me from much grief and it could have saved others. Sometimes, perhaps, we just need to listen and take a little responsibility for ourselves.

On the downside, my prudence kept me away once again from where the news was actually happening and a little part of me wishes I'd been more cavalier. It could have been me reporting live from the scene on the anger and anguish of the trapped, of the war-time spirit that sustained them and about the emergency services' battle to free them.

Instead, I was at home, watching it unfold on the telly. Warm and well-fed. And another day more bored!