• 10 Mar - 16 Mar, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

I remember that in the good old days, when Karachi used to get a blast of cold weather, we used to attribute it to ‘Kotay (Quetta) ki havaa’. Well, here in Britain, we have had our own ‘Kotay ki havaa’ for the past few days.

Dubbed by the media as ‘the beast from the east’ – just the ‘beast’ for short – the biting cold winds and the driving snow it has brought on have caused havoc. With temperatures plummeting down well below zero, even to -15oC in some places – many roads have become virtually impassible and even major motorways have succumbed to the snow causing delays of up to 18 hours. In one of these delays, a baby of five days was stuck in a car with her mother. Some motorists who were low on fuel and could not afford to keep the car heating going reported that their water bottles inside their cars had frozen. Living at the bottom of a hill as I do, we have been marooned for the past five days; luckily, with the first flakes of snow coming down we had stocked ourselves with food, but then there is only so much that fridges and freezers will hold. There is hope of things normalising within two days and we have been promised much better weather very soon. There were some signs of that this morning with the thermometer recording a barmy -3oC, which was a considerable improvement from the -12oC of two days ago; but then the afternoon brought more snow and we are buried under some eight to ten centimetres of the stuff.

The tribulations that some have had to face who had been caught up in the horrific weather has also brought out some of the best civic behaviour. On a long snowbound motorway pile-up, with miles upon miles of cars stationary, a lorry driver who has transporting doughnuts for his company decided to distribute his doughnuts among all the stranded drivers, many of whom had not had anything to eat for hours. People living by the side of the affected motorways came out in bone chilling cold and winds and set up little tea and coffee stall to keep the stranded drivers warm; and people who had to turn their car engines off because they were low on fuel were invited into other cars which were better stocked and had better reserves of fuel so that they could keep warm. There are even places which lost power in this weather and one has no idea how the people who lived there have survived.

But the worst sufferers were the homeless and quite a few have died, although exact numbers are still not available. The city of Bristol in the west started a unique tradition to help the city’s homeless people by tying scarves and woollen hats on to lamp posts and railings by the road side with a tag saying “I am not lost. Take this if you’re cold or if you just like it. #KeepBristolwarm.” In some areas, entire streets were lined with warm clothing meant for such homeless people. Some may find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that homeless people should be dying out in the cold in the fifth richest country of the world, but then they should know how capitalism works. One rich businessman hired twenty rooms in a hotel for homeless people, but he was the exception rather than the rule. Twenty homeless people finding shelter is better than nothing but in a country which has 250,000 homeless, it is but a drop in the ocean.

Brexit Negotiations

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister Theresa May has been forced to come out and spell out what her government is trying to get out of the EU during the very tough Brexit negotiations that lie ahead. Substance is what has been lacking so far and it was sorely needed after the European Union came out with its own draft Brexit agreement which included a separate status for Northern Ireland which, according to the draft, would remain in the customs union and single market to ensure a frictionless border with the Republic of Ireland. The British government said such a separate status for a part of the UK would be entirely unacceptable, but it has yet to point out how that ‘frictionless’ border can be achieved if Britain stays out of both the customs union and the single market. The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who, in a flippant mood suggested that the border would be just like the border between two London boroughs, told the EU in an even more flippant mood that Britain would stop payment of the divorce settlement with the EU if the EU did not give up this idea of breaking the UK. The EU responded by saying that given the stance taken by the British government, they could not see any alternative and if the British government has one, they would very much like to hear it. Given all the red lines that Mrs May has drawn around herself, it seems that the desired ‘frictionless’ border can only be attained with the use of a magic wand, and not an ordinary one at that. If Mrs May has one, now is the time to bring it out of the closet. •