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Another downside of the bad weather

Our correspondent writes ...

snow sceneAs a northerner, perfectly used to Yorkshire winters in the foothills of the Pennines, I would hardly say the snows which started in the London outskirts on Sunday afternoon were atrocious. But the state of the roads certainly was.

We live on a very steep hill which, for some reason, seems to be one of the roads the council never grits. So it was on this occasion (and still is on the third day). But on Sunday we had to use the car to get our son to Bluewater so he could catch the National Express bus back to his university. The snow was settling fast and the roads were becoming pretty dire but we made it with only a couple of rear end slips on roundabouts.

The Bluewater shopping centre has quite an extensive bus station and it was, as usual for a Sunday evening, busy with buses from many surrounding areas. The only difference was that there were few passengers but the buses still ran and managed very well under worsening circumstances.

The National Express bus from London to Canterbury arrived ten minutes late (perfectly acceptable considering the road state) and when we had seen our son off my wife and I headed for home.

By this time the roads were getting really bad but fortunately most drivers were taking things steady, excluding the idiot in the 4x4 who was determined to overtake every other vehicle at all costs. Nevertheless, although driving conditions were not pleasant we figured they would improve when we got closer to the new PFI hospital at Darent Valley, Dartford. After all, ambulances are in and out all the time. But we found the roads in that area were the same as all the other roads - none had seen even a grain of salt!

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On Monday morning, we awoke to a good six inches of snow - this must be something to do with the global warming they keep telling us about! On switching on the TV, we discovered that London had ground to a complete standstill: no trains into London from south-eastern suburban stations; no buses, and no people apart from dog walkers. And, needless to say, no schools opening. It was this latter factor that led us later in the day to witness one major downside of such inclement weather.

It was a case of needs must. We needed some vegetables and some coffee so we decided to walk up to the local shopping parade at Northumberland Heath. As we were waiting to be served in the greengrocers' we spotted a bunch of 25 to 30 youths making their way noisily up the other side of the road. My wife commented that she found them intimidating and, to be fair, I understood what she meant. They were obviously out to cause trouble and many of the shops were closed meaning there was little support for anybody who got caught up in any resulting affray.

I don't generally let these groups of yobs intimidate me because I know they are all cowards when it comes to the crunch. Get one on his own and he will shit himself. But 30 to 1 is not good odds so the sensible thing to do is avoid any confrontation.

After leaving the shop, we walked back towards our house and, though we couldn't see the yobs, we could hear them. Five minutes later, we saw them and they were obstructing our path.

At times like this, I wish I had a baseball bat (better still a gun) but that's against the law. You have to rely on the police to protect you ... only they are never around when you need them. Quite apart from wishing I was armed, I knew deep down that the possession of any armoury less than a semi-automatic rifle would be useless. I've already had one heart attack so I would be out of breath before I had struck one blow.

But, hey, let's give these lads a chance. The courts do it all the time. After all, they might be decent boys who just like to gather in fearsome numbers to enjoy playing in the snow while their school is shut for the day.

Illusion shattered! In the distance, an elderly silver-haired gentleman was approaching from the opposite direction. He walked straight through the throng and they pelted him with snowballs. Then a few of the yobs rushed him menacingly and started pushing him around. This brave pensioner stood his ground and lunged for one of them. They scattered and ran backwards and he used the resulting gap to make his escape.

The gang closed ranks again and stared menacingly in our direction as we talked to the old guy. My wife decided we were not going to get past them without trouble and ducked into a shop doorway where she used her mobile to dial 999. Amazingly, a patrol car arrived within a minute and the yobs pelted it with snowballs. The driver pulled across the road just as sirens signalled the approach of backup teams. The feral yobs suddenly vaporised into the back alleys.

When I was a youth, you would never risk going out in groups of more than four unless it was a school outing. If you did, you would find two policemen keeping their beady eyes on you, just in case. Larger groups - the known gangs of the day - would find there was a permanent police presence in the vicinity, most of whom were armed with baseball bats. That's how they sorted out gang problems in those days.

It's all changed now, of course. A few inches of snow closes the local secondary school for the day and the inmates, some of whom should be in prison rather than school, are roaming the streets of the local neighbourhood determined to cause trouble. They haven't got brains otherwise they might realise that the elderly people they attack could possibly suffer a heart attack.

In August 2007, Ernest Norton was killed by feral yobs not two miles down the road in Erith. They stoned him while he was playing cricket with his son and he was struck on the head by a stone the size of half a brick. His heart gave out and he died. For this crime, five youths were sentenced to two years each. No wonder local gangs still think they are untouchable. But sometimes the old remedies are best. Bring back the days when real bobbies (not community support officers) went out on the streets feeling a few collars and cracking a few numbskulls!

You might also wish to read this article.


"Many men stumble across the truth ... but most manage to pick themselves up and continue as if nothing had happened."

Winston S Churchill


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