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Sun, swimming, and a snow shovel - John C. Kirk

Oct. 2nd, 2011

10:17 pm - Sun, swimming, and a snow shovel

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I cycled over to Tooting Bec Lido today for a swim. Normally they close to the public at the end of September, but they extended that by a couple of days because we've had such warm weather recently. I haven't been along for a while, but that was the busiest I've ever seen it. The water was about 17°C, and I gasped a bit when I first got in, but it only took me a few seconds to adjust. Since I'm a member, I can keep swimming through the winter, and hopefully this means that I haven't left it too late to acclimatise. The Outdoor Swimming Society have their annual December Dip on Sat 3rd December (at Parliament Hill Lido), and if anyone would like to join me there then let me know. I've done that for the last two years without any prior preparation, and it's certainly an experience.

While I'm planning ahead, I've just bought a snow shovel. Obviously I don't need it at the moment, but last year I found that all the shops had sold out when I wanted to buy one so I think it makes sense to buy one in advance; even if you can't find one in stock, a few weeks' delay won't really matter.

Someone recently asked me why I need a snow shovel: wouldn't a normal one do? The key difference seems to be the "blade", i.e. the bit you dig with. In a snow shovel, this is made of plastic (rather than metal) and it's about twice the width. That makes the snow shovel lighter, but it wouldn't be strong enough to dig a hole through earth. You could use a normal shovel for snow, but it will take more effort: you'll need to do twice as much shovelling, and you'll be lifting more weight each time. Since I don't have a garden, I don't need an ordinary shovel, so a snow shovel makes more sense. However, if you already have an ordinary shovel then you may be fine with that.

I also looked at folding snow shovels, e.g. this one, since they would take up less space. However, even unfolded they have a very short handle, so I assume that you'd need to bend down a lot to clear the snow out of the way. I think they make sense if you want to store a shovel in your car to dig yourself out of a snowdrift, but they're not the best choice for clearing a path.

When we've had snowfall in previous years, the council vehicles have gone around gritting the roads, but they don't clear the pavements. That's fair enough, because they'd presumably have to charge extra council tax to pay staff for that, so I think it's better for people to take responsibility for their own stretch of pavement. According to the BBC, this is actually a legal requirement in some other countries.Some people won't be able to do that (e.g. the elderly or disabled) but in that case neighbours may be able to help. I get the impression that shovelling other people's snow is a common way for American kids to earn a bit of extra money, which sounds like a good idea.

I live above a shop, so my plan is to clear the stretch under my flat, which is roughly half the length of their shop. Hopefully this will inspire my neighbours to follow suit. I wasn't sure what to do with the snow after I've shovelled it (since I don't want to put it on the road), but it should be feasible to pile snow up on the edge of the pavement and still have enough space to walk. Based on susannahf's advice, I'll need to put down grit immediately after shovelling; hopefully table salt should do the job.

The main drawback to this plan is the risk of litigation. However, I don't actually think this is a problem: it's just a myth spread by journalists. For instance, in January 2010 the Daily Mail wrote It's snow joke - elf 'n' safety stops us clearing the way, and The Sun wrote Clearing ice? You'll get sued. On the other hand, Directgov says "There's no law stopping you from clearing snow and ice on the pavement outside your home or from public spaces. It's unlikely you'll be sued or held legally responsible for any injuries on the path if you have cleared it carefully." There's also a wonderful letter from an MP which deals with this issue. I particularly like the closing paragraph: "There is no need for a change in the law. What we need instead is a change in the quality of the people who write and edit newspapers."
Edit: (18-Jan-2013) The DirectGov website has been superceded by the Gov.uk website, but that has the same advice about clearing paths.

We may not get any snow this year, but I think it's a safe bet that I'll need to deal with it sooner or later, so now I'm prepared.