Tag: UK

I am Angry.

Anyone heard about the London Protests?

No, me neither.

Thanks to the seven hour time difference, Carl and I were able to watch the whole of the UK election last week in real time – the first time we’ve managed it without falling asleep, and I now have a new respect for the BBC teams who had to make sensible sounding comments on the whole thing all night and right round until about 7am Friday morning. I am severely sleep deprived too, so the thought did occur that I might be hallucinating the results, or maybe it was part of a nightmare… but no. The Tories “won” and actually achieved a majority government.

That is to say, they achieved a majority under the First Past The Post system. In actuality, they got about 37% of the vote, meaning nearly 2/3rds of the voting populace voted against them – a figure that corresponds far more closely with all the polls that were conducted in the preceding six months or so. The LibDems got LibDemolished, and Labour pretty much crashed and burned as well, though no so dramatically. The same system unfortunately left the Greens (1.1 million votes) with only 1 MP, the Scottish National Party (1.5 million votes) inexplicably with 56 MPs and (fortunately) UKIP with 3.3 million votes and one lone MP. Whatever your views, the fact that this system is completely inadequate should be painfully obvious. Sadly, the same thing happens in every election… I’m sure I was saying the same thing 5 years ago.

So, the Tories have been officially in power on their own (I mean, without being propped up by the spineless LibDems in coalition) for just five days. In that time, they have announced that the new Justice Minister, Michael Gove (who has no experience whatsoever in Law) wants to scrap the Human Rights Act, backed by his colleague Dominic Raab, who thinks feminists are “obnoxious bigots”. Add to this, making Caroline Dinenage, who voted against gay marriage, the Equalities Minister, and a new Minister for the Disabled who seems to be against any sort of disability or welfare benefits (Justin Tomlinson) and you have a highly toxic cabinet already. Then there’s this new, suspicious and badly thought-out “anti-radicalisation” legislation – which from my psuedo-Canadian perspective now sounds a lot like the loathsome C-51 bill that Harper has just pushed through and that Trudeau voted for (ooh look, Liberals propping up Tories! Where have we seen that before?) I wrote about the Tory’s inappropriate cabinet appointments back in Sept 2012 – HERE – but I actually think this new cabinet is actually worse. All this in FIVE DAYS. What are the next five YEARS going to be like?

Leaving aside the failings of First Past The Post for a minute, I still can’t really comprehend how these idiots actually gained any votes at all. Who would intentionally vote for further cuts to public services and more austerity measures? Who would vote for a party promising FEWER Human and civil rights? Yet some people clearly did. I get that the point of an anonymous vote and secret ballot is that you don’t have to tell people who you’re voting for, and if people really were (rightfully) ashamed of voting Tory, they probably could have just told the pollsters one thing then voted for the opposite.

But then I read stories like this: 200,000 ballot papers stolen. And you do wonder…. Then there were the London Protests over the weekend, which resulted in… Total Media Silence. NOTHING at all reported on BBC or Channel 4, and the hashtag #ToriesOutNow seemingly removed from Twitters’ ‘Trending Topics’ list. Here’s a few pics rescued from Twitter anyway:

Does that look like a response to a respected, wanted government who have just won a landslide majority?

I admit, I didn’t actually use my vote – we are still elligible to vote in the UK, but doing so is amazingly complicated and, as demonstrated by the FPTP system, would have been a wasted vote anyway. So I guess I can’t complain. I am angry though, and I am scared for the people still stuck there. Two friends have already asked if I will employ them as baristas and allow them to emigrate over here…. I did point out that we are governed by Tories too, (the OxyMorons – “progressive conservatives?! WTF?) but so far, they seem slightly less dangerous and destructive in comparison. I don’t believe that our dose of democracy should be limited to one X on a piece of paper every five years, especially if that X gets lost in a FPTP system. Democracy is far more than that – and it includes the right to protest, so good on those who took to the streets in London! I’m just sorry that I only caught on to it after the event and only via Twitter!!

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It’s too peopley out there!

Apparently turning this tablet on to “airplane mode” also turns off the bluetooth keyboard… argh! First world problems…
We are on a plane returning home via Toronto, from Heathrow. I still like saying Home, from Heathrow. Gone are the days when landing in London signified the end of a trip! The Canadian adventure continues. However, I am still sad to be returning home, because we have had a wonderful two weeks with The Parents and rushing around all over the UK trying to catch up with friends and more distant relatives. Worse, it’s New Year’s Eve and British Midnight will happen for us in mid-air between Toronto and Regina during our internal flight tonight. Canadian New Year will happen at what we’ll think is 6am tomorrow morning. I doubt we’ll be in a fit state to celebrate either!image
Seeing Granny and Grandad for Christmas was lovely, and it was nice to see all the new weird constructions and eccentricities in their garden, including the newly finished, 24ft high grain elevator (sans grain). My cousin Ol, good friend Hannah and Honourary Auntie Cathy all visited the weekend before Christmas and it was a lot of fun having a large houseful. Ol has already been commissioned to design them a suspension bridge to join the bank to the top of the grain elevator tower, as you do. Hannah was enchanted with everything in the strange parental abode, from the gargoyle that looks like Ol, to the politically correct snowman on the tree to, for some reason, Mum’s 30 year old dinner plates. The mind boggles. It was very, very noisy! Hannah insisted we go out for a walk to find a stone circle on the top of a hill. Whereas I will admit it wasn’t actually raining and wasn’t nearly as cold as Saskatchewan, it was wet and muddy and blowing a gale and a thoroughly unpleasant experience for everyone involved except perhaps Hannah, and Miranda who complained and wanted to be carried until she found Interesting sheep poo.

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Hill walking. Not my thing. At all.

We really trekked all over the place too. The first trip was to Redcar, via Sheffield to deposit Ol. Poor Carl had to quickly relearn not only the route through the twisty little lanes out of the hills where The Parents live, but also how to drive on the left, change gear, negotiate roundabouts and do hill-starts, none of which are necessary skills for Prairie driving. He got the hang of it again fairly quickly, but didn’t seem like he enjoyed the experience. Sheffield was quite hellish though, a lot of pre-Christmas traffic and all the roundabouts have changed again, or so it felt. It took us over an hour to get in to the city, and a further 30 mins to escape again. We did get to meet Ol’s new house mate though. (“What’s she like?” “She’s vegan.” “Oh.”)
DSCF9204We collected Grem and new girlfriend in Richmond a good deal later than planned. Next stop was Redcar: featuring the local speciality, the Lemontop icecream, stunning views of the offshore windfarm, nuclear power plant and steelworks, a desolate stretch of beach on the north east coast, a 99p store (now closed down)a usefully located Wetherspoons, and most importantly, home to the wonderfully welcoming Chapmen clan. The girls are now much bigger and more Northern sounding (Miri, with her neo-Canadian accent, amusingly stated that Ione “sounds silly”, in fact, “everything is silly here” according to her!) The kids stayed with poor Rachel who had to endure watching Frozen AGAIN, while we headed to the Wetherspoons to meet as many Northerners as we could find. We got 8 together eventually, and it was great to see everyone again after nearly 3 years. We’re just sorry it was such a short evening!
On the way back, we stopped near Pontefract to meet Carl’s family, none of whom I’d never met, and most Carl hadn’t seen in 30-odd years either. They all thought Miranda was wonderful, and took great interest in Carl’s now pretty extensive family tree he’d been researchjng. It is very very wide. He has a LOT of cousins. Ah, the joys of Facebook and Ancestry.com. Perfect for emigrants!
After a day to recover, we headed to Birmingham to meet Julie and deliver her Canadian ex-pat care package of Goldfish crackers and strawberry Twizzlers. Mercifully, we opted to take the train rather than drive, because the city was packed with people. Miri was rather excited about her first memorable train ride, too. In true Christmas spirit, we went skating! It was an artificial rink obviously and extortionately expensive particularly when we’re used to Regina’s lovely free one with free skate hire back home. It did have large plastic penguins that you pushed around that helped Miri stay upright, and Birmingham being a very multicultural city, we also got to witness a woman on skates pushing a penguin round, while wearing a full burka. Not something you see too often in Regina!!
Christmas itself involved the usual festive gluttony and cheeriness and manymanymany presents were received!

Christmas Eve pile of presies
Christmas Eve pile of presies

(thank you, all!). The problem is, we received a greater volume than we gave out, and so we had to borrow a suitcase off the parents and pay an extra baggage fee to get them all home! Unpacking them will be good, because I’m sure Miranda got so many she didn’t even see some of them.
As soon as we’d recovered from the festive food comas, Mum drove us all down to see my nan and family in Sussex, via a short stop at my aunts on route. There were very long traffic jams…  Nan couldn’t put all of us up at her house, so Carl, Miri and I stayed at a Premier Inn down town. Comfy enough, but with an oddly smelly hallway. Also, if one of us left the room with the key, the others were left sitting in the dark, as you needed the key card to keep the lights on! Bizarre. On Sunday we visited my step gran, my uncle and then another aunt fed us in the evening. Miranda charmed her honourary great uncle and big cousin Paul into playing Hungry Hippos all evening which was fun (from a safe distance!). After that, we took a double decker bus into Brighton (another touristy thing that got Miri very excited!) and went round the Sealife centre there which she thoroughly enjoyed. She even got to meet Kwazii the Octonaut! (If you don’t know what that means, I shall spare you the explanation!). Brighton was also very busy and we struggled to find somewhere to sit and eat cos everywhere was full up! Best of all though, I got to meet up with Mice, a friend from school, who I haven’t seen for over 7 years. She’s doing well, still recognisibly Mice, and we’re hoping it won’t be another seven years before the next get together.
Finally, on our last day we went up to London on an eyewateringly expensive, horribly early train, to take Miranda to the Natural History Museum and the Science museum in South Kensington. The museums are both free, but it being school holidays, the queue was round the block even though we’d arrived before the place had even opened! There were more queues inside to get into the dinosaur exhibition, so we may well be the only tourists in history to tour the museum with a child and not see a single dinosaur. Instead, Miri LOVED the volcano section and had two goes on the earthquake simulator. I guess this is what happens with a geologist for a father.

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Dad’s family

Speaking of geologists, we’d arranged to meet Carl’s friend Paul (also an earth scientist) that afternoon, along with two more of Carl’s cousins. Unfortunately, meeting them involved navigating the tube system to Covent Garden with an extremely overtired Miranda in tow. The tubes were PACKED. We were wedged in so tight, Miri sat on my foot clinging on to my leg to avoid being trampled. I’m only glad we didn’t have to attempt that with all our luggage, or worse, a pushchair still! Miranda, unsurprisingly, slept through the entire afternoon in a pub with the others, woke up once, glared at Tanya, ate a slice of sausage then went back to sleep, drooling quitely on to my knee. Two of the tube lines were closed on the way home, so we missed the train back to Newhaven. Instead, we got on one to Lewes intending to change, but then missed the connecting train as well. Argh. By this time, I was wiped out, so we had to mournfully phone Dad and get them to come rescue us. They picked us up quicker than the train could have done anyway, and we went back to my aunt’s house juuuust in time for sticky sweet Pavlova. Yum. Miri had woken up again by this point and “entertained” my cousin and the rest of the family, very loudly for another few hours until we forced her back to the hotel to bed…

So, right now we need a holiday to get over the holiday again, but sadly I have to work on Friday. Uuurgh. Of course, we sought out as many friends and family as we could over these two weeks, (most would never have forgiven us if we hadn’t!) But the whole trip felt Uncomfortably Peopley. I love my People, but it’s amazing how quickly you get used to the relatively sparse population density in Canada.  Getting stuck in 3-lane traffic jams heading south, driving in hopeless circles round sheffield, waiting for tables in greasy fish n chip shops in Brighton, queuing and playing sardines on the London underground all came as rather unwelcome culture shock having got so used to small-town-big-space Saskatchewan. We had a total of two sunny days the whole trip, the rext of the time it was wet and miserable or extremely windy and grey, and there was no snow for Christmas either…. I miss the parents and my friends and family, i miss being able to take Miri into cheap pubs, and I miss Cornish pasties and pork pies, but I really do not miss England it seems. We are still far better off where we are!

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A funeral, a death threat and a “coronation”

Today I received another lovely letter from the very daft Rumble, and I shall quote from it to justify the title of this post:

“… I realise…that the woman herself has died since I started this letter. So what’s the coverage been like in the Canadian newspapers? Please send us all a blog post about how her life and death were represented in the media for Canadians!! Did they care? Tell me they’re not like the American worshippers?!”

She speaks of course, of Margaret Thatcher.

Her death was definitely reported over here, in fact, because of the time difference,  I was actually woken up by the great news on my radio alarm at 7am. CBC Radio 1 did their bit to remain as unbiased as possible but to their credit, they did mention the fact that she wasn’t going to be universally mourned, shall we say. At the very least, the coverage negated the need for me to check http://www.isthatcherdeadyet.co.uk/ . But I still did, because it is funny.

So, for anyone else who’s interested in the official Canadian reaction, here’s the main newspaper articles:

From the (right wing) Globe and Mail:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/margaret-thatcher-dies-from-stroke-at-age-87/article10840903/

Of course, the Globe and Mail had quite a bit to say about her, but there was the obligatory Daily Mail-esque piece:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/editorials/the-grotesque-attacks-on-the-late-margaret-thatcher/article11281802/

Here’s the Leader Post:

http://www.leaderpost.com/news/Exspokesman+Former+British+Prime+Minister+Margaret+Thatcher+dead/8210436/story.html

And here’s CBC:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2013/04/08/wrd-margaret-thatcher-death-reaction.html

By far the most telling, in my opinion, was this from our local Talk Radio website, as it details the reaction on social media:

http://cjme.com/story/best-web-reaction-margaret-thatchers-death/104216

(I would be more worried by the Harry Styles fans’ comments, but then, I have no idea who Harry Styles is.) I would say though, that it was not the “best of the web” because that article stayed safely away from the most negative reactions (like my own!) Here’s some of my favourites!

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This circulated as “the Gif you’ve all been waiting for”

I did tweet “Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead” as soon as I could get to the computer on 8th April, but sooooo many people had beaten me to it already. I was far from being a lone dissenter, even here in Canada. My own tweets were relatively tame in comparison with some of the bile, biting sarcasm and/or righteous indignation that took up most of my stream that day. What took me by surprise was the intense negative reaction that my one little Ding Dong provoked from a few (a small few) Canadian tweeps.

@lady_spidey 8 Apr@doctorcoffee Wow. Classy. You should be ashamed. #somepeopleskids

So, I should be ashamed for singing a song from The Wizard of Oz, yet the woman who destroyed an entire nation is somehow sanctified in death and hence, untouchable… Interesting use of the word “Classy” too – would that be in reference to Thatcher’s reign over a class war?

Even better:

@boxcoach_dan: @LeighPatrick @doctorcoffee Why do the worst of the worst always end up here? Hope she gets ass cancer & dies quickly.”

A balanced retort if ever I saw one. OK, so I am celebrating the fact that an 87 year old woman died. She was hardly going to last forever, was she? But no, apparently being pleased that she finally karked it is Wrong and “grotesque” and shameful, but publicly wishing that an alive, complete stranger gets cancer and dies is a perfectly acceptable. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Tories… Ick.

Fortunately, those were the only negative comments I got. Others were actually curious:

Why does everyone hate Margaret Thatcher? I was under the impression she was a nice PM? Perhaps I am horribly wrong.

We informed her she was indeed horribly wrong. And why. With stats. And bulletpoints. And a 43-reason list. And quotations.

O.O  Weeeeelp, I am quite wrong I see.  I really had no idea about this lady.

There is obviously a degree of disconnect between the British view of Thatcher (which is highly divided anyway, but based on experience) and the image presented in overseas media and ‘history’ classes! A Canadian friend pointed out that Thatcher was as divisive as former Prime Minister Trudeau Senior, even though he was a Liberal, and from then on, we got sidetracked because, as PM Harper unctuously sped to London for Thatcher’s funeral, this happened:

Liberal Party reboots, fetches necessary updates, installs Trudeau 2.0
Liberal Party reboots, fetches necessary updates,
installs Trudeau 2.0

So now I have to get to grips with Canadian politics, as even though the election is two years away, Conservative/Harper attack ads began against Justin Trudeau just a few hours after he took office.  I won’t be able to vote then anyway, but I do need to know who I should support! Lets hope Canada never gets a Thatcher!

InCoWriMo

At the very end of January, I (attempted to) resubmit my PhD thesis to Sheffield uni, having attacked all the revisions. This was an extremely complicated process, as it relied on file-sharing with a friend still at the Uni the other side of the Atlantic, persuading her, out of the kindness of her heart, to print 650 pages of the thing and get it bound for me, and meanwhile here in Canada, I had to print off a few important documents, sign declarations, then physically post my signature to England, along with a digital copy of the thesis on CD, then my poor supervisor has to collate the whole thing, sign his part of the forms, then distribute three copies to two examiners and the graduate research office, all without anyone involved actually being able to talk to each other!

So, as far as I was concerned, that was the last major hurdle. I feel like there is nothing more I can do to the bloody thing now. It is done with! And so, coincidentally, is Project B, but more on that in a sec.

This has of course left me a Gaping Hole in my evenings. I don’t actually like not having any projects or deadlines looming!

So it was by happy coincidence that I came across InCoWriMo! A total stranger’s post on Google+ led me to the page of International Correspondence Writing Month. The same principle as National Novel Writing Month – as in, inflicting a deadline and a structure to motivate you into writing something. In this case, it is writing 28 letters, one for every day in February. The emphasis is on handwriting though, and trying revive the dying art of writing real letters and sending them by snail mail.

Sadly, I only found out about this on 7th Feb so I had a week’s worth of letters to catch up on already, but I am making progress and I am now only two letters behind. The main difference between handwriting letters and sending them abroad, and emailing people or commenting on their status updates, is that digital/virtual correspondence is Free. Even if I only send these prepaid postcards to friends in the UK, twenty-eight of them are going to cost me in excess of $60. So, I am aiming to write 28 letters, but some of them may not be international, and some of them may be hand delivered….

Here’s some of the ones already sent!

Yes it’s from Someecards, and it was to Rachel Chapman Millinery, but I printed it out, handwrote on the back, and posted it in a real envelope!

One goes off to DarloBikeGirl in... erm, Darlo, the other is headed towards Nicaragua. First time I've written anything in Spanish for ages!
One goes off to DarloBikeGirl in… erm, Darlo, the other is headed towards Nicaragua. First time I’ve written anything in Spanish for ages!
Ok, so maaaaaaaaybe, just maybe, I might have given in to the tackiness of Valentine's Day
Ok, so maaaaaaaaybe, just maybe, I might have given in to the tackiness of Valentine’s Day
Flag going to an American living in England. The postcard says it depicts "Canada's natural beauty" - implying the flag is the best bit?!
Flag going to an American living in England. The postcard says it depicts “Canada’s natural beauty” – implying the flag is the best bit?!
I wrote a very tongue-in-cheek love letter entirely because there is a chance of me winning stationery - guess who it's to?
I wrote a very tongue-in-cheek love letter entirely because there is a chance of me winning stationery – guess who it’s to?
2013-02-12 19.31.05
My last blog post featured Alanis Morrisette. It’s not fair to deny her the cross-eyed bear!
Much like Nanowrimo, there is nothing to say the correspondence has to be a good read. Sorry for my inane waffling, Mark
Much like Nanowrimo, there is nothing to say the correspondence has to be a good read. Sorry for my inane waffling, Mark
Recounting recent highs and lows for Caz..
Recounting recent highs and lows for Caz..

This final one was not sent by me directly, but it is written typed by me, and it is from me. This is the aforementioned Project B: my new book. And some lovely, lovely friends have already bought it off Amazon! Mark tweeted this picture of it arriving in the post. Isn’t it SHINY?? 😀

Available here: http://amzn.com/1481049313

A response! Of sorts….

A few posts back I wrote a disgusted letter to Our Glorious Leader, Mr Cameron about the total lack of support I’ve received when I really need it. A lot of you commented, so I thought I’d update you!

I got a response! Doesn’t say anything remotely useful of course, but I liked getting a letter from Downing Street, they bothered paying for a stamp, AND it was addressed to “Dr Townsend”. YAY!

The letter fobbing me off...

An open letter to Mr. Cameron

Today I was told a decision had been made on my application for Job Seekers Allowance. Apparently,  I am “not eligible” for job seekers allowance, even though I am not working at present, and I am looking for work  I was told  I can’t get income based JSA because my husband earns a few hundred pounds a year over the threshold.  I cannot get contributions-based JSA either because my Class 2 contributions from self-employment “are not included” and prior to that I was living off a tax-free university research grant since Oct 2007.

I can’t get any tax credits because I’m not working at the moment.

I can’t get any housing benefit cos we’ve got a mortgage.We would love to sell our house and move to a less economically deprived area with more opportunities, but due to the new policies of lenders demanding a deposit of at least 10%, no one can afford to buy our house. Even if we do find a buyer, we are very very close to being in negative equity now anyway.

I can’t get a job because the few jobs that are available are all minimum wage which won’t cover the costs of putting my 18-month old daughter in childcare. Even my “jobs advisor” admitted that there are few opportunities in this area at the moment. This is the grim North-East, Mr Cameron, I feel I have to remind you of this area’s existence. Life does exist outside the M25, but it is telling that there are virtually no Conservative MPs here. I am fairly confident that neither you nor your government have any idea of what life is like here.

So, apparently my husband is supposed to support himself, me, our daughter, our mortgage and all our various debts out of his (public sector) salary, AND pay tax which goes to support everyone else in that jobs centre EXCEPT his wife.

For my part, I have only ever signed on the dole for three weeks before, in the last ten years. I worked pretty much the entire time I was at university in Durham, I once worked three jobs at once on top of my MA degree, I STILL couldn’t find a good job after that so I went back to do a PhD. After that, there are now even fewer jobs than there were before i started it, so I started my own business. I worked over 50 hours a week, paid myself nothing for a year and eventually had to give it up because I could no longer live off thin air. I have a BA, an MA and a PhD. I speak another language fluently. And I have three years experience setting up and running my own business. I am NOT unemployable, nor am I lazy, stupid or a scrounger.

As the spouse of a millionairess and leader of the party which did the least badly in the last election – (I cannot give you credit for actually winning and being elected – you didn’t and you weren’t), – I have to accept that you represent me and as such, you should be able to advise me on this situation. What exactly am I supposed to do? And what else I could have done differently to make myself more eligible for help?

This is just yet another example of your government’s unthinking ineptitude, and your apparent total disregard to how your policies actually affect ordinary people. As is evident if you bother to read the rest of this blog. I have applied for a job in Canada and we are doing everything we can to move over there. I honestly loathe this country now, I do not feel I can bring my daughter up in the UK with such gross inequality, such a laughable failure for a social services system and the shame of having you and your government as our alledged representatives.

I look forward to your response.

Dull Darlo

Feeling very low at the moment. My brain refused to turn off last night for worrying about things and feeling a bit cast out – I spent the day in the cafe, and it was great to catch up with everybody and cheer on Michelle for her book signing, but at the same time I felt so sad that the place is not mine any more. It has changed so much and so fast (a sign that Jo is doing damn well I guess) that it is as if my existence there, and all my work, everything I built up, has been erased already. I know this isn’t really the case but at 3am it really upsets me.

I’ve handed in my PhD, so that is over with too. Everything is winding itself up: the cafe, university, even the year! I am really looking forward to Christmas this year, but right now I just want things to Hurry Up and Happen. This last few weeks of being eye-wateringly broke and hanging around in Darlington with even less to keep me sane than usual is slowly sapping the life out of me.

I can’t wait to get out of here

Away from dog turds, used condoms and broken glass on the pavement

Away from people who shout at you and spit and throw things just because you dress a bit different

Away from over-budget roundabouts built at the expense of cycle paths

Away from seven police call-outs in a year

Away from idiots asking your neighbours to borrow a crowbar to help them steal your bike

Away from those who help themselves to toddlers’ piggy banks

Away from selfish,short-sighted xenophobic foreign policy, austerity-for-all-but-the-rich economic mismanagement, and Call-Me-Dave CamerWrong

To where the boarded-up window and empty shop ratio isn’t so high

Where childcare costs do not exceed your monthly salary

Where is is not socially acceptable to keep a HORSE on an allotment.

Where half an inch of snow does not cause total infrastructure meltdown

Where people do not feel the need to tuck their tracksuit bottoms into their socks, even when its -20C outside

I can’t wait.