The Plastic Hippo

January 21, 2013

Invisible men

Image via Walsall Council

Image via Walsall Council

You can`t beat a good ghost story. Months beyond Halloween, it is deliciously chilling to know that spectres still haunt the streets of Walsall that are beyond the imaginations of Sheridan Le Fanu or even Edgar Allan Poe. The terrifying ghouls are invisible Walsall snow spirits.

To everyone`s great surprise, snow fell in winter on a small island just off continental northern Europe. Oh the humanity as car drivers trembling with fear at the covering of white ectoplasm used first gear and a floored accelerator in the hope of escaping the horror by spinning their wheels to polish snow into ice. If the “right foot make car go” boneheads cannot master driving in snow, what hope for them next week when the pot holes of Hell have opened up again. It is likely that the boy and girl racers lacking in the competence to drive to the conditions are the ones complaining of an absence of rock salt treatment to the highways and byways. Others, however, report experiencing ghostly visitations from huge yellow monsters spewing out grit in some malevolent attempt to keep the roads open. We might never be able to explain the presence of the creatures of the night on “the other side”. Mwuhahahaha…

Okay, Walsall does not boast of the best track record for gritting when the snow descends and the ice forms but, the ghost busters claiming that the roads received no grit seem to be as knowledgeable of physics as they are adept at driving in the white stuff. It seems that the amiable snow rider Brownhills Bob pointed out on the dreadful Facebook that rock salt was not magic and would probably not slaughter household pets. The reason that I don`t “do” Facebook is because it is difficult enough to cope with idiots on Twitter and apparently Bob`s sensible comments were removed from idiotville Facebook because of complaints by some very stupid people. The truth is out there, but some folk still believe in ghosts.

Speaking of inconsequential and transparent entities, Walsall`s education provider of choice played yet another blinder over the weekend of inclement weather. Serco, wrapped in bandages and wearing shades after yet another kicking for being completely useless, took a POETS day on Friday and have been invisible ever since. On Sunday night, neighbouring local authorities were populating lists on websites and tweeting the latest news of school closures for Monday morning. Solihull declared a blanket closure early on and the others had live Twitter feeds. The Birmingham disruption feed was particularly impressive, updating four or five times a minute. In Walsall, the Serco page was last updated just after lunch on Friday. It was left to parents to relay news of closures received by text from individual schools, a noble but futile effort from whoever pulled the short straw to input information into the Walsall Council Twitter stream and some local hacks, notably Helen Draycott at the usually woeful Advertiser, who tried to co-ordinate the scale of the closures. Later, the BBC gave a comprehensive guide to school closures across the region with the sad omission of information regarding Walsall schools. They linked to the Serco page last updated just after lunch on Friday.

Idiots revving their engines as they slide backwards down a hill might not consider school closures as important as their right to drive faster than anybody else, but for parents, news of a drastically rearranged day is best received a little time before walking out of the door to go to work. The decision to close or not open a school is, quite rightly, a decision for head teachers who invariably have the interests and safety of children as the only consideration. The idiots claiming that schools close in bad weather in order for teachers to enjoy a day off are just wasting petrol as they spin towards a deserved lamp post or tree screaming “it`s elf n safety gorn maaad” followed by “oh, grit”.

Serco, unsurprisingly, have some previous form in getting bad weather badly wrong. A few years back, I received a call from the head teacher at a school one of my urchins then attended, asking about the weather. I had done some volunteer work with Year 6 involving meteorology and the forecast was predicting lots and lots of snow. I took a look at the Met Office satellite imagery and it was grim for the following morning. By three o`clock I was at the school and advising closure for the following day. Senior staff agreed and the teachers were told to inform parents collecting their children. At three-twenty, ten minutes before the end of the school day, a Fax (remember them?) came in from Serco ordering all schools to remain open regardless of weather conditions. The Fax said that no school days will be allowed to be lost as this would have a detrimental effect on the Serco contract with Walsall. Any school ignoring this directive will be considered as being placed in special measures. The next morning, with every school in Walsall closed, I called Serco for clarification. The answer machine told me that due to bad weather, no officer was available to take my call. Spooky.

As they leave town with the money in the boot giving extra rear wheel traction, it is worth remembering that Serco enjoyed the support of Walsall council cabinet and the increasingly ridiculous councillor Rachel Andrew. Cabinet have awarded themselves an increased allowance on the basis of parity with other local authorities. Shame they cannot match the quality of accurate information. Sadly, council workers heroically trying to do good things in schools and on social media, and those transferred under some very dubious PFI contracts to the likes of Serco and Tarmac are suffering a pay freeze and the threat of redundancy. Is that sound you hear Ernie`s ghostly gold tops a`rattling in the crate or Scoobie Doo entering a haunted mansion? No, it is the ghost gritters in the sky and a teacher in second gear keeping the revs down.

The villains could have got away with it if it had not been for those pesky kids.



  1. I had to take kids back home last night … a hairy experience, I will say. Had I known there were no schools open (Thanks Serco for the non-information), I would have said for them to stay another night with me. Still, safely driven from Highgate to Leamore, I struggled back and saw an amazing site. Gritter lorries ARE about! And this one had a snow-plough.

    Agreed. Walsall have a terrible track record of gritting. I’ve not left the borough this year but in the past, I’ve travelled through Birmingham, Dudley and Sandwell in the snow. You can always tell when you reach Walsall … it’s when the slalom run begins.

    Comment by Antony N Britt — January 21, 2013 @ 9:57 am | Reply

  2. I think the situation in Walsall is very similar to the rest of West Midlands. The problem is really, do we get enough snow to warrant the heavy investment that would keep everything running running like clockwork. The answer is problably not. I could count on one hand the amount of times i have had to clean the snow off my driveway in the last ten years. I am not going to invest in a heavy snow blower, and i suspect Walsall council are probably using the same logic. 🙂

    Comment by Walsall Resident — February 14, 2013 @ 3:23 am | Reply

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