The Army had to blow up frozen river’s ice dam’

SOMETHING that reaches me whenever Britain has snow is a note from Russian friend Ludmilla, chuckling about what a two-and-eight we get in over it. A languages prof at the uni in her hometown of Krasnoyarsk, Milla spent two student years at Edinburgh an

SOMETHING that reaches me whenever Britain has snow is a note from Russian friend Ludmilla, chuckling about what a two-and-eight we get in over it.

A languages prof at the uni in her hometown of Krasnoyarsk, Milla spent two student years at Edinburgh and smiles at how everything went to pot if that fair city got snow.

"Half-an-inch of it and you'd think they'd had a metre," she laughs.

It only makes Milla smile more when I argue that if Britain had regular snow like in her part of the world, we'd be better geared to cope, rather than descending into chaos.


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Milla's letter this time included a UK national newspaper depicting Britain's recent wintry woes. Across it, penned large, is "You have snow!" Whether that's in congratulation or commiseration, she doesn't say.

Yet bad as it's been for many in UK, the snow hardly compared with what Milla is used to. We saw evidence of the travails suffered there on a visit some time ago, even though it was mid-summer.

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Ideal weather, in fact, for a leisurely boat trip along the Yenisei River which divides Siberia.

Aboard as interpreter, Milla gave us sole Brits much attention and we've stayed in touch ever since.

Separated with two teenagers, she admitted the summer holiday job was handy.

The only snow we saw then was in the far north, at the trip's turnaround point.

The jetty there was too small for our vessel and as we disembarked into longboats. A snow flurry left us leg-pulling Milla about Russia outdoing Hollywood in laying it on for us.

But the joking stopped when, once ashore, we saw how sadly the previous winter had mauled the little town.

Its inhabitants were still grimly involved in a collective clean-up that had awaited on the weather.

Winter's big freeze had so thoroughly blocked the river that the spring thaw wasn't fast enough to stop up-stream water diverting through the streets.

The Army blew up the "ice dam", but not before the river left a trail of mud and weeds all over.

We didn't see the full extent, because almost at once we came upon a doughty grandma, emptying a heavy old iron bucket down a gutter, and in no time were inspecting the mess inside that was normally her neat and tidy home.

Like all grans, her kettle was always on and real gunfire that sweet black tea she handed us.

But Madam soon declared: "No way I'm sitting drinking tea with all this to be done," and grabbed sponges, bucket and brush, and set about scrubbing the walls clean.

I got the bucket job and was emptying it for the umpteenth time when Milla found us.

"You British," she sighed on seeing Madam and grandma, without a word in common, slogging away like old mates.

Only reluctantly did Milla agree to my plea not to let grandma, or anyone else, say anything to Madam about the Yenisei mud on her beaded brow and cheek.

She sat like it through lunch, oblivious.

When she caught sight of herself in the cabin mirror, she pre-emptied any banter from me by saying: "I knew, I knew - just too hungry to go and wash it off first."

Bucket-holders don't usually qualify, but Milla's hugs were particularly warm, while a handshake from the bear of a captain had me gasping "Nyet, nyet!"

Next morning, he further acknowledged Madam's helping hand to grandma by arriving in his number ones with a bunch of roses for Madam.

Believe it or not, we get snow up here in the hill country on Tunisia's Algerian border. Nothing like hers (or yours) but snow nonetheless.

When it fell last year it brought folks flocking to see and take photos of what is a rare sight.

Latecomers were disappointed. Two days and the only snow left was high on peaks accessible solely to the eagles that live there.

Unseasonably hot sun swiftly reduced my snowman to a puddle.

Madam's one, complete with carrot hooter, lasted longer, being built in a shaded nook.

And, for the record, a north African snowball in the back of the neck is as cold and clammy as any.

Take my word for it.

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