Goodness knows what kind of weather you’ll be having by the time you read this. Floods? Heatwave? Tornado? A new Ice Age? They’ve all been predicted in the past week by the Daily Express.
My murky mild winter got a cold blast the other weekend with a return Saturday-night visit to Bucharest. I fancied a January jaunt for two reasons. I wanted to experience proper wintry weather in a place that’s used to it. And I had hopes of being met off the plane by the Romanian Keith Vaz.
Excitingly, the forecast predicted a high of minus 8, which in the wind would feel like minus 20. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a chill, with the possible exception of the time I told Martha Kearney I’d killed a bee. The trip got off to a rocky start before we took off from London. Recorded safety instructions were being played out on the plane, in a language I assumed was Romanian. A woman behind me who had the air of Elaine Stritch foghorned to the purser that it wasn’t Romanian at all.
The purser explained that she’d pressed the button for Romanian but the machine decided to do something else. I quipped, “I hope they don’t have the same problem in the cockpit!” and quite rightly she punched me in the face.
In the heavy snow, strong wind and zero visibility of Bucharest airport, the pilot somehow landed us safely. I think he replaced the wheels with skis. People applauded with relief, and to keep their hands warm. We’d arrived.
In contrast to London, which has a panic attack after half a centimetre of snow, I couldn’t wait to witness winter in a city that found minus 8 balmy.
How wrong I was. A fun 50 minutes at an empty baggage carousel was eventually explained by an official. Apparently it was so cold, the cargo doors on the plane had frozen shut. We were reunited with our luggage an hour later.
My taxi driver knew no fear, calmly making repeated calls on his hand-held mobile while speeding down roads that didn’t appear to have been gritted. We slid our way into the city. It was like driving on a Christmas cake. He told me many flights had been diverted to Bulgaria and I was lucky to have made it. As he hurtled through the blizzard, with one hand on the wheel, I doubted whether I would in fact make it.
The bustling Bucharist streets I remembered from my visit last year were deserted. Surely everyone hadn’t moved to the UK, as we’d been warned? In fact all the buses were off. The trains were off. Bucharest seemed closed. I enquired at my hotel about cabs and restaurant recommendations, but the concierge laughed so hard he passed out.
In my room I located a TV weather forecast. The presenter was dressed head to toe in black, clutching a crucifix and repeatedly crossing himself. It was going to be a long night.
I ventured out again only once: to get a taxi to the airport the next morning. The roads were thick with snow. My cabbie bemoaned the lack of grit and wondered (I kid you not) why Romania couldn’t cope with snow like they do in the UK. There, he assured me, the roads would be cleared within 20 minutes and all the trains running.
Another miraculous pilot got us airborne in a blizzard and three hours later, a damp Heathrow hoved into view. Murky mildness has a lot going for it.
Eddie Mair presents PM, Mon—Fri 5pm, and iPM, Sat 5.45am, 5.00pm, both Radio 4