Driveways of Ice and Peril by Adam Curtis
This is a story of a struggle against nature. It is one that involves you, me, and the vast meteorological forces beyond our comprehension, or control. It is the story of one journalist’s mother, who must get to the grocer before all the good Christmas turkeys are taken, and in particular one journalist, who finds himself too apathetic, or too comfortable, to get off his chair, put on coat, and go outside. It is a story of chaos versus order, of stagnation versus progress, of a snowed-in driveway versus a clear one.
Our story begins in the 1980s, in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. Viktor Sterligov was a soldier fighting for the Soviet Union. He was involved in a brutal counter-insurgency campaign that swept the region, killing mujaheddin fighters and innocent civilians alike. Through what he witnessed, Viktor began to lose faith in his mission and the greater Soviet system, and he began to think differently about the world.
After the end of his tour he secretly emigrated to the west, settling in a quiet English neighborhood in Kent. To survive, he had to start a business, and he decided to offer a service he grew up with at his home in the Vologda Oblast. He started a snow-plow company, one that would rapidly expand over the next decade and decide the fates of hundreds of people.
He called it Viktory Plow. What started as a door-to-door, one shovel service quickly grew to a fleet of over thirty drivers and vehicles servicing much of central Kent. He did this through a total and complete commitment to his work, and by advertising a 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed Or Your Money Back policy on all the signage for his company. It was even printed on his business card and in the fliers he mailed out to people’s homes.
But this was a fantasy. As he grew in wealth and power, Viktor began to take on more clients than he could control. After a few weeks of above average snowfall, his company was crippled, leaving many stuck in their homes, their cars buried and forgotten, their dreams- shattered.
Even Viktor, for all his knowledge of district maps and efficient routing, for weather patterns and snowfall averages, even he could not comprehend the forces that conspired against him.
Since the early 20th century, the government-operated Met Office had tracked meteorological occurrences in the atmosphere through a series of advanced weather stations, radars, and satellites positioned around the globe. From their central command they could calculate and observe all the weather of the country at once, and make predictions on when it would rain, or when it would snow. This was done to better inform the public, so they would know whether they could get their cars out in the morning, or whether they would need to hire a plow.
But even from their vantage point, the meteorologists were blind to the radical changes that were about to occur. The climate was beginning to shift, and their predictions were becoming increasingly erratic, or entirely divorced from reality altogether. In the following years, there was more snow than they predicted, and in other years there was less. They too found they were prisoners to forces and systems far beyond their control, or understanding. And they realized they could not accurately tell the public whether they should hire a plow beforehand, or merely drive out to work as usual.
So they guessed. They made a prediction that was overly optimistic but which had no basis in reality, and they sent it out to every home in Britain.
One journalist happened to hear their prediction over the radio, and from it figured he was safe to not order a plow for the next day, and even if he did they sometimes don’t show up anyway. He understood the promise he made to his mother, even if he had made it on an illusion of what would really happen. Like the meteorologist’s prediction, his was an hollow and empty promise, one predicated on hope and false data. One he would regret making for the next several hours. And that man’s name, was Adam Curtis.