Every day in St Petersburg I take my life into my own hands. Not that St Petersburg is a particularly dangerous city, in fact in terms of petty crime, it has extremely low rates. It is not the danger presented by other people that causes me to fear for my life every morning, but rather the danger presented by myself. I am not a particularly agile person, despite being fairly close to the ground, I still seem to have an unnerving knack for moving even closer to it. I have tripped over a great many things in my life, from my own feet to a table to thin air. This means that my life is lived perpetually in a semi-dangerous state as I try to avoid giving myself a concussion, which is where the added danger of St Petersburg comes into play.
As wonderful and beautiful as the snow-laden streets and buildings of St Petersburg are, they are not exactly conducive to my attempts to remain on my two feet. I have a lot of sympathy for those in charge of clearing the streets and pavements, and for the most part, I am highly impressed by the job that they do. I mean consider how much snow we get in England, a few inches at most, and the whole country closes down. In Russia a few inches will fall in one day and keep falling for the next three months, thus it becomes a fairly impossible job to try and keep the streets clear. But the good people that attempt the job do it admirably. That said, the streets, unsurprisingly, do not remain clear and most seem to have a very convenient layer of sheet ice on them which makes walking anyway a very exciting task. In fact, I think I spend more of my time waving my arms and trying to maintain balance than I do actually walking anywhere. I have grabbed more strangers than I care to divulge, in an attempt to remain on two feet and more often than not I still end up almost on the ground.
I am not the only one that struggles with the heavily iced ground, I have seen other comrades in arms fall to the floor in their attempts to manoeuvre along the icy terrain. There is also an added level of danger as there are literally thousands of icicles that hang precariously from the rooves and drainpipes high above constantly threatening to drop down and injure you from above. In fact, this threat is so bad that in 2010 there was massive upset regarding the governments poor handling of the icicles, as the year before 185 people at the very least had been killed or seriously injured by the falling daggers. One particularly entertaining accountant claimed that ‘Elderly people who survived the siege of Leningrad [say] that even during the war, authorities did a better job at removing the snow and ice’. Despite citywide anger at the danger, the situation sadly has not improved much. The rather dangerous job of clambering on slippery rooves with a pickaxe is one that requires some training and there are very few people who have enough of this training to be given the official job. Therefore, the shortages in government manpower have been subsidised by untrained people who take it upon themselves to keep their own rooves clear, sometimes with disastrous results, both for themselves and the people walking below. Having seen my fair share of government-trained officials flinging blocks of ice roughly the size of my torso off five storey high buildings with only a small piece of tape to suggest to the general passer-by not to walk beneath, imagine how the untrained worker might handle the same situation.
So having covered threats from both above and below let’s move on to some of the other threats, cars. Despite the fact that the roads are cleared regularly they remain ostensibly icy. But that does little to slow down the drivers of St Petersburg. Mere days ago I was crossing the bridge to university when a car came careening around the corner, did two full spins at about 30 mph and then crashed into the pavement directly in front of where I was standing. I have to say it was a hell of an adrenaline rush to start my day with and having been assured that the driver of the now crumpled car was unhurt, I hurriedly left. As unnerving as the crash was, on the plus side, I now know how all cartoon characters feel as pianos fall on them and they stand seemingly rooted to the spot. This is not the only time that I have seen cars go worryingly fast on roads that remain slick with ice. Even the snow clearing lorries travel down the roads at very high speeds, though I suppose they feel they have a lot of work on their shoulders that needs doing for which speed is of the essence.
Thus, my life remains in a semi-constant state of peril in St Petersburg, mainly due to my inability to remain upright on slippery terrain. Added to which is the occasional threat of out of control cars, falling icicles and falling blocks of snow that keep my days interesting. But at least the city still looks glorious shrouded in its dangerous but beautiful blanket of white.