Two Saturday afternoons ago I parked my bottom on the window sill of the Sir Joshua Reynolds pub opposite my shop basking in the hot sunshine of that early October afternoon (between customers, of course). It caused me to reflect on the vagaries of our famous – or should I say infamous – climate. During that week we had had some truly miserable weather, even the day before. It struck me as not surprising that weather is so often our opener in engaging with a friend or acquaintance whom we might bump into. All four seasons can be hand in a single day. I remember in August being astonished to see hailstones.
When I lived in South Africa during the early 70s, I used to make a point in the early days of walking the streets in the blazing sunshine, avoiding protective canopies that most shops offered. I was truly a Noel Coward’s ‘ go out in the midday sun’ wally. It didn’t last. In no time I found myself dodging from one bit of shade to the next. I remember clearly one day cursing the unremitting blaze and thinking how wonderful it would be to have leaden skies and even a gentle drizzle. The point about all this is that, as with almost everything, you can have too much of a good thing. It is not that we don’t enjoy our share of sunshine; it’s just that we don’t get as much as some. But the upside of this is that when sunshine days do arrive we fully appreciate them and know how to make the most of them.
Endlessly sunny days cause them eventually to pass unnoticed. There is little point in studying the weather since it is almost always the same. This was the case here in the UK during that freakish summer of 1976; there was no sense then even remarking on it to a friend as it would be tiresome. How many mornings can you say ‘lovely day, isn’t it?’ when perhaps you’ve had the better part of a hundred of them.
Ours is a gentle, no-extremes climate. Winters are mild and summers don’t cause you to drip sweat. How my own Lithuanian wife loves having turned her back on a climate where for months on end the stat. stays below zero, often many digits below. We may have had a pretty ropey summer, but hey, we had a sunshine Olympics, didn’t we? And who would exchange what we had for the blistering scorcher that laid waste two thirds of the United States, turning it into a dust bowl and utterly destroying their food crops? And who wants the bush fires currently raging in New South Wales on the other side of the world? We don’t have earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanoes, whiteouts or indeed anything that smacks of disaster. Even our floods are small beer compared with what Australia (Queensland), Pakistan and Bangladesh had recently. Instead we have our gentle, reliable, temperate climate that allows us to grow just about anything.
Dreamers among the old folk, ready to retire, fantasise about the grass being greener in the other field and head for the ‘Club Med’ countries. But apart from economic mismanagement making them a disaster area, with their properties plummeting in value, the grass is most decidedly not greener, but parched for much of the year. Those glorious, verdant landscapes of the British Isles must seem like a distant memory, and that much thirsted after sun nothing but a boring, skin-destroying nuisance that won’t give you a break. And what a risk they take health wise. At the very time in life when good health cannot be taken for granted and maladies pile up, they put themselves beyond the protective reach of the NHS.
As for having a good old yap with the locals as you go about your business, forget it. That too is not so easy when they speak their language and not yours. And participating in their world by learning their lingo is also not so easy when you’ve got a tired old brain to do it with. For me, I’m happy to settle for this beautiful island which the whole world admired so much during this festive year. When those glorious sunshine days, like that one two Saturdays ago, come I grab them with both hands and look forward to the next. And if from time to time you feel cheated and feel that you haven’t had quite enough of them? Well, there’s always those package holidays that can whisk you away to sunnier climes for not a lot more than it would cost you to stay at home.
For the longer term, if global warming heats us by a degree or two extra I won’t be complaining. They say that olive trees and vineyards will prosper again as they did in Roman Britain. Whoopee! Pity though that I won’t be around to see it. But if future generations are constrained economically and have to live in a world of making do with less and can never again enjoy the boom times of yesteryear, then a hotter Britain – freak weather phenomena notwithstanding – may at least be some small compensation.