One of my favourite subjects, as a Briton, is the weather.
Everyone in Britain talks about the weather, which is a bit odd because we have rather moderate and predictable weather. We don’t freeze like Moscow in winter, have monsoons, swelter in blistering or muggy heat... or anything remarkable, really. It’s a bit damp here, maybe, and a bit dark in winter but nothing exceptional.
I am unusual in that I have lived in places (New York and Tokyo) which both have weather the British can barely comprehend. New York is brutally cold in winter and hot in summer, but Tokyo’s rainy season and summer is worse. I remember telling friends back in England that in Tokyo today it was 38 degrees and 101% humidity and they would say that “it’s been hot here too. 28 degrees! Sweltering... hard to sleep...”
Of course I used just to laugh at it.
But actually, after six years back in the UK, I have succumbed to this peculiar British madness. We are so used to the moderate nature of our weather that we cannot handle it when the temperature gauge goes below zero or above 30.
It’s been hot these last 10 days. Really hot! I think it touched 35 degrees a couple of days ago (in some part of the country) (at some point in the afternoon). My garden is suffering from the heat and the lack of rain. How I pray for just one little rainshower overnight to revive the grass.
I don’t know anyone in Britain who has air-conditioning in their house. Most people don’t even have an electric fan, including me. Why would you when you would only use it on average eight days a year? So we head outside.
People in the town are removing their shirts and walking around half naked. People start drinking lager in mid-afternoon (though generally the English don’t start drinking till the evening). It’s a cliché of the summer that people jump in the fountains at Trafalgar Square to cool down.
“We are melting! Anything goes!” seems to be the idea.
In London, office workers are going to the park at lunchtime, stripping down to their underwear and sun-bathing. There is a bit of debate about whether this is acceptable. It is odd because a woman’s bra is generally no more revealing than a bikini yet somehow it is more erotic.
In other countries of Europe, of course, it is acceptable for women to sunbathe topless. I can remember being horrified in Berlin at an outdoor pool when the two ladies next to me decided to take their tops off. It was such a worry that I might be thought to be glancing in their direction that in the end I had to move. (That is, the stress of not looking to the left at all at any point was too much of a burden.)
Anyway, back in Britain it has been a hell of a day. I opened all the windows but there wasn’t much a crosswind. I tried to sit in the garden but was irritated by the music from a distant neighbour (“It’s so hot, anything goes! Why can’t I play my music at top volume with my windows open?” I imagined him thinking.)
It’s going to be a hot, uncomfortable night, God help me.
I just looked it up: it’s 16 degrees now (11pm) and will rise as high as 25 tomorrow.