WHATEVER THE WEATHER

 

We British, foreigners observe, are ‘obsessed’ with the weather. I don’t think that this is actually true. We are surrounded by weather, as we are by water, and we certainly talk about it a lot, but I think we choose to do that. I don’t think we’re obsessed by it. Our weather is so diverse and varied (yet generally it remains within mild and tolerable boundaries) that it impacts very strongly on our life and culture.

In the anonymous short poem that runs:

Western wind,

when wilt thou blow?

The small rain down can rain.

Christ, if my love were in my arms,

And I in my bed again…

you can feel the writer (whom I like to imagine was a Roman soldier used to the warm Roman climate) despairing over a prolonged cold, wet period. We know exactly how he felt.

But I think the reputation of our country for it’s great beauty is in no small measure due to the weather. This is not only because its dampness (perhaps I should be honest and say wetness) contributes to our ‘green and pleasant land’ but because we view it through the infinite variety of our climate conditions. We see it on clear days ruffled by the breeze; we see it still and mysterious in mist.

In Britain you never know what weather the day will bring. While this means that its cooperation cannot be depended upon for a wedding, a queen’s jubilee, or even just a picnic, it gives us our capacity to deal with whatever turns up; our resilience; our endurance; what makes us British

I’ve been in countries where the weather is the same for long periods. I’ve been several times to Singapore and no matter when the time of year, the weather was exactly the same: grey, overcast sky, extremely warm and humid, so that stepping onto the street was like walking through wet sheets and even just sitting doing nothing was quite exhausting. Plus in its perpetual sameness it grew boring.

I think we are genuinely interested in our weather, but it is also a very convenient neutral topic of conversation. It is very hard to see how anyone could be offended by a few comments on the weather. So, with someone you’ve just met, or don’t know very well, it’s a useful filler: you make a few mild remarks about the weather but meanwhile you’re giving yourself time to observe them and

decide how you’re going to proceed. Talk of the weather is not personal and it is not political. As the rhyme tells us, it rains the same upon the just as on the unjust fellow (except that the just gets wetter because the unjust stole the just’s umbrella.)

In England, we’ve have unusually enjoyed a prolonged period of hot, dry weather. Although it was pleasant enough to begin with, I’ve had enough of it. I long for rain – for the coolness, for the grey skies, for the wonderful smell of dust that the rain will release, and for how next morning everything will look brand new and washed clean.

Well, no doubt it will come soon enough and then we can complain about how awful it is and long for sunshine!

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