We just had the London Marathon, the Queen’s Jubilee is right around the corner and the nation is preparing to be gripped by Olympic Fever, so, naturally, I’m going to talk about the weather.
Like a lot of things in Britain, weather is more difficult than it needs to be. In a normal country, if it’s lashing with rain, you might look to your fellow commuters, co-workers or long-suffering spouse and say, “Wow, crap day, eh?” (Or in my case, “Nice weather, if you’re a duck.”) Conversely, a sunny morning might elicit a heartfelt, “Wow, what a nice day!” (Or in my case, the opening chorus from “Oklahoma!”) Not so in Britain.
Here in the southeast, we have recently suffered through one of the longest periods of agreeable weather on record. Oh, at first it was fine, and people did greet each other by saying, “Nice day, isn’t it?” but Brits become nervous if they don’t get at least three days of horrible weather per week, so after a fortnight, greetings tended to favor the more nervous, “Another nice day? We’re going to pay for this!” or “If this keeps up there’ll be standpipes in the street, mark my words,” and, later, “I told you there’d be standpipes in the streets, now, didn’t I?”
Eighteen months of that, and toward the end, I felt guilty even commenting on the weather without prefacing it with, “Well, I realize this isn’t helping the drought, and I know we really need the rain but…nice day, isn’t it?”
And then, just when everyone thought it couldn’t get any worse, the unthinkable happened: a British Heatwave gripped what the news has begun calling, “The Drought Counties.” (A British Heatwave, for those of you in the US, means three sunny days with temperatures in the 70s.) It was horrible, having to suffer through those glorious days and yet not be able to say anything nice about the weather.
Then thankfully, belatedly but inevitably, it began to rain. It has not stopped, and it doesn’t look like it is going to any time soon.
The weather is cold, windy, wet, grey and, well, just plain miserable, but the only acceptable commentary about the climate is, “Well, we need the rain.”
This leads to another bizarre quirk about British weather: despite the fact that we have had more rain in the past three days than we usually get all month, the news this morning noted that, “it is nowhere near enough to alleviate the drought.”
[Clarification: Before we move on, allow me to elucidate; there are two factors at work here—drought and water shortage. We are (or had been) experiencing less than average rainfall: this is a drought. People are not being allowed to wash their cars (and, more importantly, farmers are not able to adequately irrigate their crops): this is a water shortage. People tend to assume the one – drought – caused the other – water shortage – but this is not so. The hills and valleys of the Downs are not brown and dry, the trees are not withered; the landscape is lush and green, and the rivers and lakes are adequately filled, despite there having been less than average rainfall; only the water levels in the reservoirs are alarmingly low. The drought did not cause the water shortage; what caused the water shortage was the government insisting on building 87 million new homes in the southeast without stopping to think that at least some of the people moving into these claptraps might want a drink of water once they settled in.
I just wanted to get that straight. Now back to our regularly scheduled program.]
It has not yet come to the level of absurdity reached during the previous drought—where news reports showing six foot floods flowing through village streets were followed by grim reports about how sever the water shortage was becoming—but I anticipate it will shortly.
So now I’m stuck in the middle of some seriously crappy weather, but am required, by common consensus, to preface any complaint with, “Well, we really need the rain…” I’m not brave enough to flout this social convention (and, in truth, we really do need the rain) but I’d rather avoid it if I could, so if you see me standing around on a train platform or at a bus stop gamely enduring the current atmospheric offerings, I may just look at you, shrug and observe, “Well, it’s April, it’s Britain, what did you expect?”