If you are English you are almost certain to have a minor obsession with our weather. We are a small island and consequently bombarded by various different weather systems coming at us from all directions. To the West we have storms and winds coming in from the Atlantic. From the North comes the Siberian and Arctic chill bringing with it snow. From the South and East comes warmth and sunshine from the Sahara, providing us with balmier days. So it is no wonder that out weather is erratic to say the least. I happen to like our climate, on the whole. It divides nicely into seasons of roughly three months duration. Our winters lasting from December to the end of February are cold but not usually excessively so. It is many years since we have seen a ‘white Christmas’. The snow and ice, when it does arrive, always finds us unprepared. Sometimes if it is a longer bout of wintry conditions the whole country comes to a halt. I believe there is only one snow plough to deal with the whole of the South-East! Roads become impassible, trains cease to work, airports close and children have a holiday from school. Foreigners look on all this as a sort of English madness, but they should understand that all that snow equipment is not considered necessary for something that only occasionally happens. It is the same for heatwaves in the summer. The roads melt, the train rails go out of shape and we run out of water and have a hose-pipe ban. Two years ago the winter ended with a month of heavy rain and the floods that ensued were devastating. However, these extremes are infrequent and the newscaster always says gloomily it is the coldest, wettest, hottest month since records began. Records seem to be broken more frequently lately and some would put this down to global warming. But the weather men look back into their records and tell us that there have always been bouts of ‘unusual conditions’. Whatever it is, the English put up with it and no doubt this has contributed to our accepting and stoical character – and of course it is an endless topic of conversation. As I said, I like our weather mainly because of the defined seasons. Each season has a particular character and although the edges are blurred as they merge into the next, it gives us a reason for optimism. At the end of February we look forward to the milder weather of Spring until May leads us into Summer. Now the summer in England can be a bit of a joke. This is what I mean about our erratic weather. We can have a heat wave in May and endless rain in August. We have just learned to accept it. Nancy Mitford in one of her letters to Evelyn Waugh said that all one needed for an English summer was a fur lined raincoat! But at the end of August we come to Autumn, the famous seasons of mists, taking us slowly over three months and preparing us for the winter months ahead with log fires and Christmas.
When my sister went to live in Canada two of the things she missed most were the long gentle seasons of spring and autumn in England. In Montreal, after the long months of sub zero temperatures she found herself almost immediately plunged into the heat of the summer. The Autumn – or Fall – was also brief although the colours were spectacular – and all too soon she was back in the long winter freeze.
Of course weather plays a major role in our literature and drama. Shakespeare makes constant references to it, best expressed in the song of winter in “Love’s Labours Lost”….”When icicles hang by the wall…” The weather also adds atmosphere to the grey and bleak Yorkshire landscapes of the Bronte novels, Dickens refers endlessly to the terrible London fogs, and a heat wave plays a major role in L P Harley’s novel “The Go Between”. So it is a useful tool for the writer, to be able to set a scene more clearly and add atmosphere, even if our everyday lives are sometimes disrupted by it.
I was going to write about something quite different today, but I woke up to a chill in the air. a definite touch of autumn and this sent me off on a different tack.