No Sun Please, We’re British

And so it begins! This past week, summer has finally arrived on the fair Isles of Britannia . After a particularly shite spring that was all blustery showers, greyness and misery, the sun now shineth like never before. Well, actually, it shines the same way it does every year, but we tend to forget. No nation seems to have the propensity for meteorological absentmindedness quite like the British. Each winter we are without fail brought to a halt by a winter snowstorm that other nations would consider a light flurry. And every year we fill endless newspaper columns with talk of “Caribbean” temperatures – highest since records began! I do like this turn of phrase. It seems to imply that records have both some kind of sentience, and an historical lethargy that they one day decided to overcome for our benefit. (I really do read too much into grammatical nuance sometimes…)

We are renowned worldwide for our love of the weather. Which, as Bill Bryson once noted, is so very bizarre for a nation that “Really doesn’t get much weather at all.” He refers of course to the fact that our winters are mostly mild, our summers hardly ever hot, and the seasons in-between are exactly that. Hurricanes that destroy livelihoods are a generational occurrence, not an annual fear. Snowfall never disconnects communities for days on end. And no part of Britain has ever been levelled by a monster tornado. Although, a interesting and little known fact: Britain has on average more¬†tornadoes¬†per square foot each year than any country on earth. Pissy, pathetic wisps of tornados they may be, but this suits me just fine.

In her wonderful book “Watching the English”, anthropologist Kate Fox dissects our interest in the weather in an interesting way. Discussion of the weather is a very British thing because we are so uniformly awful at sparking conversation with strangers and casual acquaintances. “Weather Speak” as she puts it serves as a perfect icebreaker. Everyone is versed in the weather of the day, and considering our weather is rather changeable, there is always something to discuss.

Which leads me to one of my bugbears. One that I am sure many share. We Brits, well some of us at least, are so very complacent about the weather. When it rains it is “typical”. Snow is a nuisance. And yet when the sun comes out and temperatures soar, many, oh so bloody many people complain it is “too hot” or “the wrong kind of heat”. No, just no.

It appears that there exists an optimum, impossible British summer day. A warm but non-offensive 19.5 degrees, partly cloudy, but whose clouds dare never actually occlude the sun, with a gentle breeze that is neither cooling nor warming, simply refreshing on the skin. Any deviation from this mythical Jane Austin picnic weather and the bitching shall commence, increasing in direct proportion to the differentials thereof.

Yes, we are ill equipped for certain inclement weather. Due to the relative infrequency of heavy snowfall we don’t have an army of snowploughs to hand. This is a risk assessment issue, where it has clearly been deemed more expensive to maintain such a fleet than to simply have the odd day with roads somewhat out of commission. But on a smaller scale, we are embarrassing in ways that are easily rectified. We are terrible at dressing for the occasion. Summer demands light clothing and sunglasses, and summer suits are completely acceptable in other nations. And winter means layers, wools, hats and gloves. Yet many commuters have a one-suit-suits-all mentality which baffles.

So to all this I say poppycock! During cold winter days, enjoy the good things tied to such a season. Wrapping up warm. The hot coffee that lightens the day. The warm fire come evening time. And when it is hot, bask! And for everything in-between, be grateful. Our weather is dull and middling, but our temperate climate serves us so very well. It is perfect for mixed agriculture and wildlife. It is what makes England green. It also implores productivity in the workforce. When days are neither too cold to travel, nor too hot to be bothered, we work harder and get more done.

As a final thought, the mandatory music related comment. The psychology eludes me beyond the obvious, but music really does sound different in the summer. Perhaps it is a simple mood issue. A sunny day breeds a sunny disposition, ergo our favourite iPod playlists make us beam even more than usual. Perhaps the method of consumption changes. Headphones at the park, or a car stereo turned up loud with the windows wide open are both very different listening environments compared to winter’s home hi-fi setup with a cup of hot chocolate.

In the summer I search out songs that open up, broad and wide. Electronic styles flourish with their euphoric perfection, folk music sounds more ethereal and rock music organises its very own festival in my head. Winter is a time for introvertism and closeness, songs that hug and caress. However it must be said that the best music can work for both, reflecting and enhancing our mood whatever it may be, come rain or shine.

1 Comment

  1. Mark Roberts

    You are most definitely a musician, and I love the fact that music effects your mood and serves as your own personal internal weather as well!

    I agree that music sounds differently depending on the weather and I exploit that to my best advantage. My personal playlists have become my internal musical ideal. If I’m in a sad mood I’d rather not be, then cheerful tunes it is. If I’m cramped in a city cubicle when I’d rather be outdoors in the Appalachians then I hear recorded birdsongs and babbling brooks. The key is that music is CREATIVE, and by making music expressing yourself is the ultimate expression of one being in harmony with the world around you.

    I look forward to hearing much, much more from you James!

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