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Posts Tagged ‘weather’

A friend sent a plaintive message to me on Monday. “It’s too hot to eat, drink, sleep, or even think, and going outside is a thing of the past.”

Fancy that, in this country, in June, when so often the only flaming thing about the month is the flaming rain.

I should know. I once chose mid-June for a long-distance walk, only to suffer the wettest week that part of the country had known for a century, and some of the wildest winds ever recorded to drive the rain into my face.

Yet here we are, or here we were when I wrote this, gently melting into helplessness as the sun beats down mercilessly from a sky that looks as though a child has painted it with the only bright blue in its paintbox. Not a cloud in sight, scarcely a breath of wind, even the birdsong seems slightly dulled by the heat haze.

Doing anything more than the absolute minimum, actually even moving the odd limb, has to be planned and thought about so that energy can be conserved. Living in heat such as this is the very stuff of holidays, when merely watching the ice melt in drinks amounts to exercise.

But here, now, we must go about our daily lives. This means dressing accordingly, digging into the back of the wardrobe to give items of clothing their five-yearly airing, and exposing areas of body that don’t usually get out much.

Cars with cauldron-like interiors shock us until the aircon kicks in, only for us to be shocked again when we get out of that delightful cocoon into the stifling hot world.

It’s the reverse experience with buildings that have air-conditioning. The chill is sometimes so fierce and so penetrating that it’s almost a relief to escape for the few seconds it takes before the heat clamps down again.

Anywhere indoors has its own micro-climate of discomfort, if not airless then invariably noisy with the sound of whirring fans or aircon systems. Open windows let in occasional dozy insects but little air that can freshen or cool.

It isn’t surprising we find it difficult to cope with extremes of heat, or extremes of any kind of weather. We enjoy a temperate climate. We have weather in moderation, we have seasons, a bit of this, followed by a bit of that, sometimes a bit mad and mixed up, but usually clearly defined.

If anything extreme is inflicted upon us we flail about helplessly. In extreme cold the country is paralysed by icy roads and we shiver into a kind of paralysis. In extreme heat, the roads melt and so do we.

You don’t have to look far to see how others cope where we fail.

Up the road you have the Scandinavians who merely shrug on another patterned jumper in bad weather and go to one of their sunny islands in good weather.

Down the road, in the Mediterranean countries, they have perfected the art of taking it easy during the heat of summer, which is why we like to go there for our holidays so we can live like they do, turn native in fact.

In winter, when their ‘cold’ tends to equate to what we think of as ‘warm’ over here, they tie on a scarf and warm up their soups.

We might learn a lot from both the hot and the cold brigades, but is it worth it? We’ll be back to temperate normality faster than you can say “So that was our summer, I suppose.”

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It was decent of it to rain so soon after I’d achieved a load of planting in the garden last weekend. I carefully watered in the cosmos and the salvia, some herbs and a cheerful marguerite, and then the rain, so long absent, came along and topped up the water supply to these welcome newborns.

But then the clouds didn’t seem to know when they’d done enough. They carried on emptying their loads down on to us, not thinking for a minute that enough was enough. Pace yourselves, clouds! Just a little, please, and then leave us alone for a couple of days until we welcome you back again.

The trouble is, our weather doesn’t do much in moderation. It gives us a just about acceptable temperature throughout the seasons – though a few degrees warmer wouldn’t be a bad idea sometimes – but it doesn’t seem to have a ‘that’ll do very nicely, thank you’ switch for us to access.

As a consequence, from time to time we suffer from droughts, floods, wild, wild winds, frozen rivers and sunburnt livestock (not to mention humans). It’s all so extreme, when all we ask is a little moderation for our gardens – and for ourselves.

As far as our garden is concerned, any watering that’s required and that the clouds fail to show up to do for us, gets done either by Geoff or by me. In other words, it isn’t what Philip May might call a girl job or a boy job. I can’t think what is at Hill Towers, to be honest, although like Philip and Theresa’s household I guess various tasks habitually fall to one or other of us, simply in the interests of fair distribution of labour.

Things have certainly become a lot fairer around here since Geoff stopped being terrified of the iron and what damage he might do with it, and since we worked through some of his ingrained aversion to being at large in the kitchen. He irons! He cooks! (Admittedly not much of either, but from baby steps we have achieved giant strides and I do believe he feels almost as proud as I do. He’s a long way off self-sufficiency, but we are getting there.)

With our gardens thoroughly well watered this week – OK clouds, again, that is enough, do please push off – we can enjoy watching broadcasts from Chelsea Flower Show without feeling we should be outside doing a rain dance.

I’ve only been to the show once in person and while I loved it and was thrilled to be there, I found that the difficulty in moving around and actually seeing anything was severely hampered by huge crowds.

For that reason, and of course for the bother of getting there and back, I choose to stay in the comfort of my own home and watch Chelsea on the telly with Monty Don and Co.

And if I sometimes have to turn up the volume to hear them above the sound of the rain drumming on the roof, then so much the better. It has to be one of the rare occasions when a gardener can experience a little frisson of smugness.

I certainly don’t get that smug feeling very often where gardening is concerned. I might get an appreciative pat on the back sometimes for the herbs that I grow, and I am also partial to a spot of praise for the compost, which, though I say it myself, is textbook stuff.

But that’s it on my Scale of Smugability: herbs and compost. Must do better. Help me, Monty!

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As smug expressions go, the one that informs us there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, takes first place in the line-up to have its lights punched out.

It is beyond smug, more smug even than the girl in my class called Jennifer who got top marks in everything, even for sitting up straight at her desk.

The assumption we all have the right clothing for every type of weather this British climate throws at us presumes we have halls and wardrobes of Tardis-like proportions and a staff to maintain (and find) jackets, macs, hats, scarves, gloves, windcheaters, short coats, medium coats, full-length drag-in-the-mud coats, sandals, shoes, wellies, walking boots, thigh boots, waders, waterproof overalls, splash-suits, parasols and at least half-a-dozen umbrellas guaranteed never to blow inside out and detonate in the street into a hundred flimsy pieces of metal and a bunch of limp nylon.

Understandably, we Brits, especially those with normal wardrobes and no staff, think wistfully of those places where the climate is more straightforward, with less variety and more predictability. You know where you are clothing-wise then: a bit of keep-you-warm and dry stuff for the cooler months, not very much at all the rest of the year.

Places like the Mediterranean countries, for example, where the mostly benign winter months hurry away to allow the sun its traditional place, centre-stage and reliably, for most of the year.

That is the norm, except that fierce snowfalls and seriously plunging temperatures this past week have turned that perception on its head. Strange images of snow-covered parts of Greece, Turkey and Italy, even snow-blocked roads in Sicily, have made me look up at our leaden, rain-filled skies this week and think that at least we can get from A to B, even if we get soaked in doing so.

Not soaked, of course, if we have the right clothing – but we know about that. Now we’re being warned of much coldness coming our way as this week drips and gurgles into the weekend, so it’s back into the Tardis to find some insulating woollies and the full thermal kit.

I learn that our dose of the white and icy stuff is not the same as the rest of Europe’s. It comes from a different front, or side, or some such meteorological expression.

Aha, the Brexit effect. So it’s come to this, even before the button is pushed on Article 50. The others won’t even share their weather with us now, like kids who turn their backs in the playground and refuse to play ball with the unpopular misfit.

OK, rest-of-Europe, if you must be like that, we’ll cope with our own weather. We aren’t the sort who sit back helplessly and watch as our entire country grinds to a halt. Not all that often, anyway. Well, sometimes we do, but we do get provoked an awful lot.

You must understand that, unlike you with your sunshine-addled attitudes and tide of flip-flops at the door, we not only have the right clothes for this – fleeces and fur-lined boots, and a whole range of impractical hats – but we have gritters and snow-ploughs, too, and they aren’t always under two feet of snow in a lay-by.

We can certainly skate by, as long as the difficulties last no longer than about six hours. After that, and judging by many winters of experience, we could be trying to be cheerful in a snowdrift with nothing but a cheese sandwich and a 1998 book of road maps.

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It’s odd trying to adjust to normal life after returning from holiday. Eight glorious days of not needing to know the date, let alone the day of the week, came to an end when Geoff and I found ourselves back at Gatwick this week, all the fun over.

So many times this particular bit of the end of a holiday, the bit poised between over there and back here, has been made more miserable than it need be because the grim, grey English weather has broken the spell within seconds of landing. The heart sinks, the brave smile gets switched on and the memory of carefree days with minimal clothing gets wiped away in the hustle to pull on a heavy mac.

The car journey back home from the airport is blurred by the spray thrown up by lorries as slap-slapping windscreen wipers work at double speed. Jams and crawling queues add to the misery, and sour thoughts condemn and blame everyone and everything for the holiday being over.

Not this time, though. Heading down the aircraft steps a cloak of warm sunshine settled on our shoulders, seemingly hardly any different in temperature from Naples, which we had left only the other side of lunchtime. What it lacked was the gently suffocating cotton-wool dampness of humidity that we had grown used to during our week away but, delightfully, here at glowing Gatwick there was just a crisp and beaming bright sun and a blue sky. What a wonderful welcome back to Blighty!

Naples may have been hot and humid but it was entirely bearable and anyway we were fortunate to have aircon in our high-ceilinged rented apartment. Walking around, which we did on a major scale every day, all over the city and beyond, was never too uncomfortable in the heat and we took plenty of pit stops. It was our third visit to Naples but we found so much to see and do – and it didn’t all revolve around the food, I promise.

The only serious challenge from the weather came on the day the heavens suddenly opened on us, without warning, while we were absorbed in a longed-for visit to Herculaneum. We steamed ourselves dry when the rain eventually relented and felt we had shown admirable British grit in coping with neither an umbrella nor a rain cape, both of which appeared de rigeur among the other (far more sensible) visitors.

One afternoon we took an open-top bus out to Posillipo, on the western outskirts of Naples, famed for its beautiful houses and cultured lifestyle. Artists have captured it and settled there over the years, inspired by its buildings, its amazing views across the bay of Naples and its light.

I was excited to see Posillipo after recently reading a biography set there. Geoff took a few photos while I speculated about who lived in which of the wonderful old houses we passed.

After a little while I turned to Geoff and asked: “Does some of this look familiar to you, or is it just because I’ve read so much about it?”

“It’s familiar,” he said. “We took this very same bus trip 11 years ago.”

Of course he was right. We had been here before. How ridiculous that we hadn’t realised before even climbing on to the bus. But it really didn’t matter That’s one of the great things about holidays. Easy come, easy go – especially when the sun’s shining.

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It’s bold, I know, and probably a little foolish, but Geoff and I are making an assumption about the weather. We think we may have more than one day of proper sunshine this year. There has been one, we know, and it was that glorious experience of being warm and having an inner glow that made us suspect another could be along in, ooh, say two months’ time.

Based on this, we have made a decision to upgrade our garden furniture. For something that gets precious little use, it is having much thought devoted to it. In fact, I would say we are probably thinking more about garden furniture than we are about the EU referendum and the future of space exploration. Yes, that much.

We already have garden furniture – metal table and chairs that live out all year round – and boy, are they showing their age (and years of neglect). Hitherto, in my life, anything that lived out in one of our winters at least had the comfort and protection of a New Zealand rug and a good warming feed, but this furniture has never had so much as a caring pat.

The consequence of its neglect is that is not looking its loveliest. It needs a body tuck here and there, a serious rubbing down and repaint, and even a few limb transplants. In short, its better days were too long ago for it to recapture any good bits of its youth, so we are planning to relegate the table to a place beside a wall where it will live in retirement as a slightly lop-sided stand for pots.

The chairs will have a few screws tightened and I’ll administer a lecture about smartening themselves up in the hope that the rubbing-down and painting fairies will overhear and will surprise me by paying a visit.

This, we have cleverly worked out, will leave us with seats to sit on but no table. A table is necessary for those long balmy evenings when we eat our supper outside and talk long into the night with our friends, just like the adverts show us we all do through summer in England.

The cynic in us knows that it is more likely to be one borderline-mild night with a disappointing chilly breeze that will send us scuttling indoors, but we’ll still need a table if we are even to contemplate being sociable in an outdoors way. But what sort of table and where do we get it?

We’ve looked and failed to find anything that fits the bill. Those that fall within our budget are either too small or too ugly, or both. We’re not asking much: just a table with legs that don’t wobble or buckle, with a flat surface and with a love of the outdoors, in all weathers.

I’d prefer it if it didn’t have a name. I’m up to here with looking at fancy things called Riviera, Tuscany and Calypso. I mean, for heaven’s sake, this is Dorset not Cap d’Antibes.

Just show me an anonymous table that looks the part and I’ll be happy, and then we can bring it home and it can gradually acquire a name, in the same way that all our possessions do. Indoors, we have two tables, Tyrone and Ivo, so it might be nice to have a girl-table for once. I just hope she’ll be up to the job and not make a fuss, stuck out there in the wind and the rain. And after that she’ll have to face up to autumn and winter.

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LIST five things you love about yourself, someone on Instagram exhorted me. Well, it was Monday morning and quite honestly there could be little to love about anyone, least of all me, on a day that had broken in such a tempestuous way.

As Storm Imogen (pretty name, but now with unfortunate connotations) screamed around the house and I kept an ear cocked for flying roof tiles (ours) and tumbling rubbish bins (our neighbours’), I briefly thought about what might go on that list. Could I come up with one reason to love myself? Not seriously, so let’s move on, let’s hit into this day and deal with whatever windy Imogen might inflict on us.

I knew the eucalyptus tree that someone unwisely planted probably no more than 20 years ago in a garden visible from our back stoop would be doing the maddest of dances, and I was right. It was bending and swooping in a most threatening way, probably wondering, as we were, what kind of climate it had found itself in which put its very life under threat. Its Antipodean forebears surely can’t have had the same sort of struggle for existence.

I’m not sure I can remember a period of such manic wildness as this run we’ve been experiencing. Since November 12, when Storm Abigail was Britain’s first ‘named’ severe weather system, we’ve endured eight more of these big ’uns, sometimes battering the country from top to toe, causing flooding and power cuts and affecting transport. By Easter we could be at the end of the alphabet, on Storm Zacharias, at this rate.

I can only give thanks for the passing of years which has meant I no longer have responsibility for any livestock and therefore no urgent need to brave the elements at all hours. Battling cruelly flapping tarpaulins in a corner of a field to access hay for the horses, while up to my knees in freezing mud, is now a distant memory, thank goodness.

Likewise, being taken by surprise by storm force winds when out at sea, gamely crewing for my father in a boat that neither of us knew how to sail. You just turn off the engine and set the sails, don’t you? Well, it’s a bit like that, only you have to study the weather and charts and notice what others are doing and not just place your faith in beginner’s luck.

A few outings later, with our lives and the boat still miraculously intact, we added two more to the crew and confidently set sail for France. We left the Devon coast in morning sunshine.

Any thoughts of croissants for breakfast disappeared hours later in a monumental storm, causing us to whip down the sails, batten down the hatches and ride it out. We took it in turns to be terribly seasick.

The wind abated around dawn and we were glad of the improving visibility as we were suddenly able to make out the shapes of looming rocks. They didn’t claim us, though they tried, but we realised that land must be near. It was, but it wasn’t France. It turned out to be St Peter Port in Guernsey.

Thanks to the weather we’d landed in the most unexpected of places. We spent two days there and had a wonderful time – and an uneventful and mercifully shorter sail home.

So perhaps there is one thing I can say I love about myself as Valentine’s Day approaches: making the most of serendipity. It almost always turns out for the best.

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ANOTHER soggy, disappointing torrent of rainy weather this week, after a solid seven days of sunshine, has served to remind us that we must always be grateful for small mercies.

After such a disappointing summer it was natural we should all agree we deserved that last hurrah from the sun that perked up our spirits so much. It was the usual old con trick, though, and after getting used to the delightful run of blue skies and warmth, here we are again, plunged into the damp chill of normality.

How lucky were those who had the opportunity to benefit most from the sunny week. Among them, totally against the odds, were my sister and brother-in-law. As long ago as last January they stuck in a pin in the calendar to choose a week in a rented cottage on Exmoor. They could never have known what good fortune awaited them.

Dismal week followed dismal week all through the summer, right up to the first day of their holiday, when the gloom lifted, the sun put his hat on and Exmoor embraced them with joyous bright warmth every single day.

The weatherproof gear they’d filled the car with stayed where it was, untouched for the duration, and their many walks on the wild side saw them sometimes taking cover from the heat of the sun, not the rain they’d feared.

They deserved this slice of luck as their last holiday had been dreadful. It was to have been a brief escape to winter warmth in the Canaries, but ended up with my sister laid low with a gastric virus for the whole week, too ill even to leave the apartment.

Geoff and I have had holidays spoilt by the weather, but it shouldn’t happen too often now that we have learnt always to check when our friend Roly is going to be away. As soon as we know if he’s seeking R&R anywhere in the UK, we know we must stay at home, secure in the knowledge that where Roly goes, the worst weather will be right over his head.

His visit to Sussex last month coincided with monsoon-like rainfalls all over the county. He goes north and roads are closed to cope with the gushing torrents, west and freak snowfalls block his way, south and the gale-force winds threaten to blow his destination off the map.

It’s become one of those serious jokes now. We hear on the radio of flood alerts or blackouts caused by storms and we just know that Roly will be somewhere in the vicinity, trying in vain to have a happy holiday with his long-suffering and equally optimistic wife.

Roly is sanguine about it, in a True Brit way, but our hearts do bleed for them both and we yearn for them to have a change of fortune. It’s strange because Roly is a proper countryman and you’d think he could second-guess the weather by observing such arcane things as which way the cows are lying, or how many rooks he saw flying backwards before breakfast.

Perhaps he should pick up a pin in January and stick it in a calendar, in the way my sister did. His expectations will always be low, as they can only be when any of us are thinking of holiday weather in this country, but from where Roly stands, anything warmer than freezing will be a heatwave and anything drier than soaked to the skin 24 hours a day will be like a break in the Sahara desert. And a novelty, too.

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