The English don’t do weather extremes very well. A few autumns ago the trains came to a halt after “the wrong kind of leaves fell on the track.” Likewise, the first sign of a snow flurry will not only empty the shelves of bread and milk but will cause airports to c lose. Volcanic ash and a windy day? Don’t even go there.
We Brits live on an island surrounded by the cold, northern seas. This keeps us eternally wrapped in a dull, gray and wet blanket. It is a miserable, albeit consistent, climate. It is what we are used to and we don’t do variations on the norm.
The British used to be stoic. All that changed when Princess Diana died. Overnight, the land which prided itself on stiff-upper-lips became a land of swooning hysteria and very public displays of emotion.
There seems to be a correlation between those few, fateful, late summer days in 1997 and my adopted country’s sudden failure to be able to cope with weather extremes. I put it down to the steady diet of American television on offer over here since the mid 1980s. The programming that promotes disingenuous, crocodile tears is devoured by the British. My adopted country has become so obsessed by the genre; they copied the format, re-packaged it and sold it back to American TV. The result is American Idol, X Factor, America’s Got Talent etc etc etc.
The TV news in the front room this morning; the radio in the car on the commute to work, blared: HEATWAVE HITS BRITAIN. In reality is has been hot for two days, following heavy down-pours of rain for the past 3 weeks. But that is not a sensational headline.
Factually, today is was hotter in London than the Caribbean. We get a few days like this each year and every time it happens it reminds me just how ill-equipped this city is for heat. London is not built for heat. London is built to be heated.
I cannot think of a single building that is air-conditioned. There is no need. It gets hot like this only a few days each year. But London suffers on those few days. It turns us nostalgic for the wet gray blanket.
The windows on our homes and schools cannot be flung open like some air-freshener advert. There is no spring-time-fresh meadow outside my window. To open the windows means competing with diesel fumes, drunken shouting and the interest of passing pigeons, rats and thieves.
And so we wilt. We wilt like two-week-old celery stalks. We buy electric fans that are suddenly 5 times the price they were last week when it was unseasonably cool. We try to dress for the weather but that is always impossible in England. The weather can change by the hour.
The pupils came into school today, completely unprepared for the heat, as if to prove my theory. The thermometer read 32C by 9am and still they entered the school with thick jumpers and fleeces, zipped to their chins. “They are forecasting rain for tonight,” a mother offered.
There were long queues at the water fountains all morning. The water pressure could not cope with the demand and instead of dancing in the air to be caught by parched mouths, the pitiful stream trickled like warm lava down the sides of the nozzle. Children sucked and slurped; to wet their tongues.
By lunchtime pupils were coming up to me on the playground, “Please make the hot stop.” I replied that I would make a few calls but in the meanwhile had they considered unzipping or even removing their fleece? The young faces looked up at me like I was a madman. “But my mother said it might rain tonight.”
About 2pm a young teacher knocked on the door of my glass box and asked if there was another electric fan anywhere in the school. Soaked in sweat, she looked like she had run a half marathon. I knew all 10 electric fans were in use, dotted strategically around the building. She glanced down at the one fan I hadn’t included in the list; my own Head Teacher’s Executive Electro-Fan 2000 which was blowing at gale force 7 through my glass box.
I unplugged it and gave it to my young colleague. She protested that it was my own personal fan. I mumbled something about the children coming first.
Within 20 minutes the glass box was a green house. My sweaty arms began sticking to the wood veneer on my desk. I drank my 4th litre of water this day and wondered as I hadn’t visited Boris since before lunch, despite the fluid intake. As I peeled back my sweaty shirt from my faux-leather chair I knew my body needed those 4 litres and more.
I dismissed the staff ten minutes after the children departed their last lesson of the day. Princess Diana, God bless ‘er, would have wanted it that way. I am sure she is looking down from Princess Heaven or Psychic Sally’s side, or where ever she is, and is smiling at the fact I gave into the hysteria.
Driving home, I was confident that it would be cooler in our flat. We have the coldest flat in London and I knew some of that residual deep freeze from February would still be trapped in the Edwardian brickwork. I opened the door and walked straight into the shower, stepping over our two cats lying prone and spread on the cool wooden floors.
An hour later and I sit typing today’s blog in a pair of shorts and nothing more. Off in the distance, gray storm clouds are gathering and the air is becoming heavy with the threat of rain. I hear the low and distant drum of thunder on the hills north of the city. The TV news is blaring: LONDON’S TWO DAY HEAT WAVE IS ENDING AS HEAVY STORMS SWEEP THROUGH SOUTHERN BRITAIN. VIEWERS SHOULD BE AWARE THAT A FLASH FLOOD ADVISORY IS IN EFFECT.
A new chance to panic, dear readers! How wonderful! God save the Queen of Hearts! God save England’s Rose!
I am sure the rain drops will be The Princess’ own tears falling from paradise. A paradise where we can phone in now to save our favourite act. The act that cries to camera because they have known tragedy.
This city survived the Blitz but 14 years after they laid Diana to rest on some secret island, her ghost still haunts us all. I don’t like ghosts. They scare me. I pull the cold, gray, wet blanket up to my chin and watch the storm draw in from the hills.
Keep the Faith,