If there is one thing that never fails to irritate me about the British, it is their relationship with the weather.
Let me make myself clear: it is not the weather that is crazy. It is how the Brits deal with it. You’d be hard pressed to find a region on earth with a greater discrepancy between how interesting the weather is and how much people talk about it.
British people love to discuss the weather – despite the fact that it’s grey and wet about 90 per cent of the time. (OK, that’s an exaggeration – 80 per cent.) There’s nothing to talk about. And yet it forms the central pillar for much of this nation’s verbal and written discourse. It’s downright silly.
The fact of the matter is that the weather in this country is a) boring, and b) benign. Extremes of hot or cold are very, very rare – the summers are slightly warm and wet, and the winters are slightly cool and wet.
The first summer I spent here in 2003, I was shocked to see my own breath at night. It still surprises and offends me.
Winters are even more outrageous. There is no English “winter” to speak of, period. Snow rarely falls (except in Scotland – which I respectfully omit from this discussion), and bulbs begin to come up in early January. See, look, here’s some daffodils I photographed in early February.
You can sum up each and every season with one word: Mild.
But while it’s boring, but it’s blessedly safe. English people often forget how lucky they are to live somewhere almost entirely devoid of droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, deep freezes, heat waves earthquakes.
Yet when one of these things does occur, such as an earthquake this winter, it makes front page news. (Note that nobody died. Not much happened. The stats listed in this piece largely concern phone calls to emergency services.)
This weekend, it snowed.
When I woke up to see fluffy flakes falling outside my window, I thought two things:
2. Well, I’m glad I don’t have to go anywhere today, the whole country is going to go ape shit.
And it did: Train schedules went haywire. There were a handful of accidents on the highways. A few yachts got lost. And (gasp) a fun run had to be cancelled. (This last item actually took up valuable inches in The Guardian, the nation’s most eminent newspaper. See for yourself.)
Most predictable: flights had to be cancelled at Heathrow, 62 in all. I knew this was going to happen – it happened to me once. I boarded my flight home to Toronto after spending Christmas in London, and had to spend SIX HOURS sitting in the plain on the tarmac because of the snow. Why you ask, because the runways were piled high? Because ice had frozen up the plane’s gears?
No, nothing so interesting. It was pathetic, wet English snow, which melted away about 20 minutes after falling. But airline regulations dictate that the wings of a plane must be de-iced before take off. Fair enough: even if the snow melts as soon as it hits the ground, I’ll happily wait for the wings to be “de-iced” to be on the safe side.
The problem was that Heathrow had one – ONE – de-icing machine for the busiest airport in Europe. And we’re not even talking about an expensive, high-tech piece of equipment: it’s essentially a dude on a ladder with a hose full of anti-freeze. Doesn’t it make sense that if you’re going to prepare for the inevitability of snow, that you do so adequately?
But no, even though it snows at Heathrow every few years, they hadn’t thought to prepare for the next occasion. I suppose it’s a proud English tradition: expect the weather to be grey and rainy all the time, and fall into hysterics when it’s anything but.
Well, the snow melted by the afternoon, it’s normal springtime again. And now “summer” is on its way, and if one thing is for certain, if the temperature climbs above 24C, the Limeys will wail and moan about “heat waves.” I’m an environmentalist, but it’s enough to make me cheer on global warming. Whether the isles dry out and heat up, or are plunged into a deep freeze, either way it will be amusing to see how they cope. My guess: not very well.