Storm Clouds

Before I start, I would just like to register a possibly excessive amount of self congratulation.

I have reached my fourty-first entry into this cyberjournal of mine without talking about the weather.

If you’re British, you will know immediately the inner struggle this represents.

We protest otherwise, but many a conversation here in Britain starts with a critique of what the heavens have had to offer us over the past day, week, month.

Get into a lift with a stranger, you talk about the weather. The AA man arrives to rescue your car, you talk about the weather. The tiniest of transactions- buying a sweetie for a little one, for example- necessitates a deep meteorological discussion.

And I think it is all about basic comfort.

Because here on this island, which takes all the Atlantic Ocean, nearby Europe and the Gulf Stream can hurl at it, our climate is temperate.

Seldom too hot, rarely too cold. Just rainy, all year round, and damp, and chilly. Uncomfortable.

And whenever one is uncomfortable, railing at the source of the discomfort becomes almost irresistible.

This attitude has endured throughout the millennia.

About thirty five years ago, somebody found a pile of first century Roman sewage in chilly Northumberland.

Amoung the detritus were half burnt postcards, made from sodden slices of oak. On closer inspection, these turned out to be letters home from Roman soldiers so far out of their comfort zone, they may as well have made the first journey into space.

They make wonderful reading for anyone who endures this climate day in, day out.

They are full of desperate pleas to their sun-kissed relatives back home for tough, sensible shoes and thick, warm coats.

One postcard simply lists the soldier’s needs. Please send socks, he pleads; and two pairs of sandals; and finally, two pairs of underpants.

Poor sod, as any Tommy worth his salt would put it. Is there anything more miserable than underpants made damp by our climate?

I was reminded of this when my sister’s family arrived at our holiday cottage for an overnight stay.

They left our home town in bright sunshine: and arrived, just 90 minutes later, in torrential rain.

Struggling up the hill, trying to protect childrens duvets from the stair-rods issuing from the black clouds just above our heads, it did occur to us that this might not be the idealized aquatint visit we had all planned.

But, British to the core, we all brightened up as we realized that dinner must be had before anything else happened. We did not need blue sky for that.

We ate. We felt better. But on the agenda was a trip to Dover Castle. And no raincoats had been packed.

We sat at the table, trying to pretend dinner was not over. And we thought hard.

My master plan was as follows: drive to Sainsburys, find cheap rainwear, come back, dress kids, rendering the subsequent castle trip at least a theoretical possibility.

The heavens tipped everything they had at us during the next 45 minutes: but using grit and determination we secured appropriate rainwear and headed back to base.

By which time there was azure sky, a warm drying wind and two smirking husbands in the garden outside.

Our excitement at visiting our favourite fortress was not dampened by the thick sea-fret which drifted around the ancient stonework. In the Roman lighthouse the mist breathed in through every opening, as if it were alive and curious.

The day soldiered bravely on , the mist cleared, the sun shone. We walked along the shingle shore next to glistening white breakers: the kids got their chance to pile into the jacuzzi in evening sunlight.

That night, we left windows open to hear the sound of the sea on the shore, hypnotic and eternal.

Sometime in the early hours of the morning I became aware of a monstrous gale, hurtling in off the Channel. It buffeted closed windows, and punched in open ones. Rain lashed in.

Downstairs more of the cottage’s pretty patio doors flew open. Clover, guest dog, shot upstairs, frantic at the storm.

For a short nocturnal spell, I felt like Captain Ahab, trying fruitlessly to proof his ship against a force oh, so much greater than my own strength. I would have given my all for a sowester.

The morning came, and the rain lashed on. Meteorological sites of various kinds were consulted. And we talked, incessantly, about the weather.

It did clear, just after breakfast. Long enough for me to take the princesses down to the beach to watch the wildest waves this little town had seen for a while. The children squealed in delight at this awesome,ancient power best viewed from a distance.

They packed the car, set the satnav, and headed for the dry domesticity of home, where there are umbrellas, and dry pants.

And as they drove away, the sun came out, and shone brilliantly against the black, black clouds.

9 thoughts on “Storm Clouds

  1. We’re having a string of triple-digit days. It’s hot. We all know it’s hot. When people meet, we remind each other it’s hot. Some of us are downright cranky. One of us is thinking about serving peanut butter sandwiches tonight because she doesn’t want to drive a hot car to the grocery store to buy real food. It happens every year. So your post has special meaning for me. I understand what it is to live in a culture where conversations start with the weather.

    But reading about rain, and looking at those dark clouds, I’m transported back to the gardens, and the lady in Oban saying, “We have blossoms in December,” and the moment I realized “green and pleasant land” isn’t poetry at all, it’s just fact. And if my ancestors had just stayed put…

    So please–no internal struggles. Write about the weather whenever you wish.

    1. I’m torn between relief other nations are as weather- conscious as we, and blind envy at your temperatures. As I write, the tip of my nose is cold, a sure sign we need the central heating on. It’s August. And next year, I’m putting the whole family on a plane to somewhere warm and dry where you don’t need brollies and wellingtons:-D

  2. I agree with Kathy. This really is a green and pleasant land and can only be so with our somewhat dodgy climate. But it’s home and I love it. Yes, it’s a nightmare when it rains and rains and we have no clue what we can do to entertain the infamous Big Al. But we also have amazing variety. Like that wonderful snow we had. We are constantly surprised. And as we sat looking at that awful rain across the sea, it looked like it would never clear up. But it did, within minutes. X

    1. I know. But you know what John Cleese once said: I can stand despair:it’s the hope I can’t handle. I seem to spend my life hanging on the faint hope that tomorrow will be warm and sunny! Drives you nuts!

      Lovely day despite all:-) thanks x

  3. Lovely pics Kate. They show exactly what you mean about the weather.
    I was up at 5 am in Bracknell, aware there was a wind blowing, and my runner beans were in danger of collapse.
    So I had to find some string and a couple of canes to stiffen up the framework, which I did successfully. Before 6 am. And we live to pick runner beans for another day!

    But I was reminded of survival games in the New Forest.

    Love DAD

    1. Aaaah, the swimming costumes, the trenches round the tent…those hazy halcyon, if soggy days.

      Well done on the runner beans. What would I cadge if they fell to a storm?

  4. You’re not alone in weather chat, and no need to feel guilty for bringing up such a popular subject 😉

    Here in Melbourne it’s often the first greeting from complete strangers – usually: it’s hot/humid today, which could mean we have hit between 90 and 120 with 70% humidity. Or: Isn’t it freezing today? which means it’s around forty degrees Fahrenheit. We complain about the lack of rain, which stops us watering the garden, or washing the car. Then when it does rain it’s never enough. Except this year. The water restrictions have been lifted, and there are more clouds on the horizon. Of course, in Melbourne we layer our clothes because the city is famous for having four seasons in one day 🙂

    1. I’m developing a severe case of weather envy here. Not an attractive trait. Melbourne sounds vastly preferable to the South Coast of England…but the forecast is good today, and outside the sky is properly blue for the first time since we arrived. Maybe today will be a nice day:-)

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