The Mild-Weathered Englishman

In 1939, roundabout the same time Hitler was casting avaricious eyes over Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland, a young Hungarian reporter arrived in London.

George Mikes already had a decent writer’s CV: he worked for Budapest’s morning paper Reggel (Morning) and had been sent to London to cover the Munich Agreement, that piece of paper which would appease Germany’s leader by giving him what he wanted.

George Mikes was Jewish. And though he came to London for only a few weeks, he ended up sticking around for the rest of his life, dying in London in the later summer of 1987.

He wrote for the Observer and the Times Literary Supplement, as well as Hungarian publications such as Magyar Hirado. 

George was a foreigner: and he viewed the mild English insularity with both affectionate indulgence and the keenest of intellect.

Read, do. It is the most refreshing outlook from someone who styled himself an Alien. How To Be An Alien pokes the gentlest of fun at this mild staunch nation.

Mikes is jolly helpful on the subject of weather, and has sound advice for any alien who wishes to interpret the UK weather forecast.

“I have read an article in one of the Sunday papers,” he writes, ” and now I can tell you what the situation really is. All troubles are caused by anti-cyclones. (I don’t quite know what anti-cyclones are, but this is not important; I hate cyclones and am very anti-cyclone myself.) The two naughtiest anti-cyclones are the Azores and the Polar anti-cyclones.

“The British meteorologists forecast the right weather – as it really should be – and then these impertinent little anti-cyclones interfere and mess up everything.

He adds: “That again proves that if the British kept to themselves and did not mix with foreign things like Polar and Azores anti-cyclones they would be much better off.”

Our weather forecasters have been very busy over the last few days. For much like the character of its people, England is generally such a mild and understated country, with mild and understated weather.

But this last week there have been rumblings. Snow, the BBC weathermen have been warning,was on its way. This is a huge change for us: we do not get snow often, and adore the total chaos we permit it to cause.

Yet English men and women went about their business, enjoying the piercing sunshine and pausing only to buy an extra pair of welly boots and  a snow shovel and pop them in the garage.

In the mildest of countries when rain, mist and drizzle are generally king, snow seemed a distant prospect.

Saturday morning dawned without the merest hint of cloud, azure, with dazzling low sunshine. But as the day wore on the tell-tale blanket cloud moved over us like a great presence, a portent.

We grinned. Mild can be so tedious.

Genially, we willed the snow down from the skies. We were out playing in it by the time it was a tenth of an inch thick. We went to bed excited, and we woke excited. For while many of you experience real, deep, proper snow, and learn to dislike it, we rejoice in the small frozen fiesta that our little sprinklings bring.

This morning we skipped breakfast, put on our wellies and coats and hats and gloves and scarves, and crossed the road into the forest.

The dog undergoes a change at times like this. Usually, as he is black and tan, he can depend on almost total camouflage. Yet today, he was in sharp relief against the snow. Nothing he did had any chance of being furtive.

All the usual smells have disappeared, and so Macaulay’s body language takes on the character of a small conqueror, the first to be here in these white wastes. He becomes busy and urgent, like a city broker at the stock exchange. Sell, sell, sell, he signals as his tail thrashes to and fro.

Felix was preoccupied with snowballing. What greater love can any small boy have than the creation of small missiles to hurl at ones loved ones?

My daughter Maddie communed. She took on her usual dementor characteristics, bemoaning the drips of melting snow. It will be gone by lunchtime, she spoke sadly, like the Lady Of Shalott at her mirror.

Phil grinned and strode. It’s what he does best. And I took my camera and snapped obsessively, frame after frame after frame, as if I might just possibly pause time so we might all the more enjoy this great white fiesta.

Thus, I am late posting today. And directly I have pressed publish, I and my good family are off to a cosy corner of our local forest hostelry for lunch in front of a roaring fire.

Whatever your weather: have a wonderful Sunday.

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62 thoughts on “The Mild-Weathered Englishman

  1. Looks like you guys actually had a few inches of the lovely white stuff. The photos are just great, nothing like snow shots with a forest backdrop. Since I grew up in Ohio and snow was a very regular occurrence from about November to March, I have no love of the stuff. We have been gone from Ohio since 1988 and lived in areas where a snow would only occur every 10 years or so. As an exceptional occurrence, it is fun to watch folks react to the snow and the kids are so funny as they gather their snowballs to put in the freezer to save for another day.

    Enjoy your forest snow picnic.

    1. We shall, Lou. It has stayed all day: I think anyone who has had experience of real snow has little enthusiasm for it; but for us it has been a lovely treat. It will have melted by this time tomorrow.

  2. Oh wow! What a different world it makes of it! We have been through some winter months there, but never experienced snow. In fact, the most of the stuff I have ever seen was in Natal Midlands, and on a Swiss mountaintop. Such fun, and like yachting in a heavy blow, something that is as much fun to stop doing as is the doing of it!

  3. It never settled here! I think the relationship is a little more complicated, it’s much more hate-love with snow. Snow means that absolutely no shops will open ever again, snow means that roads will become impassable and dangerous, snow means that schools will close and the children will be stuck at home for daaaays, snow means that the trains and buses will cancel and life will stop … etc! Enjoy your magic! 🙂

    1. You are right, of course, IE: although until the last few years the Thames Valley never experienced snow bad enough to be anything but a one-day hindrance. In your neck of the woods it can be much more than that….

  4. Truly you have the best of snow….the kind that is a joy for a day or so, creating a beautiful sight for the camera (your slide show is terrific), allowing the kiddos their snowballs–or maybe a snowman–but having the sense and good grace not to linger so long as to become dirty, dark and dreary. Have a wonderful romp today!

  5. Lovely, Kate! I woke this morning to an email from my brother with photo from his bedroom window. Then a little later email from my youngest sister with photo’s from her windows too. Lovely white snow and grey shapes…

  6. Oh, my dearest Kate! It is simply not fair that someone (you) can be such a brilliant and superb writer and then also be a great photographer! I would say I am jealous, but I can’t because I admire you so terribly and b—-y much! What a joy every day to read your words – and especially today, because you introduced me to Mikes – someone I had never heard of. I would be knocking him up, but alas he is dead and can’t be awakened. I am looking forward to enjoying more of his wonderful insight and charming wit, as I shall spend some time on the net searching for more of his writing.

    That was my attempt at writing a British accent. Absolutely dreadful, I fear, but would you please clean that up so it sounds more British?

    On as a Yank: Your snow looks like it was tons of fun. I would love to have some more snow – as the most the mountains here have gotten all winter is only slightly more than you got with your one “storm.” Over here we are calling this season “the winter that wasn’t.” We might be in danger of getting all our bad winter weather in March or April, but at this point I would just as soon it not come at all, because our bulbs are all coming up, the forsythia is beginning to bloom, and I am most afraid that our poor sweet cherry tree is going to bud – thus assuring us no cherries this year, because without a doubt we will have at least one more hard freeze – even if we get no other wintry weather – to kill all of the cherry buds.

    Loved your post as usual – I haven’t been commenting, but I have been reading – I wouldn’t miss it!

    Back to British: Cheerio!

    Paula 😆 😉 😆

  7. “That again proves that if the British kept to themselves and did not mix with foreign things like Polar and Azores anti-cyclones they would be much better off.”

    Just loved this Kate. I remember a snow one year and I had to get into London. The only way was to walk down the middle of the road where car engines had melted some of the ice. Everything was quiet, magical and shut down.

    Lovely post!

  8. Beautiful post and pics, Kate. Especially enjoyed:

    He becomes busy and urgent, like a city broker at the stock exchange. Sell, sell, sell, he signals as his tail thrashes to and fro.

    Felix was preoccupied with snowballing. What greater love can any small boy have than the creation of small missiles to hurl at ones loved ones?

  9. Please tell Felix to store some snow in the freezer, and then promptly forget you told him. It can come in handy for surprise snowballs in July. The reactions, I can imagine, would be very gratifying for him.

    Like you, we almost never get snow here. It is always a celebration when we do (unless one is Lou, who is a snow grouch.) MTM grew up in piles of snow; yet, he still loves to see it falling. I don’t know that I’d want to deal with it for months at a stretch, but it is a treat to see it blanket everything and transform the landscape for a little while.

    1. Tis true, a snow grouch am I, indeed. I shall have to embellish one day on my five days alone following a blizzard. Now where have I placed that Donner Pass piece?

  10. Very nice photos, Kate. We didn’t have any snow at all this time, only sheet ice. It was extremely foggy today, however, so everywhere had a white(ish) look in the end…
    I hope you’ve enjoyed your Sunday!

  11. fantastic that you are having fun in the snow, we have had hardly any, but I loved your early war correspendent talking about the naughty anti cyclones.. what a find! And a very lucky man to have been sent away and choosing to stay away. What a dreadful time that was.. c

  12. The four happiest winters of my life were spent hip deep in the stuff, with the wind barreling across the Champlain Valley and pushing the snowstorms against the Green Mountains like a wave on a breakwater, to crash down over on our hilltop campus.

    I miss that kind of winter.

    Your snow looks charming, and Macaulay like a king! Enjoy your fire and perhaps some hot chocolate?

  13. Dear Kate,
    I have time today only to read the intro to Mikes’ book. I so enjoy tongue-in-cheek, wry, witty writing and his is surely and example of all three.

    Thank you for taking me on the walk today with your family. To quote Frost, “the woods are lovely, dark and deep.”

    And thank you, also, for your own sense of humor. Your writing makes me smile. Softly. Gently. And always pleasurably.

    I hope you enjoyed the lunch and the fireplace.

    Peace.

  14. So, you’re the one who took our snow. I knew it had to be someone who could write about it so beautifully.

    I’m the oddball Midwesterner. While I grow tired of snow during a normal winter hereabouts, I’m missing it this year. Your peaceful pictures photo show express why, Kate, as they are so very lovely. The one of the road looks a great deal like our road, which gives me a warm feeling so far away. Enjoy!

  15. That adorable Macaulay peeking through the trees. I enjoyed the slideshow a great deal…snow is the great equalizer. Those photos could have been from any one of many countries in the Northern Hemisphere.

  16. A rather fun, synchronic post , Kate! We, too, had snow Saturday. We’ve not had a storm all winter, and this one came with forecasters changing levels ever hour. I worked all weekend, but this morn, the pup and I hit the last open field near my place. It was lovely, Z exhausted for it was soooo wet that it stuck to her coat in globs. Poor thing’s legs were almost cast stiff with snow. I had no idea until the end of it. What troopers, our animals… Your slideshow is just fabulous ~

  17. Beautifully written, interesting as always…Oh, and tell Paula this is my Stab @ Sounding British…

    I say old chum, would you care for a spote uff tay…

    Oh, Smathers, pahzzz the Bubble and squeak.. plaise.

    Oh dear, It’s a long way to Tipperary, But, it’s ulf to tha water cabinet far may…
    Bless You
    paul

  18. A fun post Kate – I became a very good reader of local weather when I used to fly. There are so many hints around us provided we are prepared to look. The humble Bumble Bee becomes a very agitated flier when it senses rain on the way 😉 I have seen the Clouds that say “Don’t Fly This Way!” and the fog that say’s “Don’t expect to land…” The snow just makes the edge of the runway difficult to spot… Hope you had a great family walk in the snow 🙂

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