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.