Summer’s out

Summer is officially over, and its passing couldn’t have been more definitively marked than with this recent spate of gloomy, wet weather. It seems churlish to complain given that this year we had the first prolonged spell of summer sunshine for quite some years, but since complaining’s what we Brits do best that’s clearly not about to stop us.

The thing is, whether people* (*by which I primarily mean men) subscribe to the concept of weather influencing people’s moods or not, the fact is that, well, it does. I may not be able to offer up concrete evidence of this, but it’s just so obvious when you look around on a warm, sunny day and compare it to a cold, grey one that people are noticeably happier on the former.

Once Summer has officially handed the baton over to Autumn and we’ve settled into the routine of darker nights and colder days it’s not as hard to cope with. The worst bit is the transition period, when we can’t quite bring ourselves to let go of the memory of long, lazy days in the park and picnics on the beach. Such a disparity builds up, then, between what we want the weather to be like and what it actually is like that we start to feel out of sorts, irritable and downright grumpy. Until, that is, we partake in either of two fail safe antidotes to post-summer sadness: 1. Start looking forward to Christmas
2. Book a holiday somewhere that guarantees sunny weather
Or, in my case, both…

 

Great Britain? There’s nothing great about this weather..

With the exception of the usual glorious solitary week in April, so far it’s been a pretty average spring. There’s been much cloud, much rain, much grumbling. Snatched snippets of conversation on the commute to work bear testament to the disaffection of the masses; everyone agrees that they feel cheated. But what, exactly, have they been cheated of?

Anyone who has spent any length of time in this country will know the weather systems are at best erratic, at worst downright awful. Granted, they are becoming increasingly harder to predict with each year that passes, but that doesn’t change the fact the weather in Britain has never, in fact, been Great (apologies for the awful pun). And yet, hearing people whinge on about the substandard weather day in, day out, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the climate in the United Kingdom is usually on a par with the Seychelles, and that the current weather systems are playing havoc with the ‘norm.’

One can hardly blame the steady stream of Pac-a-mac clad tourists for feeling deflated as they traipse from one London monument to the next, rain pouring off their visors. But those of us who’ve lived here our whole lives have no excuse. We were born into this soupy greyness, punctuated only occasionally by phases of clear blue. We are familiar with the short-lived summers, the breezy autumns, the freezing winters and the dreary springs. We know the drill, so why do we persist in complaining? Because complaining is what we, as a nation, do best.

When you think about it, it’s probably just as well the weather never quite lives up to expectations in this country. Why? Because if we did have an unbroken summer of tropical heat, what would the commuters have to complain about then? The heat and lack of air conditioning on the trains, that’s what. When it comes to complaining we Brits are nothing if not consistent; and not even a change in weather front can alter that.

No wonder inspiration’s thin on the ground today..

You had me at first click – Part Three

By the time they reached their teens Johnny (or John, as he now liked to be called) and Jenny (who now answered to Jen) had changed. They were still close, in part because they still lived on the same street, but John was now a slave to rugger, whereas Jen had shed her tomboy persona like a snake sheds its skin, and was now partial to more traditionally feminine pursuits like ballet and book club.

But one Saturday in the autumn of 1984, everything changed. John was walking home from rugby practice through the local park. The late afternoon sun easily penetrated the thin canopy of skeletal trees above his head, settling on the piles of crisp orange leaves at his feet. He kicked them up as he walked, swinging his gym bag as he went.

When he looked back on that day – as he was prone to doing in subsequent years, no matter how hard he tried to avoid it – he often wondered if he had been humming a tune. It sometimes tortured him not being able to remember, though he knew it was of no significance at all.

The first scream stopped him in his tracks. He looked about him, briefly wondering if he had imagined it. Then he heard the second, and this time there was no doubt in his mind. Someone was being attacked, and they were close by. John threw his gym bag to the ground and spun around in a desperate attempt to locate the sound. To the left of the path was a dense thicket, and when the scream – by now more of a whimper – rang out again he ploughed straight into it, mowing the thick foliage down with his powerful legs.

It didn’t take him long to reach the girl. She was lying in a clearing, her face pressed into the mud. She was naked from the waist down, her white cotton knickers lying several feet away and flecked with blood. Her shoulders were shaking – through cold or fear he couldn’t tell – and she was sobbing with such intensity she sounded more like an animal than a human.

Instinctively John removed his coat and covered the girl’s modesty. She bristled at his touch but didn’t turn towards him. Her hair was wet and stuck to her head in muddy strands. Buried amongst the strands was a piece of material. John gently tugged it out. It was a red ribbon. His blood ran suddenly quite cold.

The girl turned her head then, and looked at him. Her face was so thick with mud she was almost unrecognisable – almost, but not quite. “John?” she whispered as her tear-soaked eyes found his.

“Jen.”

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Writing this reminded me of a guest house I stayed in when I was in Vashisht in northern India. It was a squalid place which with the benefit of hindsight I should never have stayed in, but I was taken with this view from the rooftop and my little attic room and so I did. The owner was a creep who preyed on vulnerable lone female travellers. i managed to evade his clutches despite his best attempts to get me on my own but the day after I left a girl confided that he’d tried to get her drunk and go into her room. I confronted him and we had a slanging match on the street, with him accusing me of being racist (which I’m absolutely not). With hindsight that was also inadvisable, but sometimes emotion gets the better of you. That day I saw the darker side of travelling alone.