Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lovely Weather We're Having?

I recently went to a topical comedy event where the premise was a panel of comedians sat with the Sunday newspapers and discussed what they found in them. It was an interesting show as it highlighted some of the ridiculous and banal stuff that ends up in our newspapers. One of the funniest moments was when one of the panelists pointed out that people were sad about the end of the spell of hot weather despite the fact the very same people had been complaining about the heat when it was here.

I'd been reading the updates of my friends muttering, twittering, and complaining about the oppressive heat of those days. The heat seems to have an effect on all of us. Now, I have never been a hot weather person and I don't know how I'd deal with it. If not having work has any small mercies then this has been one of them. I can hide out in the shade and the relative cool of my home. Here in London the weather is news. If we get a handful of inches of snow the media will report almost nothing else. It stops the infrastructure of the country functioning properly. I have a friend in Canada who lives with snow for the entire winter and they measure the amounts in feet and meters. What we suffer is something akin to the dusting of icing sugar that might be added to decorate a cake. That said, the recent summer heat is the kind of heat one doesn't get in some countries. It is a dry oppressive heat without the sense of moisture you would experience in more tropical climes.

The weather here is an utter obsession. It is part of the fabric of our communication. "Lovely weather we're having!", or, "Cold today isn't it". For the British it's something used to make conversation, an opening and opportunity to start or extend, a conversation. If you go on a date and the conversation begins to steer toward the weather, you know it's gone wrong, you've probably exhausted your interest in the person. It is an indicator that you have nothing much to say to the person themselves and it's a quintessential way we avoid actually communicating with people. There is something sad about the fact that we use this almost as a way of distancing ourselves from people. We communicate without really saying anything.

I wonder if this is an English obsession. I suspect that the rest of the world only focuses on the weather when it creates something truly disastrous. Droughts affect millions and have a very telling effect both on the landscape and the people themselves. The same can be said of excessive rain and the flooding that this can cause. Monsoons themselves don't really generate too much interest unless something out of the ordinary happens as a result of them. It's the same with hurricanes. We're told of some of the big ones but the Caribbean has a season full of them every year. Katrina captured the imagination simply because its effect was that much greater on the region and especially New Orleans.

Perhaps in our evolving world this is about to change. With the onset of global warming now being more widely accepted as a reality there may well be a change in the way that we perceive the powers of the sun, the wind, and the rain. Talking about the weather may become much less of a conversational banality. As we deal with the consequences of this, perhaps people in England will have to find different things to complain about, and talk about.

I grew up on the coast, and as a child I used to love to see the sea in all its different phases through the passing of a year. To this day I think the sound of waves - particularly the big incessant ones - is possibly my favourite sound. Coming from someone with more music than his house can reasonably hold, this is a confession. I remember the storms and the power it exerted. A few years later I remember returning to the same beaches and seeing countless rock islands had been placed a little way out at sea so, I'm informed, that the waves won't damage the coastline. Watching a storm the waves seemed angrier, bigger, and much more powerful than I remembered them as a small child.

Memory is one of those strange warping phenomena. Things we see as impossibly huge as children often turn out to be insignificant when we view them as adults. Watching these waves - and this is 13 years ago - I remember thinking that someone clearly wasn't telling me something about global warming. Why else would a storm now seem so much larger than my memory. I'm still chilled by that thought. Perhaps we are going to change our views about the weather and see it less as this malign influence and instead see it for what it really is, something capable of utter destruction and devastation, something requiring our respect. Maybe then, to my colleagues, friends, and fellow countrymen, it might not seem quite so lovely.

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