I come from a country where someone once said, “We don’t have climate here in Britain – we have weather.” Personally, I think weather is what makes for a close-knit community. When I was a kid just about every conversation between two adults began with a comment on the weather.
“Nice one, innit?”
“Long as it lasts. Got to get the beans in before it comes down again.”
“Farmers need the rain though, don’t they?”
A conversation like that could go on for hours, and anyone who came along would join in and add their two penn'orth of weathered wisdom.
Without weather, writers wouldn’t have a key compoment with which to communicate time and place – a low rain-filled cloud over ink-black hills, or mist rising from just-washed Parisian sidewalks on a summer’s morning. So, being British and a writer, I rather like weather. I pay attention to it, watch for its nuances, after all, rain is pretty boring when it’s just rain, and snow can become slush when you least expect it.
Speaking of rain - I’m off to the land of the Great Deluge next week. This time last year, I arrived in sweltering London, hovering above the 100 degree mark with a humidity you could cut with a knife. But this year Britain has floods of almost Katrina-like proportions, complete with a government who received early warnings of the inclement interlude from meteorologists some months ago.
And while Britain is flooded – the worst rain in over 200 years – southern Europe is ablaze, with searing temperatures throughout Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Slovakia, Romania, Kosovo and other countries in that broad region. This photo shows firefighters just outside Athens – there are blazes igniting all across Europe.
The scientists are coming down on the side of global warning as an explanation, with movement of the jet-stream in a southerly direction being blamed for the British floods. As a member of parliament said today, if we don’t all do something now, then the British Isles will be under water in 500 years. I’m concerned about the 500 years, but am just heartsick when I think of all those people and animals losing their habitats to rain and fire.
So, I’m packing my bag with rain in mind, though I would really love a miracle over the next week or so. My wonderful God-daughter is getting married on August 4th, and though she is being her usual down-to-earth pragmatic self about the state of the weather this year (Can’t do much about it, can I, Jack?), I would love to have the powers of a real fairy God-mother, to be able to make the sun break through and shine on her big day. Apart from anything else, I’m traveling 6000 miles to see her walk down the aisle, which I think it a pretty good reason to want the very best day for Charlotte. In the meantime, here’s a photo of the lovely Charlie the last time I saw her – in March, when we went into Bath on a fine spring day to buy her wedding jewellery and stopped for a decidedly unposh lunch. Isn’t she lovely? I’ve seen her in her wedding dress already, and I can tell you now, she looks stunning and I’ll be wearing waterproof mascara on the day.
Going back to the issue of time and place, here’s my question to you this week: Do you have a favorite passage from a work of non-fiction or fiction that uses weather to describe a place in a way that makes you feel as if you were there? There’s one that has remained with me for over three decades. I was reading a collection of Hemingway’s letters and in one – to Max Perkins, probably – he described visiting the Scott-Fitzgeralds on a sticky hot day in Paris. Zelda had laundered handkerchiefs, then set each wet handkerchief against a pane of glass in the window. The handkerchief dried fast as sun beat against the glass, so that when she pulled the cloth away, it was as if the cloth had been starched and pressed and needed only to be folded. When I think of it, little was said about the actual weather, but the descriptions of the fast-drying handkerchiefs said so much about the city in summer. And here's another thing, when I was a kid we were taught that the plural of handkerchief was handkerchieves. Is that just a British thing, or have we moved away from doing more than adding an "s" to make a plural? Same with roof and rooves, hoof and hooves. Just wondered.
And as a disclaimer, because I read this letter so many years ago, I may have mixed up the characters. It might have been Scott-Fitzgerald who was transfixed by the first Mrs.Hemingway’s laundering of handkerchiefs.
So, what passages come back to you when you think of weather? And what about those plurals?