Two Memorable Summers

The summer of 1976. Long, hot, dry days. A summer that stretched on in an endless, sweaty haze punctuated by occasional fires, hosepipe bans and exhortations to ‘bath with a friend’.

I was still in the early years of my career, although I’d switched jobs and had moved from a school in a 3 story tenement building in Stockwell to a light, airy, leafy special school [for ‘delicate’ children] in Putney where I was responsible for all of twelve children in a huge classroom. I loved everything about my new job, from the joys of working with such a small number of children to the social life of the staffroom; from the three delicious meals each day, [cooked on site] to the convenience of living a twenty minute walk away. I’d moved from Wimbledon to share a flat in Putney with a girl who’d begun working at the school at the same time.

One wall of each classroom in this modern building was glass, giving a view on to landscaped grounds but in a hot spell heating the rooms to oven temperatures in the afternoons. Our gregarious, eccentric boss, who had a gammy leg and was given to gesturing wildly with his stick, instructed us to take the children outside under the trees, a directive that we were only too delighted to follow. These were sick children, suffering from a range of conditions that included chronic asthma, heart problems and cycstic fibrosis. They flopped down under the trees and slept while we worked on our tans, having given up all pretence of holding meetings or making teaching aids.

By the time the long summer holiday came I’d acquired skin the shade you would expect from a long sojourn in a tropical location-and remember this era pre-dated any enlightened warnings about sunbathing.

This summer is the longest and hottest in the UK since that heady season of 76. And while I may not tolerate blistering sunshine as well as I could in my 20s I continue to love hot weather. I love soft, still early mornings and long, light, balmy evenings. Yes, the garden is dry. The grass is golden and crispy. Bumble bees have taken up residence in the lawn, tunnelling underneath the decking. The come and go in a relentless, dedicated relay, circling drunkenly before they make their inelegant landings then disappearing into the grassy tunnel.

As yet we’ve been spared a hosepipe ban, unlike 1976. I no longer loll around in the sun and am more likely to be walking, cycling or gardening. To relax I’ll seek out some dappled shade and settle with a book. I’ve become a conscientious user of sun cream and wearer of hats. We eat dinner with the doors wide open and a view of the river at the lowest it’s been since we moved here, flowing slowly and exposing islands of weed for hopeful moorhens to pick over.

Some day soon it will be over, this hot spell-and autumn will be upon us. But for now I’m going to enjoy every day, just as I did 42 years ago.

 

Think Yourself Lucky!

It is generally agreed by those of us who live here in the UK that 2017’s summer has been, at best, disappointing. Other than one or two early heat waves, when you had to take to the shade or expire, the traditional July and August holiday’s weather has been unpredictable, heavy showers alternating with wind and cloud, occasional bright patches but never a sustained period of warm sunshine.

This has been good for some; UK tourism is booming [see last week’s post] with ancient monuments, museums, attractions and theme parks all doing well. Other customary, outdoor summer events such as festivals have fared less well, with many having been cancelled altogether.

As a teenager and a young adult I adored hot weather. There was never a hint that exposure to hot sun could be in any way detrimental to health. On a [somewhat abortive, though that is a different story told in an older post] trip with fellow students to southern Europe I equipped myself with some dubious tablets that purported to allow tanning without burning, thus imbuing me with the confidence to strip off and fry myself to a crisp. Later, with the advent of sunblock creams I became more circumspect but nevertheless continued to sunbathe in the interests of maintaining a glowing, tanned skin.

For many retirees a home in the sun is a longed for goal with the result that areas like the Spanish Med are crowded with ageing ex-pats, [many of whom were further encouraged by the ability to draw their pension and enjoy free healthcare whilst living in Europe-benefits that may not, now sustain].

Despite the few remaining climate change deniers, such as Trump, our weather patterns are altering. We bemoaning Brits may grumble about our ropey summers, but southern Europe has begun to experience heat waves with unprecedented frequency and to extremes. Will those who abandoned Great Britain for warmer climes be able to manage life in the dangerously high temperatures we have begun to see?

Myself, while I love the sunshine as much as anyone else I am no longer able to tolerate the punishing heat that I used to enjoy when young and this is a feature of older age. Extreme heat is dangerous for older people as it is for the very young. We travel widely in Europe, Husband and I-but outside of high summer, in late spring or early autumn, when the edge of heat is no longer there, nor are the crowds.

I am as guilty as anyone of moaning about the British weather, but perhaps we Brits should consider ourselves lucky that we are not yet too drought-ridden and baked to live our lives here. We are starting to see the impact of too much rain on our country’s crops and we are prey to floods but other, less lucky parts of the world are seeing far worse conditions. Perhaps a cloudy, breezy, showery summer is not so bad after all!

 

Cut to the Chase!

What do you suppose is the biggest threat to planet Earth? It’s a tricky question. Perhaps it can be answered by calculating the relative proportions of news coverage devoted to various global menaces.
Many would say terrorism, and it would be a fair answer, judging by newspaper headlines and daily bulletins. Who couldn’t fail to be frightened by the actions of those who hold life so cheaply? We identify with those who are held hostage and look on in horror as they are shown kneeling at the mercy of their captors and aware of the appalling fate that awaits them. Just when everyone is reeling from suicide bombings some new ghastly and shocking strategy is developed to horrify the infidels.
Then there is disease. Ebola is racing like a bushfire in West Africa, threatening to spread into the wider world. Even if it is to be contained some other, terrifying disease will take over and need to be subdued.
And what about resistance to antibiotics? This could constitute the biggest scare humanity has known since the wonder drug that is penicillin was invented.
Wars? Famine? Financial meltdowns? There are plenty of world disasters to choose from. But to me the single most compelling, the most threatening and insidious peril is climate change-overwhelming all other dangers like an eclipse.
Take Australia. The country is suffering from ever hotter and drier summers, rendering increasingly more of the land uninhabitable as fires and soaring temperatures become the norm. A similar picture is painted in parts of Africa. In other areas of the world flooding and torrential rains have made life untenable as people seek ever more inventive ways to survive. In the future populations will need to move into the parts of the planet that can be lived in comfortably [http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/28/climate-change-has-arrived-global-warming-icecaps-deserts].
This summer, whilst on our travels we met several couples who had travelled north from their southern Spanish retirement idylls to seek cooler conditions further north [in the South of France]. One couple explained that around their hilltop villa near Cadiz the temperature was too hot [in the 50s] to go outside and uncomfortable inside with the air conditioning unit going full throttle. It must be prohibitive to fuel such air conditioning-what of those who cannot afford the cost?
And what of those who cannot afford to move, make alterations or adapt? They are the unlucky ones; those who had the misfortune to be born in countries bearing the brunt of the climate changes.
Meanwhile we are all sleepwalking into an uncertain future as we bomb each other to smithereens and wring our hands over financial recession. What idiots humans are!

London Heatwave

                The underground train is a stifling capsule of wilting passengers, staring mute into the clammy air.

                A slim, elegant woman in a long, floaty dress, large, ugly feet restrained by thin, strappy sandals. Her big toe gross, like a giant’s thumb-

                Stepping out on to the platform; a surge of cool air pursues us through the rounded tunnels.

                Heedless, purposeful travellers walk between us, barge into us or stand in the way, intent on their tiny screens.

                Throngs on the shady side of Bond Street-a forest of smooth, bare legs in the shortest of buttock-skimming denim shorts.

                I grimace when I spot my baggy knees reflected in the mirrors of the hotel lobby as I await the lift.

                We are the ‘Out of Towners’-Jack Lemmon and his wife-I am a tourist in a city where I lived for years-aeons ago-

                The restaurant terrace overhung by subway tracks-trains squealing by overhead, their wheels grinding as they round the bend, counteracting conversation; the waiter beams and his lips form a question, soundless in the train’s passing hubbub.

                Shoppers clutching bags-Dolce e Gabbana, Liberty’s, Reiss-

                The gift stalls crammed with a million items no one could want-Union Jack mugs, fridge magnets, Tee shirts, metal models of Big Ben, Buck House in a snowstorm.

                I fall exhausted on to the soft, white sheets in the air conditioned room-am asleep in seconds.

                When I wake I am sixty years of age…