The Weather

On 7th March 1786 at Selbourne in Hampshire, the naturalist Gilbert White noted , “Snow drifted over hedges and gates….Blackbirds and thrushes die….As Mr Ventris came from Faringdon, the drifted snow, being hard frozen, bore his weight up to the tops of the stiles.” White is accepting of the weather in a matter of fact way. Today we complain without end. It’s as though today’s weather is the worst it has ever been. In 1683-4 the Thames was frozen over for two months with ice almost a foot thick and the North Sea froze for miles out. We’ve also seen devastating storms and floods across the centuries – in 1952, 34 people lost their lives in Lynmouth, and the following year 307 died and 40,000 were made homeless in the East Coast flood.the weather

On past holidays I used to think I was being witty by sending postcards to friends back home saying, “Weather is here, wish you were wonderful.” Looking back on it, the message was an apt and philosophical one. The weather is here and ever will be – that our islands sit in the middle of the Atlantic storm belt and our weather is unpredictable has always been known, but many of us still refuse to accept it. Where in the world has British pluck gone? Why are airline passengers, stranded in airports by weather conditions such as volcanic dust, given prime time news coverage to complain about their lot? What do they expect?  It seems to me that the present generation has been so mollycoddled that it expects others to make the consequences of bad weather disappear – whether those others be airline companies, power companies or  government agencies. Of course flood management and defence programmes have been stepped up, snow clearers improved etc, but there is only so much anyone can do. Nature will out.

Even good weather has its detractors.  ‘What a beautiful day,’ I remarked to my neighbour back in December. “Yes, but it’s not right is it? We’ll be paying for it later,” she replied. A recent survey has shown that the British make more negative remarks about the weather on Twitter than any other country in the world. It’s embarrassing. Why on earth do we think we are so unique?

It takes an Australian to get the measure of us. “To an outsider the most striking thing about the English weather is that there isn’t very much of it,” remarks Bill Bryson in Notes from a Small Island.  “All these phenomena …..tornadoes, monsoons, raging blizzards, run-for-your-life hailstorms, are almost wholly unknown in the British Isles.” When The Times described an unseasonable snow storm  as a ‘blizzard’ that  had ‘gripped’ certain parts of East Anglia and covered the region with ‘two inches of snow and created drifts of up to six inches’, Bryson was amazed. To him, the definition of a drift is when you lose your car in one.

I accept that nature can put you in your place. In July 2007 heavy rains poured off the downs into the village stream and within ten minutes our cottage filled up like a fast running bath with two foot of water. It was odd, or perhaps just elemental, that I felt utterly calm. Nature had devastated our fragile world in one fell swoop.  Later we took the stuff of our married life and chucked it into a giant skip outside the back door.  It took two years to get back to normal but we were alive and insured. Half the world has far worse things happening and, compared to our forebears who had no thermals, central heating or 4 by 4s, we British are lucky. Forewarned of severe weather conditions, equipped with up to the minute information from local radio stations and armed with Gilbert White’s pragmatism,  us country dwellers should be able to make our own, common-sense decisions  about feeding animals in remote fields or digging out our neighbours. It’s up to us.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Bob Embleton

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