Simon Kelner: Would we be so calm if it was snowing in summer?


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The Independent Online

This is supposed to be the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. What would Keats make of this autumn, sweltering in the unremitting sunshine, reading newspaper headlines that proclaim Britain is hotter than Barbados, or Hawaii, or Mars? He, like most of us, might not be a climatologist, but I think he'd recognise there's something weird going on.

I believe it was Jeremy Clarkson, whose scientific credentials are equally scant, who once remarked: how bad could it be for Britain to have the same weather as the south of France? Well, now we know. I may be biased because autumn is my favourite season and, unlike Mr Clarkson, I do think man-made climate change to be a serious matter, but I don't like it. It's just not right to be sunbathing in Britain in October. And there's something particularly unnatural about seeing the leaves on trees turn brown through a heat haze.

We have become used to extreme weather patterns, and just because this one is benign, giving the opportunity to have a last blast at the barbecue, doesn't mean we should ignore its potentially chaotic significance. I have often wondered whether we would be so relaxed about climate change if this were an age when temperatures are sinking rather than rising. What if we were confronted by a phenomenon known as global freezing? We might then not be so ready to joke about it. Minehead colder than Moscow, proclaim the newspaper stories, accompanied by pictures of youngsters enjoying ice skating in August.

It is possible, of course, that we take these bouts of unusual weather too seriously. The concept of an Indian summer has been around for centuries: in fact, were it a product of these politically-correct times it would be known as a Native American summer, as it owes its origins to the American Indians relying on periods of mild, sunny weather in the autumn to complete their harvest. Nevertheless, you don't have to be George Monbiot to feel that something is changing in our lives. And perhaps the gradual shift to a Mediterranean climate is making us more mellow. It may be a while before we start skipping off for a siesta in the middle of the day, but we are definitely prepared to be more touchy-feely in public life.

For instance, consider David Cameron's pre-conference interview. "Cameron says sorry to women," read the headline. It takes some courage for a man to apologise to half the population so, taking his lead, I want to say sorry to Rosalind Cohen for being so beastly to her at primary school. Oh, and while we're at it, I'd like 136 other offences to be taken into consideration.