Victoria Summerley: City Life

'It's a sure sign of spring: family saloons full of ripped-out bathrooms on their way to the tip, then to B&Q to buy new ones'
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The Independent Online

We've just had the sunniest February on record, and, in my street, magnolias and flowering cherries have been in bloom for a month. The daffodils on the common are turning brown and the willows around the pond are in leaf. And we're not even halfway through March yet. So how, in the 21st century, is the city-dweller to know when spring – genuine, sun-on-the-back-of-your-neck, burgeoning-life spring – is truly here? Here are 20 foolproof ways for a Londoner to tell:



1. You've just looked out of the window and it's snowing.

2. The Met Office has launched its first long-range predictions for the summer, which is going to be record-breakingly hot/ dry/cold/wet. File that information, because come September it will amuse you to look back and discover that completely the opposite turned out to be the case. If, on the other hand, the long-range forecast is issued by one of those blokes who predicts the weather by hanging up a bit of seaweed, or observing whether the rooks are building high, or some other hoary, country-lore method, then pay close attention. He's the one who is likely to be right.

3. Marks & Spencer has sold out of swimwear in your size. This happens every year by the middle of March in my experience, and, in an age of global warming, it is a far more reliable harbinger of the vernal season than any old cuckoo or lamb.

4. The asthmatic cough of next door's lawnmower, being fired up for use for the first time since last October, shatters the peace of Sunday afternoon.

5. Your own asthmatic cough is triggered by the smoke from a neighbour's barbecue, which is being fired up for a jolly gathering of about 100 or so. Whatever fragments of Sunday afternoon peace remain, they are well and truly history from this moment on.

6. You suddenly feel the urge for a Pimm's.

7. Just as sunshine follows spring showers, this is succeeded by the discovery that you urgently need to stock up on lemonade.

8. You feel a strange desire to go to the garden centre and buy bedding plants. Then you realise 2,000 other people will feel this urge at exactly the same moment, and you will have to queue to get in to the garden centre car park. You settle back with the Pimm's.

9. Four hours later, on your way to the supermarket to buy some more Pimm's and lemonade, you notice there is still a queue of cars waiting to get in to the garden centre.

10. There's also a queue at the local tip, where entire back gardens or bathrooms or kitchens are being offloaded from the boots of family saloons. On the way home, these householders will call in at B&Q or Homebase and buy another back garden, or bathroom, or kitchen.

11. You are bitten by the first mosquito of spring. You have to attend the local NHS walk-in clinic, who will prescribe antibiotics and antihistamines. You bitterly regret building a pond in your garden (however wildlife-friendly it may be). And that waterbutt you put in following the drought of 2005 (another breeding ground for the buggers). There are more than 30 different species of mosquito in the UK, and half of them seem to be in your back garden.

12. The King's Road is full of convertible Mercedes-Benzes and Audis with their tops down.

13. Your street is full of Polish builders with their tops down – or rather, off. Sadly, this is not a good look.

14. You fall asleep in the garden or park during the March heatwave (usually around the 29th) and awake with short-sleeve-shaped sunburn. No matter how hot it is the rest of the summer, somehow the tops of your arms will never look as brown as the rest of you.

15. As windows open to the fresh spring air, you hear a boy in the next street practising for Grade 1 trombone. At least you think it's a trombone. On second thoughts, it might be an animal in pain.

16. Newspapers and magazines are full of advice on how to achieve the best fake tan and how to look good in swimwear.

17. You hastily apply "streak-free" fake tan before rushing off to work. Six hours later, you find rather alarmingly tigerish stripes down the backs of your calves. You still do not possess any swimwear (see No 3).

18. The unforgiving spring sunshine falls upon the damp patch on the living room wall, a legacy of last year's interminably wet summer. You ring your usual builder or decorator – only to find that they're now booked up until November.

19. The common is full of people having picnics. The following day, the common is full of litter generated by people having picnics.

20. Despite the credit crunch and the housing-market statistics, estate agents will start talking about the "spring surge" and how bargain-hunters should get in ahead of the Easter rush. They could even have a point: house prices in many parts of London, including mine, are still going up, rather than down, while mortgage offers come with more and more strings attached. A negotiator in search of a fat commission is as single-minded as a blackbird or butterfly in search of a mate – and far more tenacious than any bulb trying to poke its nose up through frosty soil.

v.summerley@independent.co.uk

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