A short break from Britishness

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The Independent Online
Yesterday morning in our part of the world people were coming out in the street and staring curiously at the ground. It was covered with a strange substance that many of them had not seen before, or at least not for a long time.

It was wet and sticky. It was called rain. Police cars toured the area, asking us to keep calm and not have a go. Umbrella makers danced in the street, hardly daring to hope that bankruptcy might be avoided after all. People who had stayed up all night, illegally sprinkling their lawns under cover of darkness, swore loudly at their wasted night's sleep....

I took no part in any of this celebration. I was too busy racing round the garden, getting in piles of newspapers which I had left out overnight, and taking some towels off the washing-line before they got damp. The thing was, I had got used to living in a dry country. So have we all.

In the last few weeks we have come to believe that it will always be hot and sunny, just like in countries where it is really hot and sunny, and we have started to lose our old British habits.

Most of all, we have temporarily lost our interest in the weather. I remember Peter Dickinson, the writer, explaining to me that the reason the British talk about the weather so much is not because they are interested in it as a topic - it's because it changes so much in Britain and affects our plans so much that we have to talk about it.

When someone asks whether we think it is going to turn out fine, it's a severely practical question. He wants to know if he should take a coat or jumper, if it is sensible to go on a picnic, whether he should walk or drive, and so on.

When weather changes so often, you have to keep an eye on it and you have to talk to other people about it and swap facts and opinions. But for the past month or two I have not heard anyone in Britain in discussion about the weather.

I have not heard people ask whether they should take a brolly or a spare jersey.

I have not heard anyone say, "Think it's going to turn out nice?" or "Nice weather for it."

We have all been dulled into a brown acceptance of the new sunny status quo, believing that tomorrow will dawn as hot and sunny as yesterday did.

The most that people have been saying is, "Well, warm enough for you, then?" or "Could do with a drop of rain, couldn't we?", but our heart hasn't really been in it.

We have also stopped sunbathing.

When the hot weather first started, people couldn't believe their luck. They were about to get a Continental-style tan at cheap British rates. So they rushed out in the sun, lay down and turned a mid-tan shoe polish colour. Even I did, for a while. I didn't actually sunbathe because I have never seen the point, but I did sometimes go out in the garden and work at a table in the sunshine, because I knew how glorious it was meant to be to go outside and work in the sunshine.

But it wasn't. It was just very hot, and it made you sweat, and you started frying gently in the sunshine, and a smell arose like ratatouille starting to cook gently, only not so nice. So I started rigging up parasols, which kept falling on top of me, and I started moving the table into the shade, which didn't do much for the table, nor for me either, and then I had a great idea. I would move back indoors out of the sun.

By that time, I was brown. But so was everyone in Britain by then. After a while, even the people who hadn't been sunbathing started turning brown. Finally, everyone has turned brown, like their lawns, and in a country where everyone is brown there is no kudos in having a sun-tan.

So everyone has stopped sunbathing.

They have stopped rushing out to get the washing in.

They have stopped trying to get the sunny seat in restaurants, trains and buses.

Pubs with gardens have found everyone eating indoors.

For the first time that I can remember in modern times, weather forecasters have abandoned the belief that "a nice day ahead" is the same thing as "another sunny day".

We have all changed. And now, if what they say is true, the weather too is going to change, and we shall all change back again.

Any moment now we shall all be British again. You'll know it's started to happen when you hear people round you saying: "Think this change in the weather is going to come soon, then?"

We shall have started talking about the weather again.

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