In like a lion and out like a lamb or, as seems to be happening this year, the other way round. March has a habit of springing surprises, but it was still with some incredulity – and, yes, I admit, not a little smugness – that I watched the TV coverage of lorries stranded on the M23 and blizzards sweeping Scotland, from a hotel room overlooking the sun-lit shore of the eastern Mediterranean.
Scotland’s blizzards continue, along with the school closures, the transport disruption and everything else that comes in their wake. But what this year’s retreat of spring confirms, after the briefest of sightings at the start of the month, is that our weather really deserves to be a talking point. This is part of the thesis of a new book by Richard Mabey, with the charming, rather retro title Turned out Nice Again, which considers our preoccupation with the weather.
The point is, though, that our ability to make small talk – and even big conversation – about the weather would not be a mystery to most foreigners. They might ridicule it, but as they, and anyone who has lived outside the UK for any length of time, will cheerfully attest, British weather is peculiar. There are not many places in the world where outdoors is so volatile – where sun and showers alternate with such speed, where summer can suddenly become so cold, or winter become so warm, or a rainbow so summarily end a storm.
You probably learnt at school, as I did, that the British Isles have a “maritime climate”, but that was a bit of a simplification. We have a maritime climate that is also peculiar to our latitude, and which is additionally influenced by the Gulf Stream and the proximity of the Continent. You can sense a change the moment you cross the Channel. Even northern France and the Benelux countries are ever so slightly different from us; that bit more predictable, that bit drier. Travel farther east or across the Atlantic and you are soon in a full-on Continental climate.
On my travels, I’ve found very few places where the weather feels anything quite like our own. The Canadian Maritimes are like Scotland, but not quite. There’s some affinity with parts of Japan. But it is only in Sakhalin – the island where Russia’s tsars sent their prisoners – that I felt at home, weather-wise. Cool, damp, often foggy, and unpredictable, Sakhalin’s climate seems oh-so familiar. No wonder we talk about the weather; it has – as Mabey is hardly the first to observe – contributed, in a very elemental way to the national character.
Yes, do call Nick Clegg
What with Chris Huhne and Lord Rennard, the Lib Dem leader has had his recent tribulations, not all of which were expunged by the victory at Eastleigh. But Nick Clegg risks having another success, with his weekly phone-in on LBC, which is fast becoming a must-listen.
So far, Clegg has vouchsafed, among much else, that he has a green Onesie (unworn), that he agonised about where to send his son to school, that he would not be visiting Huhne in prison. He comes across as informed, personable and relaxed. He makes headlines – invariably of the right sort. Here’s the Clegg whose pre-election debates came as such a revelation.
LBC boasts that this is the first time a Cabinet minister has had a regular radio slot – though Margaret Thatcher had an open invitation from Jimmy Young. But for the Deputy PM who, as the junior partner in a coalition, can struggle to get his message out, it’s a commendable move, and one that other politicians might emulate – if, that is, they have the guts.