Sultry weather, steamy sounds

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The Independent Online
'Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.' Caliban's line from The Tempest has been playing on my mind during the past two months of amazingly un-British weather. Even on Wednesday night, when I awoke to a strange swishing noise (it had finally rained), Shakespeare seemed to match the moment. For the hot weather has wrought many odd and unremarked changes to the way we live, to everyday culture, that extend far beyond some opera-goers wearing T-shirts instead of evening dress, or flushed office workers daring to wear shorts or sun dresses to work.

Take Islington Person. With Tony Blair's confirmation as leader of the Labour Party, much has been written about the life- style of this privileged and influential bunch. But a friend who lives in the overcrowded enclave of thin, narrow houses, many sub-divided into bijou flats, says the most startling thing about the hot weather is that all around you, you can hear Islingtonians making love at unexpected times of the day because their gracious Georgian windows are wide open. Is this why Tony Blair is always smiling?

Sitting in her garden on Sunday afternoon, quietly sewing, she heard four couples romping urgently away. One pair, in the bathroom, were making the bath water slurp in an accelerating, rhythmic manner. Perhaps Islington people like to be uninhibited exhibitionists. I suspect that in common with more ordinary Britons, they are so accustomed to living a domestic life indoors, unseen, sheltering from the rain, that they are largely unaware of how noise travels through open windows and jerry-built houses.

I have certainly become much more attuned to how my neighbours live, due entirely to the hot weather, though I can't say we've become more friendly. I know which pop station one neighbour switches on when he returns home, and for how long; exactly when another set of neighbours sit down on their patio for supper. Evenings seem to echo with small-change sounds of everyday life transported outside, the clink of plates and cutlery, the odd floating meaty smell of a barbecue, followed by the nightly ritual of watering the garden.

On the other hand, some noises are absent: no lawnmowers cut into Sunday mornings - the grass stopped growing weeks ago. I'm not at all surprised by the case this week of the devoted gardener being arrested for failing to return a neighbour's son's football. If we'd had a good spell of rain by now she would have had a respite from requests to return it as the boy switched his attention back to computer games. For yes, the hot weather undoubtedly makes people ratty and more territorial. At a supper party last week we sat outside until very late. I suddenly realised that the man who lives in the upper maisonette above the host's flat was pacing the floor, watching us with fury.

The Royal Shakespeare Company is currently performing The Tempest. They wrote asking me to buy tickets: in normal times it would be nice to hear that quote in context. But the last thing I want to do is attend an indoor event of any sort. A spokeswoman from the Society of West End Theatres says that most theatres are air-conditioned: she even argues that people attend them to get cool. Like Hamlet, she must have been 'too much i' the sun'.

THERE is one sure-fire recipe for a disastrous holiday. You have a baby and decide it would be fun to go on holiday with other stressed-out friends who also have young children. You then pick the sort of place you would go to for a lengthy flop without children: for example, a shared villa in a very hot place - Spain, Tuscany, the South of France - with an enticing private swimming pool just off the patio. This is precisely how good friends of mine planned their summer break with their one-year-old baby.

This is what happened. The other people's children woke up at 5am: they were housed in a room directly above them. The two nannies, employed and transported to the South of France for the duration, went on strike after one of the mothers declined to get up before lunch. The nannies added to the sense of dissatisfaction by leaving notes asking the parents to go shopping for normal food, like cheddar cheese. The swimming pool dominated everyone's thoughts because it was a potential death-trap: no child could be left for a second unattended. None of the children could cope with the great heat. At the end of two weeks everyone returned home to England, after delayed flights, in need of a real holiday. They had simply doubled up on the hassle and stress. My friends say that next year they will book somewhere in the UK, by themselves. The English Tourist Board believes it's time our home-grown resorts raised their game, dispelled their tacky image with some astute investment and started attracting British families back to them from the Costa del Sol. Absolutely right, there's a whole generation out here, ready and waiting. It's just that one bout of hot weather is unlikely to make us forget how miserable a bad British summer can really be.

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