Wherever you are, and whoever you are with, the more the sun shines, the more obvious it seems that others are making fuller, better use of it elsewhere: possibly at some giant softball game to which everyone is invited except you; possibly quite alone with a lover in a rustic glade by a waterfall where bambis graze; or at some large public celebratory event, probably including the Queen Mother and one or more of the football tenors, to mark the exquisite summer of '94, the one that you are failing to get the best out of. We do not yet have the mentality to deal with a sunny and cloudless blue sky which is anything other than a freak incident.
The instinct to panic, run out of the office, take most of your clothes off and lie panting on the fire escape is still too strong. But there is also the confusion. It is not the thing to go out courting malignant growths any more so what should you do? A shady barbecue perhaps? Starve your friends while you tamper with fire for hours then poison them with burnt yet still quivering slices of underdone suckling pig? The park near me is filled every Sunday with startled groups enduring mass picnic horror: bossy women scraping squashed gobbets of mozzarella off tinfoil, and yelling at children with ozone asthma attacks; men swigging warm white wine in the fierce midday sun, staring at the nearby softball game with a look of left-out shame. As they plod back home with a sicky hangover emptying cling film smeared with yogurt and quiche from baskets filled with decomposing lettuce, they will sense with
regret that this is definitely not the sort of thing that the Italian World Cup team manager, the cool, trim, silver-haired one with the hyperexpensive sunglasses, would get himself involved in.
The activities of the traditional English season, with their endless palaver, weal-inducing outfits, and the inevitable rice salad and crockery transport involvement, are not designed for steamily consistent summers but for putting a brave face on disappointing ones. Furthermore, since the Henleys, Ascots and the like are all about Enclosures they do nothing but add to the sense of more fun going on elsewhere.
Envy of summer life on the Continent - where men like the Italian football manager glide around in smart air-conditioned cars and sunglasses, dressed in crisp linen suits, perhaps stopping for a citron presse at a shady pavement cafe in an ancient square, or perhaps not, but still totally cool about the sun and ignoring it because they know for a fact that it will still be shining at the weekend when they can go and lie quietly on the yacht - has surely been part of our waning national confidence ever since we started to travel and notice it.
But now we have our chance. More and more tables are creeping shyly on to pavements. Diners are managing to sit calmly at them, only occasionally remembering the sun and sticking their heads into it with closed eyes, breaking into huge excited grins at passers-by. 'Look, look, we're enjoying a drink at a pavement cafe, we can do it too.' The expressions of angst, brief and fleeting, say: 'Should we not perhaps be at an outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream?'
As temperatures and humidity have rivalled those in tropical countries there has even been a perceptible chilling out, a hint of a new manana mentality. Normally fierce and frenzied professional associates lose their drift mid-sentence and wander off in search of a lolly. Hostesses given to high-pitched chatter and hyena laughs discover the joys of staring vacant and slack-jawed at the assembled drowsy company without saying anything at all. At the back of many minds is a new- born, tremulous notion that maybe what you're supposed to do when it's hot is go to sleep under a tree.
But to actually get to sleep you'd have to know that the next day would be hot as well, and the one after that, and that enough hot days lay in store in your lifetime to do all conceivable hot-day activities in a calm and measured manner with no sense of panic whatsoever. Fat chance.
Wallace Arnold is on holiday.Reuse content