It happens every year, usually at some time between Cheltenham and Aintree or, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, between mid-March and the early part of April. It’s an annual occurrence and, unlike the local elections or Halloween, doesn’t involve complete strangers knocking on your door and asking for favours. Which is always a plus point, in my book.
What am I droning on about? It’s the end of winter of course, a season that will be banned when I rule the world, along with really small frying-pans and the word “legend”.
There cannot be many people who welcome this time of year more than yours truly. I despise British winters; gloomy and dank at their best, bone-chilling and deeply depressing at their worst. Perhaps four months of each year infected by a kind of permanent twilight which gives way to darkness as early as 3.00 pm on some December days. Horrendous, miserable, cold, dark. You get the picture, I hope. March to October good, November to February bad (to misquote Orwell). Except…
Warm weather in this country, especially if we get it when we don’t really expect it, does seem to prompt some kind of mass delusion that we have been transported to sub-Saharan Africa during a heatwave. Out come the shorts and t-shirts, barbeques are dragged from their winter resting-places, and ice-cream vans venture out for the first time since late September. All well and good, though personally I need the temperature to be in the high 20s (low 80s in old money) before I even consider sun cream and shades. Yet the madness doesn’t stop there.
We inhabit a small island off the north-western edge of Europe. It rains frequently (despite what the water companies will tell you), it’s cold and bleak for a ridiculously long period of time and it’s not difficult to understand the feelings of joy when the gloom gives way to sunshine and blue skies. But let’s get a grip here.
People strut around the streets in milky March sunshine looking like refugees from Bondi Beach. In more extreme cases, men strip themselves to the waist for the long, hot journey down to Tesco’s for some pasta sauce, seemingly unaware of their revolting wobbliness. Dimwits loll about outside town-centre pubs, soaking-up a bit of “cafe culture” before their fifth pint of Stella, once empty, gets launched at the first innocent cranium they see. A bit like the huge overreaction we see when the England football team scrapes a 1-0 win over Belize or Papua New Guinea, so the cork of sanity explodes out of the bottle of over-excited fervour when we get a bit of sunshine around the Ides of March.
But there’s another, darker side to this celebration of the start of what, hopefully, will be a sustained period of good weather. I say that because if you, like me, need the temperature to climb well into the twenties before you even consider dispensing with your coat or jumper, you’ll find yourself being viewed with a degree of suspicion. By whom? Well, by those who think that the sun weakly breaking through the clouds towards the end of March means that they should dispense with 95% of their clothing.
Failure to comply, to strip off in your attempt to convince everyone that it’s the Summer of ’76 all over again, marks you out as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, a bit “off-message”, someone refusing to join the fun party. Doors and windows are flung open, fans whirr into action, large women the colour of snowdrifts become convinced that a day spent on the beach will have them returning home looking like Jennifer Lopez. Yet I sit there in my jumper and coat, bemused. The wind still has that cold edge to it (don’t laugh), it still gets bloody chilly at night and (most importantly) the British asparagus season hasn’t started yet. All of these things tell me that it really isn’t summer yet. I don’t care about hosepipe bans, or tales of highest temperatures “since records began”. Spare me the breathless reports on local TV (always from Bournemouth for some reason). Not even Fat Tony from next-door-but-one waddling past in his shorts (and little else) will convince me. Only when that meteorological masterpiece known as “The Sun” faithfully records “PHEW, WHAT A SCORCHER”! will I know that summer has arrived.
Until then, keep your clothes on. And stop scaring the horses. Please.