Would you like to know where I’m writing this from? Because you’ll hate it. I feel I can say, with some certainty, that you will not like it.
You see, I am writing this column from the great outdoors – more specifically, the garden of a cafe in Islington, because sometimes it’s nice to play into the stereotypes. It is currently 28 degrees and the sky is so blue it feels obnoxious. I am in the sun – not in the shade – and I am having a lovely time. Are you riled up yet?
I ask because I have noticed, over my years here, that British people have a very complicated relationship with what is commonly known as “the summertime”. You’re just never happy.
Actually no, that’s incorrect – let me rephrase that. British people love the idea of summer; they adore it as a concept, are never more content than when it appears on the horizon. By March or April you’re practically gagging for it – the sun, the barbecues, the parks, the cold pints of beer.
You spend your springs seething at the greyness of the sky and the fact that you somehow still need a coat at Easter. “Soon,” you say, “everything will be great.” What happens after that, as far as I can tell, is that you get to enjoy three to five days of ecstasy before getting grumpy again.
Suddenly the temperature rises above about 23 degrees, as it does every single year, and you begin to frown. You’re just not sleeping very well, it turns out. You have to shower twice a day, sometimes three. You don’t know what to cook for dinner. Somehow, you always feel sticky.
By early June, complaining about the heat is all you do. Every night you go to bed and you pray for the temperature to fall again; when the weather forecast on the BBC mentions that a thunderstorm is even a distant possibility, you start praying even harder. All you want is for the rain to arrive and carry you away. You’re done.
Do you ever stop and think about this puzzling charade you go through every single year? Like hell, you do. The latest fad in Britain is to blame everything on “infrastructure”. Of course, you can handle the heat, and you love summer; you’re just living in the wrong flats and houses. Everything would be fine if you lived in the right flats and houses. You could even bear tropical weather, if you had the right flats and houses.
Except it’s a lie, isn’t it? It’s not about trains and offices not having enough air-con. You’re just in denial. You want to love the heat, but you can’t handle it. You were born to thrive in around 15 degrees and under light clouds, maybe with occasional rain.
What you cannot bear is weather that stops you from doing exactly what you want to do, exactly when you want to do it. I’ve seen Brits go on walks and hikes at 1pm when it’s 32 degrees outside; I’ve seen them decide that 36 degrees and no wind or clouds is ideal weather in which to drink 17 pints on a terrace.
The British, as a people, demand to always be in charge of their destiny. They do not accept that, when it gets very warm, they must bow to the demands of the weather in order not to have a terrible time. It is quite amusing to witness as an outsider, even if it can often be frustrating. The solution to your troubles is right here and yet, and yet! You refuse to see it.
You keep trying to have the best of both worlds – enjoying the summer while living life entirely as normal – and as a result you end up having nothing. You spend half the year yearning for the sun and when it arrives you count the days until it leaves again.
Of course, you will never learn from this. I have tried, over the years, to gently advise my British friends, but to no avail. No one could accuse you of a lack of stubbornness. I’d make fun of it all but sadly cannot, as I am the sun to your moon.
Summer is my favourite season of all and, the moment it gets below 10 degrees, I see no point in carrying on. I turn the heating all the way up, hide under my duvet and wait for it to pass. Would I enjoy myself more in the winter if I accepted that I should wear practical but unflattering clothing, and that waking up earlier would mean getting more daytime? Absolutely! Will I ever do it? Christ, never.