You may have heard we Brits are famous for talking about the weather
- I haven’t got the cable connector thingy for getting them off the camera, in my current between-computers state;
- they didn’t come out too well anyway;
- I don’t want to publicise the clutter on my windowsill.
It was good on Friday morning – thick on the ground, and big flakes falling horizontally.
It’s not Siberia, not even Canada; our ground-floor windows aren’t covered by snowdrifts and we’re not shovelling snow in order to get down to the front gate. Taifeng did shovel a bit but that was because it was slippery where we’d trodden it down.
But it is the worst we’ve had for eighteen years, and certainly the closest I’ve seen in this country to a blizzard. (I’m a softie Southerner and although have visited the mountainous regions quite a lot – North Wales, the Lakes, and the Scottish Highlands – that was never in winter). This week’s snowfall has clogged up the country’s transport. Marvin hasn’t been to school since they sent him home at lunchtime on Monday and even Tigger, whose school is just down the road, has had two days off.
We’re hearing a lot on the news about other countries that cope with worse than this. Well, of course Finland copes. It gets worse than this all the time. Our kids don’t expect to ski to school.
We’re hearing a lot about how the government should have been better prepared, the councils better equipped. That’s the media for you. Whinging is NOT a traditional characteristic of the Brits (though complaining only to each other, instead of the person who could change things, is). Everyone I’ve heard in real life is agreeing that if the money had been spent on snow ploughs etc to be used once or twice a decade, there’d have been outrage and with good reason.
That’s the point. Finland copes because it’s used to it. Would it cope better than the UK with the drought, hosepipe bans and so on that we’re getting in recent years? Would Singapore have snow ploughs handy to deal with heavy snow on roads, railways and runways?
The Brits talk about the weather because our weather gives us something to talk about. A friend who grew up in the West Indies told me that, when she lived in England, she talked about the weather too. It varies, it’s not easily or accurately predicted, and almost every day it is different from yesterday’s and from tomorrow’s. In the days when agriculture was central to the economy, the forecast meant (and in a lot of areas still does) far more than needing to have a woolly jumper clean and aired by the weekend.
The weather thus became, like the handshake, a currency you could use with any stranger, friend or casual acquaintance. It demonstrates openness, announces that you’re not hostile, while not getting too personal or committing to a long conversation. In any situation, any at all, where a friendly nod is not quite enough, you can comment on the weather without looking silly.
Unless you’re in a country where it’s sunny, has been sunny for the last three weeks, and will be sunny for at least the next three. Then you do look silly. You sound like one of those Brits who always talk about the weather. I’ve done it myself. It is as normal as offering a cup of tea when a guest arrives, as lifting a hand to wave at a neighbour you see across the street. And then, because the weather hadn’t given me anything to talk about, I have felt a fool.
This is why across the world we have our reputation for talking about the weather. When a Brit does it, s/he’s not just pointing out what the weather is doing. It is something more.
Then again, sometimes we’re just saying what the weather’s like. After all, without reaching the extremes of anything (rainfall, snowfall, hurricane, temperatures either high or low), in this little land we do have weather worth talking about.
* Bear in mind that when the Severn can’t be crossed, Wales is cut off from London.**
** Without going a really long way round.