Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Why the English weather is the best

In response to Peter’s challenge, I shall embark on my most ambitious piece of patriotic nonsense yet: a defence – nay, a celebration ­– of the English Weather.

Some short time ago, we discovered that Britain’s weather is not in fact determined by a collection of impish and malicious demi-Gods, but by such mundane things as the westerly winds from the Atlantic, which bring rain when you least expect it, and the Gulf Stream, which heats our island in winter and chills it in summer. Obtaining this knowledge, however, has in no way improved our ability to predict the weather even on a daily basis, let alone at long-range.

But it is my contention that the English weather – a national icon and character in its own right – is the very source of our Greatness. In gloom lies our glory, in drizzle our destiny.

So here are my ten reasons why English weather is the best in the world:

1. It is the foundation of social interaction

"When two Englishmen meet their first talk is of the weather..."

...said Samuel Johnson, and that’s as true today as it ever was.

The second thing two Englishmen talk about is the respective fortunes of their football teams. Occasionally, you meet a chap who has no interest in football, so you talk about cricket or rugby or, in a real emergency, tennis. Now, just very occasionally, you meet a fellow who has no interest in sport whatsoever. This is when one’s mettle is really tested, and you have to eke every last conversational drop out of the weather. At such times, you can only thank heavens that the English weather provides so very, very much to talk about.

2. It builds character, particularly stoicism and an acceptance of the fickle nature of fate

“Whether the weather be fine, Whether the weather be not, Whether the weather be cold, Whether the weather be hot, We'll weather the weather, Whatever the weather, Whether we like it or not” Anon

When they consider those poor primitive sorts in Hot Countries who leap about, bellow and chant, wave sticks and otherwise engage in activites that might be described as a ‘Rain Dance’, the British shake their heads in pity. For they know that summoning a deluge from the weather gods is as easy as pie: just hang out the washing, or better yet, utter the magic words “let’s have a barbeque.”

There is no midsummer wedding day, no long-anticipated tennis tournament, and above all no big family-and-friends barbeque that can’t suddenly be washed out without a moment’s warning.

But do we moan and curse our fate? We do not. We bloody well put a big umbrella over the stove, don our macs and have that barbeque anyway. Century upon century of ruined plans means that making the best of things is in our blood: the Blitz was a doddle.

3. It instills an appreciation of, and gratitude for, life’s transient and fleeting moments of pleasure

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” John Ruskin

A corollary of stoicism in the face of fickle Dame Fortune, is the ability to make the most of unexpected gifts. No spoilt children of California are we. Stroll out at lunchtime on a warm sunny day in any English town or city and you’ll see that every possible patch of green is occupied by a reclining, sunbathing Limey, munching on a sandwich and soaking what rays he can into his pasty white skin.

Crunching up lanes on crisp, cold, clear winter days, mowing the lawn on bright spring mornings with cuckoos calling, kicking a football around the park on a golden autumnul afternoon, and sipping wine in the garden on a glorious long summer evening – when the drizzle clears, our seasons are wonderfully distinct, and we make the most of them.

4. It has enriched our language

Without the factors mentioned above, we wouldn’t have such pearls of wisdom as: ‘make hay while the sun shines’ and “If you don't like the weather, wait a minute’

Nor could we keep a weather eye on our fair-weather friends, in case they rain on our parade. After all, it never rains but it pours. But even when you’re feeling under the weather, hearing the expression ‘brass monkeys’ generally brightens your day and makes you feel right as rain.

5. It is the source of much merriment and humour

"Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way... well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't!"

So said TV meteorologist Michael Fish on 15 October 1987, hours before the worst storm to hit Britain since 1703, thus sealing his place in British comedy folklore.

This May, due to chronic reservoir mismanagement, some parts of southern England were officially assigned ‘drought’ status and the use of hosepipes was temporarily banned. Naturally this coincided with three weeks of incessant, relentless, driving rain – the wettest May for two decades. You need a sense of humour for that sort of thing. As Terry Wogan said on his radio show: “Good thing this drought is so wet…”

6. Poetic inspiration

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man's estate
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
'Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas! to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world began,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that's all one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day.

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

On shallow slates the pigeons shift together,
Backing against a thin rain from the west
Blown across each sunk head and settled feather.
Huddling round the warm stack suits them best,
Till winter daylight weakens, and they grow
Hardly defined against the brickwork. Soon,
Light from a small intense lopsided moon
Shows them, black as their shadows, sleeping so.

Philip Larkin, Pigeons

From the dew-soaked hedge creeps a crawly caterpillar,
When the dawn begins to crack.
Its all part of my autumn almanac.
Breeze blows leaves of a mustard-coloured yellow,
So I sweep them in my sack.
Yes, yes, yes, it’s my autumn almanac.

Friday evenings, people get together,
Hiding from the weather.
Tea and toasted, buttered currant buns
Cant compensate for lack of sun,
Because the summers all gone.
Oh, my poor rheumatic back!
Yes, yes, yes, it’s my autumn almanac.

The Kinks, Autumn Almanac

7. Joseph Mallord William Turner

...could only have come from England

Rain, Steam and Speed

8. Everything in moderation...

...is the English way

No tsunamis, no hurricanes, no earthquakes, no volcanoes.

Just the wettest droughts in the world, and a comforting soft drizzle to caress you from cradle to grave.

9. Rain breaks in the cricket

Cricket is a rare sport in that it works best on radio. The commentators on Test Match Special, especially Blowers (right), CMJ, Aggers and the late Johnners, are national treasures. And true aficionados know that they really come into their own during the rain breaks, when there’s nothing to do except talk glorious cricket nonsense.

10. The civilisation of the planet

People in warm countries like Spain are lazy. When the English go on holiday they get lazy, because they are too hot and their brains melt.

English weather keeps you busy. Why invent Parliamentary democracy if you can lie around in meadows all day? Why formulate the Magna Carta if you could play beach volleyball instead?

Would Shakespeare have bothered to write all those plays if he could have spent the time sitting in his garden wearing a string vest, and a knotted handkerchief on his head? No – with so much weather, the English need indoor entertainment, and what better than a good tragedy?

If it wasn’t so cold, we wouldn’t have needed furs. If our native plants weren’t so soggy and bland, we wouldn’t need to import spices. Without English weather: no Hudson’s Bay Company, no America; no British East India Company, no Empire; no rule of law; no modern world; no civilisation; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short!

So raise your glasses, cry three cheers for the constant drizzle and thank the Lord we don’t live in Scotland, where the weather’s even worse.


Peter Burnet said...

Splendid. Heroic. Bordering on magisterial. My only surprise in going down the list was the absence of the proposition that the constant depressing, cold, grey drizzle helps innoculate the English against the dangerous and seductive lure of ideas about loving, benvolent deities.

Hey Skipper said...


Splendid. Heroic. Bordering on magisterial.

Peter took the words out of my mouth.

I've always found your writing to be particularly good, often far better than people who get paid a great deal to do it. You have really outdone yourself here, though.

But this reminded me of my first arrival in the UK, in Feb 1981. It rained at least once every day for three months. Come now, that is a bit excessive, isn't it? (That span also gave birth to my moniker for the UK: The Mud Peanut)

What was worse, though, was the summer of 1991. There is nothing quite so wearing as a bleak, cold winter interrupted by only by a bleak, cold summer.

Brit said...

Thanks fellas.

Peter - good point, but I suppose 11 reasons why English weather is the best in the world really is pushing your luck.

Leaving aside rampant commercialism, the weather might help explain why Christmas still thrives despite the collapse of religious piety. The period October to May really would be intolerable without some sort of giant knees-up to break the cold, damp, grey monotony...

Skipper - have to admit, Mud Peanut is rather good, if a trifle insulting.

Hey Skipper said...


Well, it did get a bit muddy, at times.

No insult intended, the term was just an admixture of environment and the appearance of the UK on a map if you scrunch your eyes up real good.

Duck said...

Splendid. Heroic. Bordering on magisterial. In other words, this is really, really good!

You should think about submitting it to a real British publication somewhere.

Hey Skipper said...


Duck is right -- it is rare to read something as perfectly constructed.

Heck, despite experiencing seven years of it, reading your post made me want to head straight for 'ol Blighty and wallow in it some more.

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