The British calendar can be a complicated affair sometimes. Sure, some holiday dates are fixed. Christmas Day and Bonfire night, for example, are always on the 25th December and 5th November. Other dates are fixed-ish. May Day is rarely on 1st May, unlike pretty much everywhere else in the world, but as it is always on the first Monday in May. It’s not too hard to work out. Then there are the variable date holidays. Easter falls sometime in March or April. Who decides on exactly when, Lord only knows. It’s a mystery.
And finally we come to summer. Predicting when our summer is, is akin to picking all six numbers in the National Lottery. We can be fairly sure that it won’t occur during the Wimbledon tennis fortnight, nor during the Glastonbury music festival. But otherwise, it’s anybody’s guess. That is assuming we do have a summer. A roll-over is not unheard of. But we got lucky this year. Summer was on July 20th.
Summer in Britain is an absolute delight. Temperatures soar, fluffy little white clouds bathe in a deep blue sky and the countryside turns into a lush paradise of a million subtlety different shades of green. We yearn for summer all year long, planning all the things we’re going to do much like we plan how to spend our £10 million pound lottery win. And yet when it finally arrives, we are, rather oddly, completely unprepared for it in every way imaginable.
Our national infrastructure fails as the roads melt and rails buckle. Millions swelter on their sofas at home complaining about the unrelenting humidity as the hard reality of the non air conditioned British home bites. In offices up and down the land, disgruntled workers complain either that; a) the aircon makes them ill, or b) the boss should have had the non-functioning aircon unit checked and serviced before summer arrived.
But we are British, and like our cousins the Mad Dogs, we soldier on through the midday sun regardless. Well, what choice do we have? The rarity of the British summer shows up our inexperience almost immediately. We are total amateurs at hot weather. And like school children given free reign in a sweet shop, we binge on sunshine, lose our marbles and suffer the consequences. At the first hint that the mercury will head past 20 degrees C, millions set out to brave the most horrendous traffic jams on the roads to traditional seaside resorts like Brighton, Bournemouth, Weymouth and Blackpool.
Once there, any sense of personal dignity is shed as quickly as the clothing. Men will choose from a variety of fashion wear from the 50s (and I’m still undecided which is the worse look, white socks and sandals or a pair of speedos) and stroll the beaches pretending not to be checking out the scantily clad young ladies who are trading their non summer coat of orange fake tan for a thorough coating of British Lobster Red sun burn. In the olden days, some seaside resorts used to run wet T-shirt competitions. These days, girls seem to participate in a more informal competition, the object of which is to see who can wear the least amount of fabric without actually revealing either nipples or genitals. It’s a great game and I’m often tempted to go around handing out rosettes to those I feel have excelled, but have thus far refrained from doing so. I fear that some may misinterpret my well intentioned generosity and react negatively.
Come evening, families will light up barbecues on the beach, serving up sausages and burgers constituting 48% pork or beef , 2% other stuff and 50% sand. Once fed, the aforementioned young ladies will prepare for their evening out. This will take upwards of two hours. Which is another of life’s little mysteries, because to the casual observer they seem to look pretty much the same as they did on the beach, but with matching belts and handbags. The inch of
casually plastered carefully applied cosmetic products surely does not take two hours to do.
It’s all a waste of time anyway. By midnight, the boys they were trying to impress will have all beaten each other up, and the girls will be drunkenly sprawled, some in tears, across pavements outside of pubs and clubs. To think, Spencer Tunick repeatedly goes to so much cost and effort to photograph hordes of brightly coloured naked people in various city locations, and all he ever really needed to do was take a late evening stroll through Clacton-on-Sea in July for a ready made scene that just begs the title ‘Urban Clunge’*.
There’s another scourge of the Great British Summer. Caravans. Plagues of them appear from nowhere around Easter time, usually piloted by people who are keen enough to fit 3 foot telescopic rear view mirrors to the wings of their cars but are otherwise completely incapable of navigating their caravans safely on public roads. Side winds topple them on motorways whilst urban infrastructure such as lamposts, bollards and fences are battered each time one attempts to go around corners.
And all for what? To live in a cramped box in a field with sanitary conditions that would appall the most hardline of prison wardens. Really they are just practicing to be gypsies. Which is an odd thing to do. Everyone hates gypsies. If you asked the average man in the street to say one good thing about gypsies, the politest answer would be that they have a shorter lifespan than the average UK citizen. But there you have it.
I’m not really much of a beach person myself and am not so keen on living in a field. I prefer a walk along the coast when it is largely deserted in autumn, winter or spring. Personally, I think the nicest place to spend a warm summers day in Blighty is on a freshly mown lawn within the estate of a mansion, castle or ornate garden. The aroma of the cut grass is the smell of summer. A picnic featuring plenty of bread and cheese with bowls of olives fits the scene perfectly. And the radio, tuned the BBC 5 Live to listen to the cricket. What finer way to pass the day than the sound of leather on willow as Cook and Root give the Pakistanis a sound thrashing.
- Clunge remains the finest word invented by the writers of the Inbetweeners. It’s vulgar, yet somewhere still blog usable.