Britain is basking in a heat wave. For ‘basking’ read ‘suffering’; Britons do not cope well with heat.
They don’t cope well with extreme cold either, but heat is somehow far worse. Cold can kill a man in minutes. Heat first sends him mad. Heat is relentless and unforgiving, a biblical form of retribution for our manifold sins. It may be, and some will claim as much, that we are being visited by the first of the plagues, ordered by the Almighty to punish us. We have had fire. Next we may have to endure drought, or floods. Punish us for what, though? For Brexit, perhaps; or for not having the wit to elect a proper government; or for not hiring a million policemen to protect the citizenry from terrorists; or for considering Boris Johnson as a potential prime minister; or for threatening, irony of ironies, to remove the heating allowance paid to the elderly?
We pretend of course that we enjoy these rare outbursts of brilliant sunshine and cloudless sky, but after forty-eight hours, and newspaper headlines about roads melting and rails buckling and swans dying, most of us are muttering ‘phew, enough’. What ‘enough’ means is willing a return to the more familiar patterns of the British summer – the invisible sun and overcast sky, and weather presenters on television telling us “there’s the chance of an occasional shower” – code for rain all day with occasional dry spells – or “it will be a little chilly for the time of year” – meaning that June feels more like March.
The plain fact is that Britons love the sunshine but can’t stand the heat. We spend on average 350 days of the year yearning for the sun, but the other fifteen complaining about how too damned hot it is. Today, which forecasters are already positing as the hottest for many years and perhaps decades, we will be huddling in our houses to stay cool, having first slipped out to the electrical shop to buy an ineffectual fan, all the efficient ones having been sold already. Commuters will be staggering from trains without air conditioning to offices without air conditioning and muttering to each other about how “this country is never ready for anything”. A ‘lucky’ few will be sweating it out at barbecue and garden parties, including Royal Ascot, many secretly wishing that they could be somewhere else, but meanwhile adding to their discomfort by consuming champagne or Pimm’s by the bucketful, before falling into an afternoon stupor.
Mad dogs and Englishmen, Noel Coward called them.
By the time you read this, the Queen will have delivered the annual speech to open a new Parliament. This oration will be mercifully short, the government having nothing much of consequence to announce after losing its majority in the House of Commons, and not daring to propose anything remotely controversial. Her Majesty will no doubt be relieved on two counts: that she is not on this occasion required to put on the robes of state normally worn at these events; and that, after delivering her pointless homily, she might be able to make a rapid beeline back to Ascot, where she probably has a horse or two running. We can only hope that the horses don’t succumb to the heat. People dropping dead is one thing, but horses ….
The weather forecast is for the heat wave to break in a day or two with the inevitable banishing thunderstorms – hailstorms are expected in some northern regions, apparently – and then we can all get back to moaning about what a dreary, wet summer it has been, as usual.