There would be no Britishness, without the inclement weather. It is not simply that it warms the air, feeds the land and waters the people: it composes fully half of the nation’s conversation.
The British are famously reserved, historically at least, and much of this compulsion persists. There are two topics, however, which are considered unanimously to allow this dispassionate mask to slip. For everything else, we can only tut.
Politics. Newspapers. Modern iniquity. All of these can only be discussed in terse, non-committal language in case the other party is some deranged lunatic, waiting to be triggered by a specific topic. Like playing Mastermind with Norman Bates using the specialist subject ‘women who aren’t my mother’.
Weather or travel though; these two things unmask the Brit with a symphony of pessimism and self-pity. Perhaps it is because our weather is uniform across the country, and we know that no sane person could possibly think that three hours of sunshine is sufficient summertime to ward off rickets. Or that both of these subjects are things which nobody could conceivably have control over, or if they do, they are so diabolically evil they can be unanimously – and justifiably – despised. It leads to an odd kind of stoic pride, and really you have to look no further than the Diamond Jubilee last year, where horrendous weather was endured by the maddest and most devout.
While this skill is instinctive, it does develop with age. As time progresses a better ability is developed to talk weather. Beginning with sport, where the conditions for play can be remarked upon, this narrow avenue suddenly becomes an open field of conversation when one acquires a garden. All of a sudden, the weather is your reason for never getting anything done. Or else, during a glimpse of sun, suddenly performing Herculean feats of gardening, all whilst pathetically grateful for the warmth.
The secret is, of course, that the weather we receive is far better than we deserve. Britain is at the same latitude as Denmark, southern Canada and parts of Scandinavia. It avoids, however, the worst extremes of those places. Like all mixed blessings, our weather comes from America. Specifically, warm, moist water from the southwest Atlantic migrates to our island and keeps it warm in the winter, but brings rain to disappoint us in the summer. Our escape then, is to attach prestige and wistfulness to foreign holidays to sunny places, Spain, southern France and various Mediterranean islands. This is a fools errand, however, as it has only two possible results: the Briton is rejuvenated and renewed by glorious sunshine in foreign lands, or bitter coincidence contrives a deluge wherever they go. In the latter case the misery is obvious and complete, in the former, the tanned Brit returns to create envy and craving in others. A few short weeks later, they are in no better spirits about the clouds overhead than before the left.
The solution, of course, is to embrace the situation; not simply endure with stoicism, but rejoice. Songs and poems are written about British weather, Roman soldiers would write to their families requesting more socks and thicker cloaks. Our weather defines part of our character, and is something which unites us beyond all distinctions of class and origin. When it rains, everybody gets wet.