Weather, or not.

I know I’m not the first – or the last – to point out that Brits love talking about the weather. First of all, they are a polite and proper bunch, so a conversation topic must always be primed should the need arise. Weather is that default topic.

Lately I’ve been barraged by Facebook posts on this topic from friends all over the U.S.  (Yes, I am jealous of your snow. The cold you can keep!) It seems the country as a whole has dealt with weather that is both atypical and unpleasant. It reminds me of my time back in ND… the months when you were only outside if you were running from a warm building to a pre-warmed car, shoveling your driveway, or on recess duty. The months when your snot would freeze before you could wipe it, where you’d take a deep breath and explode into a frozen coughing fit.

Brutal cold yields brilliant skies though!

Brutal cold yields brilliant skies though!

When I found out I was moving to England, I had a few Nodaks ask me if I thought the dreary UK weather would get depressing… My first snarky thought was “You mean, compared to this tropical paradise?”  But after being here for a while and surviving through the shortest day of the year, I can give an informed (and less snotty) response. The weather here really isn’t bad… it’s certainly ordinary enough. I stopped checking the forecast months ago. It will probably rain at one point in any 24-hour period then the sun will come out. The temperature will probably be within ten degrees of what it was the day before. You can dress the same as yesterday with only slight modifications – for fashion or comfort – and be just fine.

One of my favorite authors, Bill Bryson, lived in England for several years. In his book Notes from a Small Island, he perfectly describes the steady, reliable English weather I’ve noticed here:

“I have a small, tattered clipping that I sometimes carry with me and pull out for purposes of private amusement. It’s a weather forecast from the ‘Western Daily Mail and it says, in toto: ‘Outlook: Dry and warm, but cooler with some rain.’

There you have in a single pithy sentence the English weather captured to perfection: dry but rainy with some warm/cool spells. The Western Daily Mail could run that forecast every day – for all I know, it may – and scarcely ever be wrong.

To an outsider the most striking thing about the English weather is that there isn’t very much of it. All those phenomena that elsewhere give nature an edge of excitement, unpredictability and danger – tornadoes, monsoons, raging blizzards, run-for-your-life hailstorms – are almost wholly unknown in the British Isles, and this is just fine by me.”

I remember finding it amusing that there was only one Doppler radar for the entire state of North Dakota, and that on the local channels the weather was often forecast for the entire state! Until then, I was used to turning on the news and seeing three overlapping radars showing ever-updating storm coverage of just a few nearby counties. Here, they forecast for the entire country kingdom! Given, it is a fairly small one. Sam and I saw a forecast the other day which only showed the weather for four cities in the entire UK: London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. “One in each country… that should cover it!”

I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain coming down on a sunny day?

I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain coming down on a sunny day?

Yet, none of this stops the Brits from constantly discussing the weather. I’m sure some consider it an exercise in increasing their vocabulary. There’s a quirky old man who lives down the road, we often pass on the street. He’s always murmuring something random or posing an unexpected question in passing. One day Sam and I were out walking the pup and the man grumbled, “A good day for weather, I think not!”  Feeling utterly American by not knowing how to respond, we smiled politely, chuckled and walked on… We’ll get the hang of it sooner or later.


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