Diploma in weatherspeak

The de-humidifier buzzes quietly in the corner of the bedroom, soaking up the dampness in the air. Water from the relentless rain has managed to seep in through the front bay. An inch-wide strip of wetness has stained the pine floor-boards. Or water could very well be gurgling up from the ground below – such has been the extent of the endless downpours. The short supporting wall inside under the sash windows bears a big gaping wound where the plaster has dropped off. It’s the wettest January since 1767 says today’s Observer – which says something about the fiendish national obsession with the weather more than anything else.

For most of the time, social interactions in my adopted home have never been a massive problem – I consider myself ‘assimilated’. However, it’s taken the best part of twenty years for me to cultivate an understanding of that elusive idea – the British weather.

My vocabulary with regard to this important topic, I discovered was quite rudimentary – I could do hot (ok, warm), cold, windy and rainy. It took me a long time to understand that a “lovely day” meant that it was bright and sunny – in the early days, I would balk at this. Even though I knew sunny days were rare, there was something in me that rebelled against making a fuss over some sunshine. The words “fresh” and “crisp” were quite daunting and would completely baffle me. Fresh I learnt was as in the French fraiche – to denote a shift to chill from recent warmth. Crisp is to appreciate the dry sharp cold in bright sunshine when there is no hint of rain. The only exception was snow – seeing it for that brief time each year is special and worth talking about – come to think of it, it’s lost its fascination for me – superficially pretty but so treacherous when it hardens to ice and all too easy to slip and have a nasty accident.

So much so, I now find the great British weather’s endless scope for change fascinating. Nothing else eases the talk between strangers more smoothly. From a quick “isn’t it lovely?” as you cross paths on the pavement to longer exchanges as you wait in a boring queue – a deep temporary bond is created. It is a unique British thing – elsewhere in Europe, they don’t indulge in this particular pastime much. Take a train journey – in Germany, it is a necessary process, undertaken for the purpose of getting from Point A to B. Laptops, phones, the iPod and iPad were designed to be put to best use for this very reason. In Holland, on the other hand – you are accosted with confidence and a hearty conversation can take place about where you were from, where you were going, where you were staying. Most Dutch people, it seems, have travelled to India and want to tell you about it. More like the Indians then, where a complete stranger in a train can pump you for information and you find yourself doing the same in return.

After all these years of living here, I feel as if I’ve graduated after a long effort. I now know that there’ll be frost on the ground after a pink sky the previous evening. It feels like a big deal to have understood this.


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