Mrs S has just survived the hottest July day in the UK since records began. (99F recorded at Heathrow!) Based on news reports of travel chaos, and the general angst of her British acquaintances, she is expecting to find tomorrow that her lovely Hertfordshire town has become a zombie wastland, but a well-fed one, for the inhabitants should be able to lap up puddles of melted brains off the pavement. If the hysteria is to be believed, that is.
The odd thing about the British — and this may be valuable information to you whether you are in fact British or not — is that they seem greatly resentful of their own weather. All of it. It always rains, which is dreary and miserable, except when it is sunny, at which point they all develop vampiric solar sensitivity. In the winter all in the know want to jet off to an Alpine chalet for some snowy paradise. But should half an inch of the white stuff fall in the Home Counties they shall consider themselves homebound. (Mrs S is informed every year that they don’t know how to deal with snow because they never get any, though the fact that this is patiently explained to her each year rather calls the opening premise into question.) In the summer they will choose to holiday in Spain or Portugal or Greece, but should Mediterranean temperatures find their way to the British Isles, the population melts. Feeling tetchy herself from the unusual temperatures, Mrs S took it upon herself to point out this idiosyncracy to the other mothers at the Wednesday coffee morning and play group. She was informed patiently, and with a noble self-deprecating spirit that the Continental heat is different: it’s a dry heat, darling.
Now, the United Kingdom was the most perfect place imaginable for Mrs S to make her new home, for it is obsessessed with the meteorological, and she is in fact an authority on weather. She grew up in Massachusetts, with steamy summers, glorious autumns, icy winters and pollenous spring. She studied for her B.A. at Bishop’s University, in Lennoxville, Quebec, where for the long months of winter it never quite stops snowing completely. And she then found her way to Saint Louis University, in Saint Louis, Missouri, for her PhD studies, and spent five years enduring swampy, dripping heatwaves and tornado sirens.
As you can imagine, the natural superiorty Mrs S enjoys from having lived through so much weather makes her great fun at dinner parties and, of course, mothers’ coffee mornings. The hard part is hiding from those she is tutting over how much she hates, loathes, and despises the heat. And this was especially difficult this morning as on the walk up to school with the three children, Mrs S’s sunscreen had joined the beads of perspiration running into her eyes. This set off a chain reaction: burning, tearing, streaming, mascara running. She supposed that this cosmetological carnage was well-hidden behind her glamourously-oversized sunglasses until R’s very concerned teacher ran to get her half a box of tissues, as you do when a frowsy, harassed woman arrives at the classroom door with mascara trails running off her chin. So, while sitting in the church hall, drinking tea — and not iced tea, because that is a base colonial perversion — Mrs S was not sure she didn’t still look like a slightly dissolved goth. Tutting weather experts should be calm, cool and collected at all times.
The children played nicely as their mothers sipped and commiserated, but they were individually fractious. This included C, who Mrs S had kept home from nursery because she had a bit of a cough that kept her awake the night before. C had nonetheless been dragged a mile to school (not too onerous, as she rode on the buggy boad) because R had to get to class and Mr S was driving to Heathrow to collect the Matriarch. Now tired and hot, C just wanted to go home and see Grandma (the Martiarch), but to avoid another sweaty walk Mrs S had arranged for Mr S to swing by and collect them from the church on his way home. Trying to explain to a tired four-year-old and her only marginally more amenable two-year-old sister that they had to wait there, even after playgroup had ended, and that Mrs S did not actually know when Daddy and Grandma would arrive was almost as unpleasant as having sunscreen in one’s eyes.
Of course the Matriarch arrived, and Mr S drove them all home in a blessedly airconditioned car. And it was hot all day, and C was insanely cuddly for the climatic conditions, again owing to tiredness. Bedtime was the stuff of nightmares. But despite all of these trials and perspirations, at the end of the day Mrs S was happy to reflect that even when the heat feels enough to melt your brain onto the sidewalk to be lapped up by opportunistic zombies, and you are in charge of children less able to cope with the temperature than you, all can end well. The Matriarch has arrived. Mrs S has her mother. Even if calm and order do not instantly descend upon the house (and let’s face it: the chances of that were never good), at least there is someone else around to say with the incredulity of an American weather authority “But THIS IS a dry heat…!”