Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Mad Dogs and Englishmen...and I

Frugal Scholar has all the literary expertise around here. I looked up this phrase and found that it wasn't from Kipling or his ilk, but rather from a 1932 (that era again!) song by Noel Coward. All I can tell you is what I happened last weekend when the temperature got up to a scorching (no irony intended) 75 degrees here at the coast.

I observed this behavior when I first came across, back in 1995, when there had been a particularly good summer – the last for about a decade. I was going out to the corner shop to buy a sandwich and when I returned the postage stamp of grass that was surrounded by the various hospital buildings was covered with white pasty people in various stages of disrobe. Shirts and shoes off, pants rolled up, skirts pulled up, hair pinned up, tops tucked into bras; nothing indescent, mind. We’re talking people anywhere from their 20's to their 50’s, male and female. I’d never seen anything like it; it was so….undignified. Over the years I came to completely understand the desire to get out and grab what little warmth and sunshine came my way, though I never did this sort of thing at work.

I met Kerry for lunch on Friday in Newcastle and we sat outside to eat. Not being a smoker for the last 30 years, it’s not very often I have any use for the tables that various restaurants and pubs put outdoors, but this was one of those rare opportunities and so we took it. As we wandered back towards the Metro where we would part, we both remarked on all the skin people seemed to be showing and laughed. Kerry’s just got a job at the University of Newcastle and so she’ll be leaving the first post she got after getting her Ph.D., at the U of Durham. She’ll be able to walk the few blocks to work and she is really excited about that. I’m not sure how wonderful the job is, but she's excited as she was ready for a change and I think just getting out and finding another post has done her a world of good.

With the warm weather, I knew what would happen on Saturday at the beach, so when I went for my long run I avoided it. This was nearly to my detriment, as there were actually patches in my route with blazing sun, no shade and no breeze – completely unheard of. When I lived in the States I wouldn’t have considered wearing shorts unless the temperature was at least 85 and I have done runs in downtown OKC at lunch in 90 weather (not very smart), so I was amazed to find myself really struggling in 75 degree weather here, but struggle I did. Still, I stayed away from the beach, where there was certain to be a breeze. I managed my hour and 45 minutes, though I had to walk for parts of it.

My experience told me there would be herds, crowds, masses of people all wearing as little as possible. Towards evening the streets would be dotted with greasy paper from the fish and chip shops, pizza boxes, and other fast food litter; also the occasion puddle that results from too much alcohol and rejection of food, too charming for words. Bill returned from a trip to the store in the village and reported that it looked like it had been under siege, with long queues of people non-stop and that staff looking harried with no time to re-stock or tidy up. Food, ciggies and alcohol were all pouring out the doors and onto the beach.

Bill said there was a young man there who had ID. He was a particularly poncey gay kid and obviously proud of having ID. When a younger, stocky ‘butch’ looking boy was turned away for lack of ID, the poncey one pranced up and volunteered to buy the alcohol for him. The cashier said, nope, he would not; it was illegal. The ponce was momentarily deterred, but announced he would just buy his own, then. The cashier said, nope, he would not; she now had no way of knowing whether it was for him or for the minor. Said poncey kid threw a fit, shouting and bawling, (probably effing and blinding, as they say here) and she calmly invited him to continue expressing himself, but if he did so, she would call the police and he would learn how they viewed obtaining alcohol for minors. He left. Another reason I avoided the beach. As far as I can tell, hot summer weather brings out the worst in Brits; either that or the worst of them just happen to come to the beach, I don't know.

We celebrated the warm night by sitting out on the bench in the back yard after dinner, avoiding the hot sun at the front of the house. We went to bed at our usual 9 pm and there was music pouring into our open window. As the night sky darkened and the traffic stopped, the music seemed to get clearer and closer, though we never did figure out from where it came: the golf club, the rugby club, the café at the Metro or even across the river were all possibilities. The music was pleasant enough, but it was party music, not a lullaby so, grouchy old woman that I am, I found myself looking forward to cooler weather, though I did quite enjoy walking around in my house barefoot on Sunday.

Sure enough, Monday it never got over 65. So, back to business as usual: socks, shoes, sweater, sanity.

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