On Saturday, I went to meet some friends in town. Cheered on by the brightness under the blinds in the morning, I donned optimistic clothing: thin skirt, frippery blouse, cotton jacket (in case it got cold). I spent the afternoon hugging myself for all I was worth, freezing to death in the biting wind.
It's a well-known cliche that all the British ever talk about is the weather. You know why we do it? It's not because we have a culture of making gentle, non-offensive conversation with strangers. It's because we have so much of it. In the British summer, one can go out of the house in the mornings into a freezing gale, the wind whipping around your ankles and the rain bouncing off your bonnet, and come home in the afternoons to a sub-tropical heatwave.
Accordingly, Summer is the season of contingency dressing for all British women. Anybody who has lived more than one summer in Britain knows it is foolish to go out unprepared. Fine, you go out wearing shorts and cute canvas pumps: but you'd better be sure you're carrying a pair of thick tights in your hand luggage. The smart swathe themselves in layers of thin cardigans and long-sleeved tops, easily removable from underneath their warmer-weathered cousin, the broderie-anglaise blouse. Every day is like an episode of Project Runway. You start out with one idea (stout walking boots, v-neck sweater, woolen trousers) only to rubbish it five hours before the working day ends (a-line skirt, linen vest, sheet of newspaper folded into a ludicrously ineffective hand-held fan).
Summer is a difficult season for the writer. That thin sliver of chagrin that drives your work in less enjoyable months - February, say, when it's cold, wet, and Christmas seems to have happened about sixty years ago - is a distant memory. It's warm out, for the most part; and if it's not warm (see above), the evenings are long. When the light is good and the shadows lie long in the yard, a writer can lose a lot of time gazing out of the window, thinking about barbeques. Winter makes life easy for the writer. Night has closed in long before one gets home from the day job, and its too cold to do anything besides pull your aran jumper on and get to work. Not so the case in summer. I get through it mostly by closing the blinds, and playing an audio tape I've got of wind rattling through shutters, to try and fool myself into thinking its colder and darker out than it actually is. Sometimes it works. (Work continues apace on a new Big Project, in case you want to know: current word count - 28,562 words since Spring began...)