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To dream of rain (or Mad dogs and Englishmen)

On the 01st July we had the hottest day for 160 years (apparently, and measured at Heathrow Airport, a heat island). In Worcestershire it reached an energy-sapping 32 degrees, but this was exacerbated by the fact that there was almost no wind to alleviate the heat. The trees were still, and plants cried out for water. So did I.

It wasn’t just me either. Don’t for one minute believe that Capability Dan is the only wilter in town when it gets hotter than Mumbai, but working outside, bereft of shade and wind, that is what I did. So did others in the gardening community. One man I know (also called Dan, oddly), was trimming a hornbeam hedge up a ladder but finally, in mid-afternoon, he had to call it a day and retire from the field.

But this is England, where no two days are ever the same. Worcestershire on the following day was a wash out with grey skies and a refreshing breeze, and that brought with it its own problems for me as a landscape gardener. It got me thinking about the weather, and with it the concept of Mad dogs and Englishmen, being the only things to go out in the midday sun (according to Noel Coward)!

June and July are the months with the least rainfall in Worcestershire on a daily basis, although March and February are technically dryer as they have less precipitation but overall more days of wet weather. (That surprised me somewhat, and I had to double check I wasn’t looking up Worcester in Massachusetts on the worldwide weather site. I wasn’t). Of course, July and August are the hottest months of the year on average, even coming a few weeks after the summer solstice on June 21st. It’s the same principle that February is the coldest of months, even though the shortest day has long since passed in mid December: it takes time for the increased/decreased levels of solar radiation to change the temperature of a hemisphere.

And of course, the first weekend of July brought with it the spectacle of roaring thunder and much lightning, and sudden downpours to go with it. (It upset my weekend somewhat. On Sunday I had decided to visit Croome Court in Worcestershire, only to have the heavens open as soon as I parked the car!)

Then on the following Monday, the papers were prophesising a second heat wave that might be hotter than the first!

It is these changes in our weather, often quick and unexpected, that make my life, in no small part, so interesting. I often travel from one part of the county to another in the course of a single day, attired for mowing a lawn or trimming a hedge or laying a patio. Frequently, and at this time of year especially so, it becomes a gamble as to what to take with you. In winter months this isn’t so much of a problematic choice: it’s likely to range from cold to cool and dry to wet, so really you just need to decide what waterproofs to take with you. At this time of year however, it’s a bit more troublesome: it can range from cool to very hot, and dry to wet.

I think it is the weather and its uncertainty that has moulded our national character in a unique way. You get used to it, and extremes don’t often last long. So perhaps Noel Coward is right: it is only Mad Dogs and Englishmen who go out in the midday sun.

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