This is not supposed to be like this. English summers are designed to be disappointing, a source for our national obsession with discussing over a luke warm pint how miserable our weather is. I am not supposed to awake at 7am to temperatures of 22 degrees c. This has confused a lot of folk I fear. The English do not know quite what to do when any ray of sun light leaks through our grey skies. Summers have been wet of late…and any sun is usually greeted by a frantic scrabbling for summer clothes. Girls appear in town unashamedly flaunting their squid white thighs and the boys recklessly wear no shirts – instead displaying their latest tattoos. And, normally, all this in a temperature just touching 20c at midday. That is for most what ‘summer’ is and what they are used to. In June our local supermarkets could not give barbecues away. So called ‘barbecue food’ – these strange agglomerations of beef or pork or chicken misshaped into curious kebabs or coated in quite alarming coloured sauces, were going for 3 for the price of 1. Reading the labelling is always fascinating on this food as it nearly always says – start off in an oven or under the grill and transfer to the bbq for the last 5 or 10 minutes. Why? What is the point of firing up a bbq for an hour or two and getting it to a heat that you could forge swords on, just to put half cooked meat on for ten minutes or so? Odd. Why can’t people just but the pieces of meat they want….and marinade them themselves if they wish…. and just bbq properly? Why do supermarkets have to sell ‘barbecue food’? Is it a subtle hint to those unaware – as it is normally tipping down with rain – that it really is summer and you really should be out there in the garden frolicking round the charring meat? But now it is red hot and temperatures in our village in Hampshire have been touching 29 or 30 degrees centigrade each day for a week. And our local supermarket, Tesco’s, is bereft of barbecues. And, rather bizarrely, I was confronted yesterday, as I entered the store, by a large box of snow shovels ‘in the sale’ for 50 pence. Note to foreigners – we do not really ever get snow either. So these are another thing they sell in the season known as WINTER– to remind folk that it really is winter in December and it really should be snowing – but it usually won’t be. It will usually just be grey…and damp….but… buy a snow shovel anyway.
I digress. As usual. So, the world round here has gone bbq crazy. All last year’s rusted barbecues have been consigned to the scrap heap and shiny new ones are sitting in gardens, ready to be used as often as possible. Suddenly everyone needs to eat on their patios. And suddenly the dietary intake of most folk in town consists of barbecues burgers, sausages and charred chicken wings. The weight gets piled on….even more than usual. And what is odd is that some folk splash out on gas barbecues, which for me is cheating. Barbecued food should be cooked over coals or wood chips. Anyway, do not get me wrong, I like barbecues, but not every day. And not burgers and sausages all the time. And not food that has been gassed. Eating outdoors in towns does not sit easily with the English in my opinion.
It was great to see all the different food vendors selling their wares a few days ago in Southampton on the high street. And lots of folk were sitting in the open air consuming all manner and variety of foods, dressed in skimpy clothes, displaying proudly their sunburnt skin like overripe tomatoes. But they did not look at ease. It was as if they were not sure what to do. They were playing at being Mediterranean but without the nonchalance of the southern French or Spanish or Italians for whom eating out is like breathing. This is not a normal English summer. And this little island hanging on tentatively to the coat tails of northern Europe is not frequented by sunny days like the ones we are revelling in very often…at all. And yet a lot of the islanders here are desperate to be like our Mediterranean cousins, so we do our best. I hope the sun lasts and I hope one day we get back to how the seasons used to be when I was a child – but I fear next summer, we will be back to rusting barbecues and overcoats, sandwiches in the drizzle by the seaside. But let us make the most of it whilst it lasts and pretend that we are just a mile or two from Nice.
It is certainly a joy to sit in the garden listening to Test match special on the radio, sipping something gorgeous and being able to sit out in to the late hours watching the bats swoop in as the swallows swoop out. I am not complaining. Right, time to splash on the lotion and head out on to the lawn!