Wednesday 23 January 2019

Summer blues? We're in an abusive relationship with the sky

Cold showers: The folk of Skopje in Macedonia, while cooling off from ‘Lucifer’ in city fountains, would welcome a good old Irish downpour right now
Cold showers: The folk of Skopje in Macedonia, while cooling off from ‘Lucifer’ in city fountains, would welcome a good old Irish downpour right now
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

It has been the one conversational constant for the last few months, a never-ending deluge of opinions, conspiracy theories, general befuddlement and occasional outright fury.

No, I'm not talking about Trump, or Brexit, or the ongoing car crash that is the management of the gardaí or any of the other weird cultural spasms we've been seeing of late.

I am, of course, referring to the weather, or as it's referred to in this county, "thebloodyweather" as the phrase is spat out with such disgust it all sounds like one word.

We're obsessed with thebloodyweather in this country, to the point where it now feels like we're in an abusive relationship with the sky.

We look at the weather forecast with all the concerned diligence of a farmer waiting to hear if he can take in the crops, yet the closest most of us living in cities ever get to the land is when we're in the back garden swearing over a recalcitrant barbecue.

This obsession could be seen in the success of my friend and Indo colleague Damian Corless's book, Looks Like Rain: 9,000 years of Irish Weather.

As he explains in that fine tome, even the Romans decided that our weather was so bad there was no real point in conquering a minuscule, wind-and-rain sodden rock on the far edges of their empire.

Indeed, even the name the Romans bestowed on this island, 'Hibernia', means "land of winter" and there are numerous reports of early Roman explorers complaining that they couldn't keep their feet warm.

In a way, a few thousand years later, nothing has changed - I used to go out with an Italian girl who abandoned her plans to move to Ireland permanently and decided to stay in her home country because, as she put it with a very Italian flourish, "only a mad person could live in this constant rain. And the cold! No wonder you all spend your time in pubs rather than going outdoors".

Yes, as far as the Italians are concerned, you don't have to be mad to live here, but it sure helps.

As I write this sentence, the sun is streaming in through the window and would be lovely, except for the fact that 10 minutes ago it was bloody lashing down in one of those short-lived squalls that manages to drench everything before it disappears again, as quickly and as infuriatingly as it arrived.

There is always plenty of talk about SAD - seasonally affected disorder - or, as it's better known to most people, the winter blues.

That tends to kick in around the end of September and hangs over your shoulder like a damp, itchy shroud until the first tentative stretch in the evening kicks in towards the end of January.

That's a long time for a large part of the population to be depressed. In fact, my former Italian lady friend may have been closer to the money than she thought when she said we must be mad to live like this. Maybe we are. But we never seem to get used to it.

I used to get bouts of the black dog every winter, until one year it simply didn't kick in. Winters are meant to be dark and cold and wet and there's nothing you can do about it.

But the summer? A bad summer is so much more depressing than a bad winter.

Not only are we enduring another wet, bland, infuriatingly unpredictable season, it seems our continental neighbours are sweltering under a heatwave with the rather excellent name 'Lucifer'.

Yes, yes, I know heatwaves are meant to be a terrible thing and can be dangerous, but here's the thing: I. Don't. Care.

Give me some Lucifer and I can work out how to stay cool, because that's a hell of a lot more enjoyable than working out how to try stay warm and dry in the one period of the year when we're meant to be able to enjoy the outdoors.

In fact, have any of you watched the breathless reports of forest fires and people keeling over from heatstroke all across mainland Europe and not thought "...oh, I could do with a bit of that right now?"

If the definition of insanity is repeating the same task and expecting different results, then surely we make the same mistake every year by hoping against all experience that we'll have a belter of a summer.

We never do, not really.

Instead, we get a few days without rain and the country loses its marbles - the canals become al-fresco public baths, the beaches are full of people, the radio is full of people complaining about people who go to the beach and leave their rubbish behind, and we get the usual idiot politicians complaining about ice cream vans causing childhood obesity and the usual Nanny State freeloaders urgently warning us not to sit out in the sun because we'll get skin cancer.

It's a times like this when I genuinely sympathise with Evelyn Cusack and her colleagues in Met Éireann because they become the hated people in the country.

In truth, it would be nice if the weather forecasters could appear after the news and just shrug their shoulders and say that our guess is as good as theirs, and all we can do is hope for the best.

I've now started to judge the summers by the number of barbecue canisters I get through. The summer of 2014 was, as far as I recall, a cracker, because I went through four of them.

This year? Well, I've only used one.

Still, having said that, I'm off to buy a fresh one now - the weather forecast for today predicts we'll reach 23°C.

And if they said it on the weather forecast, it must be right, right?

What was that about insanity again?

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