Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get

Because I’m British, I have an obsession with the weather. I make no excuses for that.

In fact in these parts, the weather is the conversation starter/small talk of choice; I mean, seriously, what am I supposed to talk about with strangers and minor acquaintances if not the weather? If I’m not careful, before I know it I could find myself involved in a real, honest conversation, on a serious subject, totally lacking in any kind of repressed subtext or hidden meaning.

Now that wouldn’t be very British of me, would it?

Here on these pleasant green islands, despite the constant complaints, deep down we are strangely proud of our weather; usually warmer/colder/wetter/drier/greyer than you think it should be on any given day.

The new breed of weather forecasters at the Met Office (well dressed, slick, with shiny white teeth, and utterly un-memorable) often describe our weather in the context of seasonal averages (…mild temperatures for the time of year, etc.). I’ve concluded that this is meaningless. My real world experience of the Great (?) British weather in recent years tells me that the temperature graph for October 2014, for example, would probably look something like this:

Completely fabricated yet highly realistic illustration of October weather
Completely fabricated yet highly realistic illustration of October weather

In other words, the seasonal average is very much an arbitrary line drawn between a series of (relatively extreme) weather events. To put that in less pretentious language: its nonsense.

Alternatively, in the words of Mark Twain, “climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.”

Mark Twain (Image: Library of Congress - public domain)
Mark Twain
(Image: Library of Congress – public domain)

But as regular readers may have noticed I am not only British, but also quite fond of cycling, and we cyclists are also known for a borderline obsession with prevailing weather conditions. Weather dictates the simple stuff like, ‘should I go out for a ride today?’ (for the record, unless it’s a three out of three day, then yes you should), but also the more complex decisions such as:

* Is it a three-quarter or full-length tights kind of a day?

* Can I get away with wearing bright orange Belgian booties on grounds of air-temperature and prevailing wind direction (if not fashion sense)?

* Why on earth is Bernard Hinault wearing shorts?

It can get very specific.

Suffice to say that being British and a cyclist, the vagaries of the weather are never far from my thoughts.

Oscar Wilde (Image: Sarony - public domain)
Oscar Wilde
(Image: Sarony – public domain)

I’ve never counted, but I suspect that in the same vein as the oft (and presumably apocryphal) quoted statement that your average dweller of the northern circumpolar region has 100 different words to describe the snow, I reckon I have a similar number of adjectives to describe the overwhelming greyness of the weather from October onwards in these parts.

Grey, murky, grim, overcast, dull, crap…

You get the idea.

Having said all that there are those – genuine British heroes among them – who seem to suggest that the weather is, in fact, not something to be bothering ourselves with. In the words of Oscar Wilde, for example (British, but clearly no cyclist):

“Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

On that basis, I’ll get me coat.

(Now then, let’s see…Light waterproof jacket? Windproof? Full-on duffel coat? Parka?)



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