There are difficult days where the stress of London life is just too much, trundling through the cold streets, the bitter rain, you feel your skin wrinkling, your soul clamming up, there’s a sense of desperation and depression, you notice loneliness and struggle inscribed on to the brow and physiognomy of old ladies with baskets on wheels, the vacancy and fear on gaunt looking geezers, wearing caps, sporting scruffy beards, lumberjack shirst and black sports tops. When the weather drops below a certain point, to cold to bear, then the full hostility of London life, seems to come into view, the coldness a threat to life seems to bring into relief all the suffering, isolation, loneliness and dystopia of London life.
The weather, when it is not cloudy, is variable. Whilst four seasons in one day is rare, two or three seasons is not unheard of, and variable weather during the same day is more likely than just one kind of weather for the whole day.
London owes its inclement weather conditions, relative to other places of a similar latitude, to the Gulf Stream, a circulation of ocean current, provoked by the cooling of waters in the north Atlantic by Arctic winds, which sink to the bottom of the ocean and then move to the equator, forcing warmer water to rise up to the surface of the ocean and move northwards. This warmer water brings with it warmer air, which raises the temperature of London and northern Europe in general, by five degrees. Britain sits underneath the boundaries between two different weather systems, cold polar air, and
warm air from the tropics, what goes on above our head, is a clash of warm and cold air. The boundary is determined in part by the jet stream, a wind which circles across the northern part of the world, which causes the variable weather. The climate of the British Isles is as you might have guessed rather changeable but can be classfied as a Temperate Maritime Climate. Temperate maritime climates are characterised by the absense of extreme climatic conditions. This generally refers to mild winter temperatures and warm summers. Rainfall is freqent but not extreme and the climate generally is free from hazardous atmospheric systems. It is said that the climatic conditions in the British Isles are largely related to the influence of the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic Ocean acts as heat resevoir, storing warm water through the winter. In the summer, due its thermal capacity it takes longer to warm up than the land around it and so has a cooling influence. Prevailing winds bring air from the Atlantic over the British Isles either cooling or warming it but most certainly bringing rain! The clash between warm air and cold air forms clouds.
Acceptance of the British weather is, arguably, what separates out a true Londoner from
a foreigner, who has yet to firmly nail his colors to the mast of his London ship. The fact that the atmosphere surprises you just adds to the spice of life! that’s one way of
looking at it. But my God, when the sunshine hits London, and this can be anytime from February to November. You are guaranteed cold weather between December and February, and often stretching into April and May, although it is never that cold. Foreigners from warmer climbs have altered Londoners’ perceptions of cold and heat. London rarely experiences really cold weather, and yet for many Londoners, temperatures below 5 degrees are considered severe.
Furthermore Londoners would think anything around twenty degrees as warm, if not hot, whilst foreigners think nothing about thirty degrees as hot.
Having said all of this London, like most places in the world, is getting hotter which, in 2007 inspired Tomas Klassnik to envisage how London might one day need to manage the future heat, including Floaters, a colleciton of buoyant island structures that afford cooling river breezes, The Big Melt, a man-made iceberg, floated in the Thames.. The reality is that London is getting close to Klassnik’s vision with plans in progress for a garden bridge somewhere west of central London spanning the Thames.
And the fact is, that despite the cloud, London is a relatively dry city. For any one moving down from the north of England, especially from the north, despite all the cloud, after around about three months, you scratch your head and think, my God, you know, I don’t remember it raining for quite a long time.
It tends to snow a little once a year, but London gets less affected than it surrounds, apparently because the concentration of people raises the temperature by 5 degrees Celsius.
When the sun hits London
But in the cylcle of the earth’s movement around the sun, when the north pole starts pointing at the sun rather than away from it, then London, its denizens, wildlife, flora and fauna are all bought that little bit closer, and the effect is dramatic. Even when there is substantial cloud cover the temperate London weather becomes bearable, and one can relax more when on leaves the home, one no longer has to fight to maintain one’s temperature at a liveable level, neck and back muscles relax. Strolling through London in the first few week of clement weather, can feel almost euphoric, and for those who are not sensitive to the effect that warmer weather can have on the body and heart, it can feel that some kind of emotional burden has inexplicably been lifted from one’s spirit. Later on the mugginess of London, the cloud cover and the sun, people have long forgotten the benefits of warm weather, and slowly sink into a depression, a coma, induced by the endless days of warm grey dull weather, which may sometimes be interspersed with the occasional downpoor, whilst friends and news channels talk about the Carribean and Mediterranean when every day is sunny. As sure as the variability in the weather itself, you can be sure that every year, at every dinner party and get together across London, foreigners, continentals, are bemoaning the fact that where they come from in the summer, it is sunny every day.
And when the clouds are away then the joy of bright light and warmth floods the city. When the sun does hit London in prolonged and uninterrupted spells it can produce warm weather, any time between February, when spring is in its first throws and November, the last stop for any Indian Summer. In between November and February the presence of the sun cannot stop the cooling effect of being that much more removed from the sun.
The Sun in London
Spring sunshine can arrive for the first time in February, but can be assured to have made an appearance by April. The first sight of the sun presages the first waff of barbecue. Visibility in London Fields is reduced to ten feet by three o’clock on a hot Sunday afternoon. It presages the first wave of afternoon weekend socializing, and signals the end to stuffy dinner parties, discotheques, or so you’d like to think. It’s the first opportunity to stuff your belly with charcoal, sausages and burgers burned on the outside and roar on the inside, tasteless white bread, and beers a plenty, to be pissed out by five in the evening.
The people of London respond to the sun in real time, with alacrity. Life suddenly explodes on the street, London street life and London park life comes into blossom. People flood on to the terraces of café bars and restaurants, eating al fresco doubling if not tripling the custom and turnover of these local busineses, causing restauranteurs with such facilities to praise God, the sun, the jet stream or whatever moving force belies the changes. Meanwhile their staff to work three times as hard and fast, with furrowed sweaty brows, the cool and nonchalance that waiters usually exhibit challenged.
After a few hours of uninterrupted sunshine on a warm day people flood out onto their terraces, into the parks. Women will quickly show folds of flesh and wear figger-hugging dresses. Men, geezers, take their tops off, revealing sculptured torsos, broad shoulders, wafer thin wastes, from which jeans hang, slightly lower than their elasticated boxer shorts. The speed with which people strip off can be of some surprise to those not used to the British way of life. Londoners, like the Brits in general, are not afraid to strip off, and let it all hang out, with just an hour’s worth of sustained sunshine, apparently causing many visitors to London, and newbie Londoners to stare with open mouths. Lost in London blogger commented on a bout of sunny weather in June 2006, “I went for a picnic in the park near my house on Saturday. As I lazed around reading the newspaper and eating my way through the too-large pile of picnic food, I glanced around to see that a few guys had their shirts off and most of them were accompanied by girls with vest tops and shorts on. I personally didn’t think it was hot enough for shirts to be ripped off…. When I looked up again… I noticed a new couple had just arrived at the brow of the hill. He was taking off his shirt (to reveal a very flat stomach, the bastard) and she was beginning to take off her cardigan. So far, so normal. The two of them didn’t stop there, though. At first I thought they’d both had too much sun and thought they were undressing for bed or at least got hopelessly lost when trying to find the nearest lido. Within seconds, the girl was in a skimpy bikini and her consort was stripped down to his very white underpants. Once sufficiently denuded, they plonked their near-naked forms on the grass. A little excessive for a south London park, I thought, and temperatures were hardly on a par with Barbados…”
London’s great diversity means that, especially in the parks, you can find almost every body form, from the ordinary to the most exotic. Lost in London muses, “Summer is traditionally a time where people wear less. Depending on your viewpoint, this has upsides and downsides. Upside number one for me being that you get to see more flesh on display; the downside to that being that it’s rarely the people you’d like to see baring more who are actually getting their bodies out. And even when it is a hotter ‘rack’ on show, sometimes you just want to scream “Put something on!” Nakedness can be exhausting.
The presence of the sun marks the beginning of the mating season, not the sex season, for the latte evidently runs all year round, but the mating season, where exposure to exposure hypersensitizes us to the sexual potential in the other, awakens hitherto desires dormant, makes us horny. In 2008, one man, a genuine Cockney, working as a security man, walking down Camden High Road, out of the corner of his eye, spots a woman, of exquisite shape, who excites him so he decides to change his plans, and from a discreet distance, follows her on to a bus, from where several seats away, he quietly observes. In the dusty heat of London, with sexual desire heightened, most Londoners do not loose their cool, they maintain a miaou like nonchalance, those Londoners wear caps with shirts slung over their thin toros, walk casually, serious expressions, walks of purpose, belonging, familiarity, and routine. Londoners look like they couldn’t really care who they are walking past, whilst their minds race to record everyone and everything that comes into view, its reproductive fitness. Mind you, not everyone is so cool. Of the couple witnessed by the Lost in London blogger, “SE14’s answer to Malibu Ken and Barbie” “What caused us no end of amusement was that every time a girl looked over to check out her man, the girlfriend would suddenly become very sexually aroused and kiss, fondle and rub herself all over her guy until her potential love rival looked away. It does strange things to you, the summer sun.”
An even more impressive response to the sun is produced by the many trees, bushes and grasses, which find their expression in parks, marshes and in the nooks and crannies of the city. Tottenham marshes, a beautiful wilderness in what is otherwise a rather grimey and reasonably dangerous part of London, is one good example. The marshes, no longer marshes, but a series of grasslands and small woods, which border the Lee Valley River, which flows slowly, so slowly, as to be a canal all the way down to Limehouse Basin. During the winter, autumn, and for much of the spring, so long as spring is overcast, the growth of the grasses, bushes and trees is imperceptible. The grasses never, it seems grow very much about the height of one’s knees. However, with just one or two days of pure unadulterated sunshue, the grasses experience an explosion in growth and can double or triple their size. The result is a verdant cornucopia, a jungle, wandering into which is like wandering into Land of Hope and Glory at The Last Night of the Proms in The Royal Albert Hall.
One adorable April morning , during a week, in which the papers were reporting on how the weather in London was better than that of Madrid, a father pushed his two year old daughter to nursery through the idyllic Ropemaker’s Fields in Limehouse. In the distance he caught sight of the unlikely situation of a young man, dressed like a ‘grime’ artist, thin, slender, cool looking and muscular, dressed in blue jeans and a leisure sports track suit top dappled yellow and orange, gold chain and glasses, smoking a cigarette, sat on a bench, with legs and arms spread out across the bench, looking as relaxed as a man could be, lapping up the rays. The man seemed to be making conversation with one of the many bankers who scurry through Ropemakers Fields, hunched over, broughs furrowed by the anticipation of the day’s confrontations and challenges, this one with ears corked with earphones, which gave him license not to respond to the comments directed at him. All the time expecting to be the next recipient of the unrequited commentary, the man with the pushchair walked past the ‘grime’ star, to be encouraged in geezereze, “You have a lovely day brother”, which was immediately followed by the star exhaling the contents of his lungs, with a hollowed mouth, that seemed to savour the rub of every carcinogen and noxious molecule as they breezed out of his lungs and passed through his mouth, whilst the right arm holding the cigarette was bent at the elbow, held slithtly away from his body, but pointing towards the heavens, with his wrist cocked, and the hand holding the cigarette just centimetres from his mouth, as if the mere act of smoking a cigarette was causing him to climax. The man turned to the star and with an economy of language, and an inability to know how to relate in such situations, said, “You too”, and flashed a warm but brief smile. The grime star, seeminly not used to being reciprocated by the train of corporate paper shufflers choo-chooing its way to Canary Wharf, nodded his head as if he very much appreciated the effort, “Solid”, he said, his voice emitting a sense of satisfaction not just with the response but with the fact that he had been abole to find the perfect adjective to desribe how the response had affected him, after which he nodded his head in appreciation once again, “That was powerful brother”. Seven years prior to that on Hornsey High Street a carpenter, was sitting on a chair outside his place of work at approximately the same time in the morning, and, strangely for any Londoner, greeted me, a stranger, as I made my way to the train station to work. A conversation ensued, during which time the Irisman asked me what I knew of Jesus and God, of which I knew a little but not much. Expecting to be lectured and subject to an on the spot conversion, I was instead privileged to be the recipient of the man’s recent musings on the character of Jesus, which he told me, he had never really paid much attention until recently, and how he, like Jesus, wanted to do some good in the world, be a source of warmth, help and happiness. He didn’t know, he just wanted to talk about it. “I dont normally do this” he said, gesturing to the fact that he was sat on the street, outside his place of work, on a chair that he probably made himself, talking to a stranger about feelings, “Its just that I thought there’s got to be more to life than just working all day”. So then, the first days of sunshine in London can inspire peope to a better world, albeit transiently, but like I said people open up like flowers when the sun hits London.
Furthermore with the London sunhshine and the London Spring comes the sweet aroma of pollen, from plants, flowers, trees, hanging in the air like silk, lacing the omnipresent pollution, the resulting mixture being scented along avenues bordering parks. Clever moth that you are, you know not to go venturing into the source of the smell, that park is probably full of rapists and muggers, but walking by the side of the park, you breathe in those scents, those beautiful tempting scents, those sweet smells curl into your lungs, like an extension of a honeysuckle’s stamen, tickling and tantalizing during late night beery walks home from the pub. The perfect accompaniment to the therapeutic effects of a cool summer night on a sun beaten face, now crips and buzzing with radiation. Soothed by the cooling effect and sweet scent of the London air you drag your wear body back home, with a smile on your inner face, reminiscing about beers, friends, conversation, jokes, bonhomie and musing on what the night presented to you in the way of prospects for copulation. On such occasions you can look all around you, and thank God, or dice, or the cosmos for your life, you feel like its good to be alive, that after all is said and done it was worth it, and you make the mistake of believing that everyone must be feeling as good as you. A jubilant walk home on a summer’s evening after a raucous Sunday full of boozing, jokes and good company can make you feel at home, at the centre of the universe, like there’s no other place on earth you’d rather be. And maybe you haven’t had the best of nights, in which case the scent of a London summer night can feel like an extra reason for living, as you find yourself walking home alone, depressed by the excesses of alcohol, encumbered by inefficient limbs, wobbling from place to place, loosing cool and composure, thinking about others you aren’t with, at least you have London, your only friend, lending you its beautiful scent, intoxifying you with her grace, and you begin to understand what Anthony Kedis was on about when he penned his ode to LA.
A string of sunny days and Londoners too begin to open up and unwind like flowers.
After a few days of summer hotness, the streets of London are transformed, and everyone in the city is transported to this place, a place that they know, that they only get to see two weeks at most a year, almost as if one is going on holiday. Dappled sunlight, filtered by the foliage lining Queens Avenue, shines through the dusty windows on the top deck of a bus, as it makes it way from Muswell Hill towards East Finchley. Shoulders, rather than being hunched are lowered and relaxed, arms, like cats extended in front of a warm hearth, are stretched out along the back of seats. Happier for the soothing caresses of the sun, having more comfortable emotions, people express themselves and share their feelings, there is more noise on bus baked in sun. People begin to believe that there is something greater than work, work is a means to an end, subsequently peoples’ walks have less business about them and more sexiness, swing and jaunt.
East London is a magical place in the summer; with Londoners keen to make the most of the sun’s fleeting appearances, the summer is the best time to see the full spectrum of East London’s colours. And no better place to see the full rainbow than at one of London’s community festivals, the jewels in the crown of London living, fantastic to experience, but rarely celebrated in art and literature. Ray Walker’s Dalston Lane Mural captures something of the essence of East London’s festivals, and in particular, the 1983 Hackney Peace Carnival. There is nothing like Hackney in the summer time. The lethargic strides of scruffy fashionistas, with commodofied bicycles, low down trousers, turn-ups, checkered woodmen’s shirts, and women dressed up in big glasses, retro clothes, walking their way through the streets, talking as calmly and yet as wittily as possible, quickly, showing their wit, their intelligence their intelligentsia credibilitia, The beautiful warm yellows of a summer’s Sunday, people walking around with no great plans, no great schemes, just happy to be in each others’ company, idling from one place to another, singletons, all happy to find company in a singletons heaven, odd balls, all mixing it up together, talking, chatting, all with a vague sense of relief that they’ve found someone for today, all with a vague concern of the social uncertitudes of tomorrow.
Meanwhile Muslim women in Shadwell, remain true to their own particular interpretation of Islamic dictat, daubed in black robes and linens, maintaining their cool on the Docklands Light Railway, inspiring incredulity, admiration and disbelief, from those struggling in the heat in their t-shirts and shorts.
But the British sun is a sadistic sun, or perhaps its those relentless clouds that are to blame. The British weather, and the weather in London, is for many, like an annoying member of the family. In May 2006 it was said that “London is suffocating at the moment in the ‘weather that can’t make up its mind’ phase that seems to happen annually. One moment it’s blistering heat with not a cloud in the sky; the next it’s oppressive darkness with the threat of rain and yet still a temperature high enough to keep your cotton T-shirt sticking just slightly to your skin and your underwear clamped firmly to your arse.” Said Lost in London Blogger, “What grates about this time of year is not knowing what to wear. As I said, the weather is doing its level best to be like one of those people you meet at parties who pretend to be crazy and unpredictable and yet usually live the most humdrum of existences. I’m being continually caught out by mini-downpours and sudden bursts of blazing sunshine. I took my jacket on and off so many times last Saturday that I feel now fully prepared to take up a scholarship at poledancing school. I have always detested surprises and the weather’s constant attempts to jump out at me and say ‘boo!’ are not welcome. You can bet that whatever I choose to wear will be wrong; by the end of the week I’ll probably have been both soaked to the skin in just a T-shirt and roasted alive in long sleeves and
Once the sun is out Londoners and Brits alike team out on to the streets of London and are determined to enjoy the sun for the entirety of the day, even if the sun which may have been beaming between eight and ten in the morning, is otherwise absent in between ten and nightfall. A kind of mass self-delusion seems to set in, I will enjoy the sun, even if it is not longer there, even if it is now cold, cloudy and raining. True, the first signs of warmth and bright sunsine prompt friendship groups all around London to hastily arrange barbecues, but no sooner are you all gathered around a grill full of sizzling chipolatas with a can of Carling to hand than the clouds move in, a bit of rain to ruffle you up. But everyone who is desperate for a bit of sun, is so desperate for it, that you all stay out, maybe you will even put a coat on as a chill wind begins to blow, and you find yourself freezing and battling against the cold and needing a piss, and you sit there enjoying yourselves huddled around the barbecue, until it gets dark, by which time you are glad to go home, and you do so, sniffling, the morning after which you wake up feeling like shit because you have a got a bleedin cold.