We’re not actually in England at the moment, which makes this the perfect time to write about English weather, while the English weather gods are not looming overhead, ready to strike me down with fatal irony.
The main thing about English weather (well, in all the British Isles, really) is its variability. It rarely keeps to one note for an entire day, sometimes not even for ten minutes. About ten days ago I was out with the baby, knowing that rain was expected. When it started, I got us under cover, put on my raincoat, put the waterproof cover on the stroller and another on the diaper bag, and by the time we were back on the sidewalk, the rain had stopped. It didn’t start again for hours.
Another day Aron and I had gone out to climb Castle Hill, with the baby in the baby carrier. (It’s where the Normans built a castle in the eleventh century, overlooking the tiny town of Cambridge and its strategically important river crossing. The castle isn’t there anymore, but you can still climb the mott and see the view.) It was cool, sunny, and windy, and I had read in the forecast that there was a chance of hail, but it was nowhere near cold enough for that, and a bright sunny day. We climbed the hill, with my sweater wrapped around the baby as well as myself, enjoyed the view, and on our way back home, the wind picked up, the sky darkened, the temperature dropped ten degrees, and we got under cover to hide from the rain just as hail began to fall.
You know that huge wind at the beginning of Mary Poppins that blows away all the other nannies? Yeah, we get those too. Once in a while the wind whips through with more than enough strength to pick up Piglet and blow him into Derbyshire. The clouds scud past overhead, and it’s bright and sunny for ten minutes and then gloomy and glowering before you turn around.
Of course the big challenge in all this is figuring out how one can possibly dress for it. I find the BBC forecast to be fairly accurate, but only for what’s coming up in the next hour. Do I bundle the baby up for a cool day? But it might be so sunny that it feels ten degrees warmer than the forecast. Dress us both in layers? I can’t put him in and out of his jacket every five minutes while he’s buckled in the stroller.
Of course I’m not the only one who has this problem. You see all levels of weather-preparedness among the people of Cambridge. On a very warm day, some will be out in sundresses or shorts, others in slacks and jackets, still others in heavy sweaters. In heavy rain, there will be everything from a full-on macintosh, to shirt collars and bare heads, wet hair and a resigned expression. Umbrellas enjoy only middling popularity, as do raincoats. You’d think this would be a country where everyone would have waterproof everything, but no; between the locals, the students, and the tourists, you can see all manner of totally impractical gear parading past just by stepping onto the sidewalk: straw hats, flip flops, lace camisoles, drawstring backpacks. Sometimes I think I’m the only one who reads the forecast.
But surprisingly, Cambridge has been much sunnier so far than we’d expected. When we visited last year, the people we met at my husband’s future department told us that Cambridge gets more sun than most anywhere else in Britain. Aron and I just looked at each other. Given our previous experience of England, at the time we assumed that this was either blatant propaganda, or at best, desperate self-deception on the part of the locals. And Aron, a Californian born and bred, is essentially solar-powered, so we were justifiably concerned that we would move to England and it would be overcast and rainy most of the time. But actually, there have been weeks at a time when it’s mostly sunny, and few days of actual torrential downpour. There’s been lots of good weather, mixed in with intermittent showers, and on the whole, I think what they told us was actually true. Cambridge does have better weather than the rest of England.
But if you don’t like it, just wait fifteen minutes.