Well, I have been here less than 24 hours and I have already been drenched to the bones by relentlessly cold unforgiving rain twice.
It is the end of June, almost July, for heaven’s sake, but it feels like it is late autumn. Welcome to England! Even though I spent here 14 years of my life (that’s it, before I made a swift escape to sunny Italy), it always takes me by utter and complete surprise how much it rains here when people in other countries are basking in the hot rays of the proper summer sun.
I really don’t want to offend anyone, but the real scandal here seems to be not Brexit, but the weather and how people are prepared to put up with it.
Take today. We were getting ready to go out for a short walk to the nearest park and my father-in-law reassuringly said: ‘According to the weather forecast, it is not going to rain in the next hour!’. What?! This is how they measure rain-free time here. In hours!
As it happened, we had been outside for about an hour and yes, it started to rain. Our time was up. We got back in the car and right before driving off home I looked over my shoulder to see the local playground still teeming with mums. Hardened by a constantly wet weather, they were chatting away seemingly unperturbed by the fat drops of rain which were starting to splosh on the ground around them faster and faster with every minute past.
I have to hasten here and add that these hardened mums and their kids were so much better prepared for the rain than us. Waterproof jackets with hoods were the order of the day. And I even saw one mum wearing a waterproof parka with a faux-fur trim – the type of outerwear you normally see in films about the Deep Arctic. In my short-sleeved top (my only jacket is now travelling across Europe in the company of my husband in our little red car), I felt slightly depressed. This is June?! Gosh!
But the English don’t kick a fuss about such a small thing like a rainy day or a summer worth of them. They just get on with things. Every child and every adult has a pair or two of what here are called ‘wellies’ – in other words Wellington boots or gum boots or rain boots or whatever else you call in your country the rather hideous rubber-y, vinyl-y, polymer-y boots designed for working in muddy conditions. It is just that in England, the wellies are used so often and in so many different situations, that you can buy them in any possible colour and even in designer limited editions.
Whole families wear wellies when, after a lavish Sunday lunch, they go for a walk through muddy country roads and fields. Girls, who are otherwise fervent fashionistas, don wellies to go to music festivals (did you see the pictures from this year’s Glastonbury?!). And kids put on wellies in combo with their cute little quilted bodywarmers when they head to the playground on a day when in Italy the thermometers are reaching 40 degrees Celsius and the air-conditioners work overtime.
The influence of constant drizzle, showers, precipitations, deluge or whatever fancy English word you may choose to refer to ‘rain’ doesn’t extend to footwear only. No! It affects local fashion in every possible way.
Have you heard of a thing called ‘summer coat’? No, neither had I until I moved to England in December 2000. Prior to that, I admit, I would leaf through a British fashion magazine and ponder the usefulness of such pieces of clothing as a sleeveless high-neck jumper or a coat with three-quarter sleeves. I honestly thought these were just samples, something that a crazy designer had created for fun, but never intended for people to actually wear. I was so gravely mistaken.
English fashion stores are full with such surprising pieces. It is like proper winter wear but with certain parts (like sleeves) cut off so that your arms can get a bit of sun when it eventually decides to make an appearance after a month of rain. As for the ‘summer coat’, which started this thread of thought, this is a proper coat but made of slightly thinner fabrics in lighter colours for you to wear over your summer dress in case you feel a bit of a chill.
Yes, the English say ‘it is a bit chilly, isn’t it?’, when people not used to their climate can’t help it but shiver uncontrollably. Take it from me. It is not fashionable around here to admit that you are cold. No, you have to show that you are made of hardy stock, which would explain why in England you will see lots of people wearing thin T-shirts and short clothes when you would really want to wrap up deep in your winter coat.
Well, one of these people yesterday in the rain was me, but that was due to my forgetting my jacket in our car at Bergamo airport where my husband waved us off. Now, it is travelling with him across Europe and I am looking forward to having it back soon.
I understand, there is a bit of a contradiction in my text. First, I told you about the mums in thick jackets on a summer day and now I am harping on about people willingly undressing in the cold to show off they are made of hardy stock. Let me try to explain: cold and summer are not mutually exclusive in England and it being summer or winter doesn’t mean you will see people dressed exclusively for the season on the streets.
This is not Italy, where on the first astronomical day of spring or autumn, people wrap their, respectively, winter or summer clothes up and put them away in order to free up wardrobe space for the clothes for, respectively, summer and winter to be taken out of their storage bags ready for the appropriate weather ahead. This is England, where no matter what the calendar says, on the street you will see people dressed both in thick coats and flimsy stuff. Unless, of course, it is the annual heatwave which lasts between a week and ten days (combined) when everybody strips down to their smalls, dips their toes in the public fountains and dedicates themselves to a mass adoration of the sun.
Yes, the sun. It is usually so lacking around here (I don’t think I have seen it today through the layers of grey clouds), that people book their holidays with the sole purpose of spending a week in its company. ‘A week in the sun’ is a proper term around here, used by people to describe their holidays. The same way that me and you may book a city break to see a world-renowned museum or a historical site, the English book a holiday to spend it in the sun – lying on the beach, absorbing its life-giving rays, basking in its light, only to scoot back home at the end of the blessed week and resume living under the rain.
Which is more or less a constant here. Let’s be fair about it and say that the one good thing of so much rainfall is that the countryside and the city parks are perennially lush. Also, with all that moisture in the air, it is easy to get a dewy skin. But otherwise, it can get rather monotonous after a while.
Honestly, looking at all those mums in their waterproof jackets today, I wanted to shout: ‘There is another world out there. A world of warmth and sun.’ I don’t think they would have heard me, though. I am sure they had their week in the sun scheduled anyway and in their minds too much exposure to the sun can’t be a good thing anyway, if you are to believe all the cosmetics companies peddling their sunblocking products here like mad.
Nowhere I have seen so many suncreams, sunlotions, sunpotions and sunwhat-nots as in England. Whole sections of health and cosmetics shops are dedicated to them. There are creams to apply before, during and after sun exposure. Every contact with the sun has been covered and regulated – from the slightest ones to the most extreme one in the hours of the afternoon when the locals stay behind closed doors and the only people on the beach are from England maximising their week in the sun.
A week in the sun is all they have for another reason, too. The summer school holiday here is incredibly short. Six weeks as opposite to the tree months off school which students in Bulgaria, Italy and even the US enjoy. Instead, English pupils have extra weeks of holidays spread out during the year, but as the summer is such non-event here, their summer holiday is simply negligible.
And I fully understand why. It can’t be much fun having three months off in the constant drizzle.
Rain or not, life never stops. I remember a few years back a friend from the US was visiting me in London. Just as we walked out of the tube station ready to start a long day of sightseeing, it started to rain. She said: ‘Shall we have a coffee nearby and wait it out?’
‘No, I said, it will be like that all day, starting and stopping, perennially wet’. So, we went off. By the end of the day my friend had noticed another thing – the relatively small number of umbrellas on the streets. Unlike Italy, for example, where people are armed with umbrellas the size of a golf course just at the mention of rain, in England the locals rely on something else to keep them dry.
Namely, the aforementioned waterproofs. Again every child and adult have a waterproof jacket or two. I have always been averse to them. In fact, when I met my English husband he was utterly surprised by the fact that after several years of living in England I did not possess one piece of waterproof outwear. Then for Christmas one year he actually gave me a waterproof jacket (romantic, I know), which ended up being the one piece of clothing I would wear almost constantly from September til May.
So, with me being stuck here now for a few days without a jacket and just with short-sleeved tops, my father-in-law took a pity on me and found a spare waterproof jacket for me to use.
Now, if you excuse me, I need to put it on and head to the high street to buy some summer sweaters and other such necessary things to spend a couple of weeks of English summer in proper English style.
So, good-bye for now!
Have you experienced a cold and wet summer? How did you dress for it and what did you do to entertain yourself when it was bucketing it down outside? Let me know!