A nation soaked in gloom of summer filled with rain
Despite news of Syria, massacres and Rupert Murdoch, our attention always seems to return to the terrible weather
IT IS a dangerous thing to write about the weather. Because it is so unpredictable, usually. There are some journalistic proverbs on the subject, all of which counsel caution but all of which, unfortunately, are couched in terms inappropriate to a family newspaper.
The gist of the proverbs is: don’t write about the weather or you will be sorry. Put it another way: writing about past weather, result happiness; speculating in print about future weather is the occupation of a fool, and the result misery.
So, it looks like things are going to pick up this week. All the forecasts say so. The whole of August, they’re saying, could be quite nice. Well, not quite nice, but dry. That should probably read “drier”. Whatever. We don’t care. The feeblest ray of sunshine now makes us faint.
A day without rain has taken on a holiday air: the barbecues emerge from their shrouds. A wedding at which the bridal photographs don’t have to be taken in the back of the bridal car is regarded as a portent of great things to come for the young couple.
Hope is stirring in the national breast. Just the thought of one fine week at the end of July – it does not have to be entirely fine, we don’t want to be too demanding – has turned us skittish. A day when you don’t have to bring your coat with you. A walk on a sunny beach. A day when you know exactly which clothes to put on in the morning . . . No, no, that is too much to ask.
Weather here can never be predicted. Evelyn Cusack of Met Éireann is right when she says that it’s amazing how often the weather forecast is correct, given that we’re a small rock in the middle of the Atlantic, which is rather big.
After so long as one nation under cloud cover, just the thought of prolonged sunshine, the sort of sunshine that heats the outside walls of buildings, is irresistible and enough to have your head turned. The weather is, perhaps above all things, emotional. Its impact is felt in unlikely places. If there is a sorrier sight than Grafton Street during and after prolonged rainfall then I don’t want to see it.
Of course we have other things to think about, and not just the civil war in Syria. Rupert Murdoch has resigned from a string of boards of his companies. In the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and the Leveson inquiry this has got to be significant, but Rupert’s men have dismissed it as a bit of “corporate housekeeping”. Whatever that is.
At the weekend we had the anniversary of the Utoya massacre in Norway, while the trial of the killer still continues, and 24 hours after another presumably unhinged person had opened fire in a crowded cinema in Aurora, Denver. I’m not going to write the name of either killer here because I have a primitive belief that they murder in order to get their names in the newspaper or, more precisely, on television and the internet.
And today is the first anniversary of the death of the singer, Amy Winehouse, poor girl, who died of alcohol poisoning. One can’t help wondering if her postmortem results would have been received so quietly if she’d died of heroin poisoning.
In the midst of all these turmoils, great and small, the weather has become one of our more benign dramas. It is much more unpredictable than most of our other dramas, including sport.
You may not feel the weather is such a benign drama if you were in Beijing on Saturday afternoon when it rained so hard that at least 10 people were killed and 14,500 had to be evacuated from their homes. Or if you were in Cork on Thursday, June 28th, when floods destroyed shops and houses in the worst flooding for decades; unfortunately Cork has become our flooding capital. Or if you are a farmer. Or in the fashion business, with your summer stock solidifying on the rails.
However, in Ireland now we lead mainly suburban lives, no matter where we live, and most of us are not dependent on the weather for our income, or living on marshy ground. The weather is more a matter of traffic jams, power cuts, cabin fever and cancelled golf games. Even though the weather has become – or seems to have become – much more extreme, for most of us its effects are mainly inconvenience and minor frustrations.
It’s something of a sociological fact that the more removed a society becomes from nature the more obsessed that society becomes with nature. That’s why we’re stuck inside on starry winter nights, watching Blue Planet with the central heating maxed up. Bliss.
But into even the most weather-proofed life some rain must fall, flood and deluge. Because the rain itself has become more extreme: not the drenching soft days that once shrouded this country, but tropical downpours that wake you up at night. It is dramatic. It’s something to talk about with strangers. The weather has become the news, perhaps because the news has become so bad.