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There may be trouble ahead, so let’s face the music and dance

Make the most of anxious August ahead of forthcoming winter of discontent

August is always a dud. The weather is not pleasant and balmy, but either stifling hot or muggy and grey. There is an uncomfortable tension: nothing is happening, but what should be an enjoyable idleness gives way to boredom and listlessness. The poet Algernon Swinburne talks of the “mute August afternoon”. “Summer, do your worst!” entreats Dorothy Parker.

Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon understands the phenomenon. “If April had an emotion it would be excitement,” she writes, “if August did, it would be inertia.” The well-documented January blues, she concludes, are not a patch on August anxiety.

And this August has taken on a particularly strange tenor. The heatwave has left parks parched and yellow. A fire hazard at worst, simply unpleasant to look at best. In London strikes brought the city to a standstill several times. Airports are collapsing under the pressure of big crowds and a depleted workforce. Lost luggage is piling up in Heathrow and queues wend their way out the door of Dublin Airport.

But if this was the summer of discontent then we should buckle up for a winter of despair. Our bills are about to soar far beyond affordable levels. And across the continent people are facing energy poverty on an unprecedented scale. We do not know exactly how this will pan out, but the outlook is not rosy. Inflation, the cost-of-living crisis and more strikes are looming — all set to fully exert themselves towards the end of the year.


Compounding this existential angst, a new prime minister will be elected by Conservative party members at the beginning of September. And neither choice is going to reinvigorate the malaise at the core of a British government that has long been dragging its feet, devoid of vision, slouching towards social disaster.

Awkward and angsty

These gloomy predictions cannot help but make us feel that we are in the last days of Rome. The barbarians have announced their presence at the gates, and they are soon to let themselves in. But in lieu of sunny forecasts on our collective short-term futures, we might think of ways to at least make the most of the year’s most awkward and angsty month.

The Europeans have the right idea, as they so often do: pull down the shops’ shutters, close the restaurants, pack up, leave the city and accept that the month is bust. Wait for September to roll around: the summer will be over; the days will be noticeably shorter; work will be busy again; and children, if you have them, will be mercifully occupied with school and homework.

The admirably iconoclastic Generation Z have perhaps looked to the continent for unlikely inspiration, adopting their lax attitude to summertime productivity. They are encouraging each other to embrace the newest work trend hot off the heels of the Great Resignation: “quiet quitting”. No more late nights in the office, organising team-building exercises or attending networking events. Their newfound practice is all about doing just enough at work that you don’t get fired, but absolutely nothing more. No month could better symbolise that attitude than August.

While mulling over the quiet quitting phenomenon, I received an apt out-of-office email response: “I am on vacation, and when I return I will delete all my unread emails.” That’s the spirit.

I am sympathetic to their cause. The languor of summer makes it hard to get things done, and looking back on your accomplishments over the period can be a terribly disappointing endeavour. Buy a short novel — Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan is wonderful. It shouldn’t take longer than a Sunday afternoon to read. And once you’re finished, you can be thrilled you have achieved something. It might be the only win of the month so make sure to rest on those laurels.

Or you could be more ambitious. Buy a long book to get totally lost in, forgetting about the endless drip feed of apocalyptic news. If you have not read Fintan O’Toole’s history of modern Ireland, We Don’t Know Ourselves, this is the perfect time. Patrick Radden Keefe’s collection of New Yorker articles, Rogues, is a great option too. Read about the swindlers, the crooks and the grifters. Ponder turning to a life of crime.

Time expands in August, minutes feel like hours and evenings feel like entire days. Visit your local museum, the one you can never fit into an otherwise packed schedule. Truly revel in how bad some museums can be. I recently took a trip to the Fan Museum in Greenwich, for example.

And indulge in the nation’s favourite pastime. Complain about airports. Complain that your Ryanair flight landed on time and sounded that annoying self-congratulatory trumpet. Complain that Ryanair didn’t land on time and tweet about how much they need to get their act together. Do all of this with the solemn acknowledgment that you will continue to fly Ryanair for the rest of your life.

Or book a holiday, get over the disappointment of summer and buckle up. Winter is on its way, the dark November mornings are just around the corner. It may not be that bad, and at least — now the heatwave has broken and the rain is coming — the grass will be green again.