Science has produced some wonderful things, from space travel to swing-lid kitchen bins. But let’s not forget the natural things that add atmosphere – extremes of weather.
It depends where you’re living, of course. As a British expat living in the relentless heat of the tropics (currently Suriname), I look at the BBC world news and see that back in the UK they’re having storms and in the USA they’ve got a band of snow so severe that they’ve given it a nickname – Snowmageddon.
I belong to an expat group that meets once a month to have a few drinks and swap stories. Common topics are bureaucracy and the cost of living, but everyone likes to talk about where they come from too.
Once I talked to a couple who were from the south of Canada, and so sick were they of the heat in Paramaribo that when they went home for a holiday, they found Vancouver too mild and went up north because they wanted to be really cold for a while.
There’s an expression in the UK, often prefaced by something like: ‘my Dad used to tell me…’: ‘You’ve got to have a winter to have a summer,’ and while it would take a bit of research and interpretation to prove or disprove that, the thought is a pleasant enough one. How about a couple of feet of snow – the steady, thick, peaceful, Disney type – that lasts for weeks and forces us all to re-evaluate our need to leave the house (and certainly our need to use a car). Put another log on the fire, or turn the heating up a notch, and read the whole of the weekend papers, rather than wasting half a tree by only looking at one section. Perhaps for some people life really is like a Christmas card scene, a winter idyll spent cracking walnuts in their elbows, roasting chestnuts for loved ones and peeling satsumas (make that clementines – satsumas sound too modern and foreign).
In an ideal world there would be a seamless transition from the snowdrifts into a balmy spring and a blazing summer. No slush or clearing up and certainly no March winds.
It may be futile to wonder why we should put up with coldish, damp days in exchange for warmish, overcast ones later on – but there is nothing wrong with a bit of December daydreaming.
Bring on the blizzard if it comes with a free heatwave next year. Let’s have the monsoon that heralds a hot, dry spell from May to September.
We’re all very wise these days, if the expressions we use are any guide. A popular choice is the carousel-inspired ‘What goes around comes around’, i.e. if you do something (usually bad), the same will happen to you later.
By extension, if we have an electrical storm of tropical proportions including – and some people swear they have seen this – balls of lightning coming in through the window and rolling over to the TV, while torrents of water sweep the streets without actually cleaning them (why does clean rain just make them dirtier?), are we not due for a long period of blue skies with the occasional harmless little white cloud like they have on The Simpsons?
Perhaps the only saving grace of bad weather is the sound of rain on the roof and windows when we’re not out in it. It’s a strange feeling to analyse, though, and I’m not entirely sure it is all about being grateful for the invention of slates and tiles. It is more to do with the sound and possibly the vibrations.
While ‘white noise’ is not generally regarded as a good thing, except for screening out noises we don’t want to hear, ‘wet noise’ could be prescribed instead of sleeping pills and sedatives – in fact it probably has already been introduced in Japan, where their adoption of weird ideas that turn out to be brainwaves is higher than most.
The sound of strong wind could have much the same effect, were it not often accompanied by the noise of flying garden furniture and dustbins barrelling down the road, never to be seen again.
As for thunder and lightning, the world seems to be split into those who love it and those who are terrified. Even normally logical people who know that sleet and hail were not sent to chastise us for eating chocolate will be quite happy to credit the sudden occurrence of a loud storm as being significant if they have just made a particularly weighty decision. It’s the incidental music of nature, the equivalent of the excited piece of orchestration that tells us during a film that something especially dramatic is happening.
Incidentally, has there ever been a thunderstorm on Christmas Day? And if not, why not? Imagine the effect it would have. We would all be sitting there with our mouths open and forks of turkey and stuffing frozen in mid air.
There is probably a meteorological explanation for the lack of natural fireworks at such a time of year, but if not it can be used to bolster the ever-decreasing list of life’s great mysteries – as eroded by well-meaning but unromantic science. Storm-related answers on an email, please, to firstname.lastname@example.org