600 Words on a British Summer

In Texas, the air in August is hot-hot. There is no distinguishable difference between walking outside and walking into an enormous oven. The air over the pavement turns the environment into an ambient wiggle. Even the dogs don’t want to go out—they put their noses through the flap in the door and then decide to flop down on the tile floor of the air-conditioned patio my father built in order to create the illusion of being outside in the summer months.

There’s a whole essay somewhere about how Texas has the climate of a desert without its trappings—we’ve imported wholesale the lifestyle, fashion sense, architecture, and landscaping techniques of somewhere that has four seasons and, uh, rainfall when we should all be wearing muumuus, taking naps from 1–3 PM, and filling our yards with scrubby plants and giving up any hope of a lawn—but that’s beside the point for today.

Today I want to sing the praises of the British summer, since I spent the day baking in a turtleneck under the assumption that it was September and 66 degrees Fahrenheit so I’d need to wear warm clothes. In Texas, 66 degrees Fahrenheit is when you break out the big coats.

It seems like this year’s British summer lasted all of two days, specifically the 17th and 18th of July, though in Durham and now Edinburgh we’ve been lucky to have many sunny days and not so many rainy ones, or rainy ones that have now faded to the background of my memory. British weather is—I’ll say it—less than ideal, but to me the British summer is the Platonic ideal of summertime.

In Texas, you take blue skies for granted, and summer is a miserable time of extreme heat and infinite mosquitos. In Britain, a blue sky is an imperative to drop what you’re doing and go out, to buy emergency sunscreen, to grab a canned gin and tonic and race to the park, where you can join the other sun-starved revellers and take your top off and lie face down as quickly as possible. Summer in Britain is like Christmas—there’s a general sense of goodwill when it’s warm.

British summer starts with moments of delicious anticipation: you step out the door and think, maybe I don’t need a jacket? I am always very conscious of the first day I feel the sun actively warming my skin. I start imagining wearing my shorts. Though the days you can bask in this otherworldly glow of music and portable barbecues are numbered, they are so long—you feel like this particular moment will never end, or maybe you just don’t want it to? Watching the sky turn pink as I drink cold white wine at 10 o’clock in the evening is one of life’s greatest pleasures, second only to staying out far too late with your friends and seeing the sun start to peek over the horizon when you’re walking home.

British summer doesn’t overstay its welcome: it is always gone too soon, but it courteously lets you know it’s going. It hits you with a few sudden cold days, where you break out the jacket again, but gives an encore while it dims the lights; now the sun sets at 9.45, then 9.30, now it’s dark at 9…

Though Britons want to go to the south of France or somewhere in Spain or some Greek island (or break out their tiny shorts to go to Disney World) for the summer, claiming it’s just not warm enough here, as an outsider I love the British experience of taking something moderately shitty and transforming it into something pleasurable. I love British seaside towns, where the water is freezing but goddamn it, we’ll eat an ice cream cone while wearing our enormous woollen jumpers. It doesn’t do anyone any good to have everything exactly as they want at every moment they want it. British summer forces you to snatch ‘summer’ as a concept from its jaws. British summer offers you something rare. Blink and you miss it—Pimm’s doesn’t taste right in November.

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