Humph. I have just poured myself a tot of sherry as it feels sufficiently wintery up here on my windswept, rain-lashed hill. Yes, dear reader, this is summer in the glorious High Peak, and this is the view from my windows just now (though I'm disappointed it doesn't show how much rain is actually falling):-
A friend called a short while ago. She currently lives in Geneva and has just come back from two fabulous weeks in the sun-filled Algarve. I asked her how the weather was in Geneva today. 'Oh, foul' she says. 'It was 34 degrees yesterday but today it's pouring with rain and the temperature has plummeted to 18 degrees.' Good Grief woman, 18 degrees? That's a hot day up here! We're currently revelling in 11.5 (the .5 bit is very important). Really, can I stand it much more? I have hung the washing on the line (a favourite little summer domestic pastime of mine) a mere handful of times. I have eaten outside at lunchtime another mere handful of times. I have sat outside in the evening just once. The summer clothes have been consigned to the 'Sale' rack at the back of the shops and the Autumn Collection is taking pride of place. HELP!!! I haven't felt I've had ANY summer yet, let alone the idea that it's all over. That would mean I haven't enjoyed the pleasures of the 'hot' months in my own home for nearly 36 months now - with the prospect of being denied them for a further 12. Is this really an acceptable way to live? Endlessly cooped up within the four walls of the house doing the same old tasks like a hamster on an infernal wheel? 36 months of the same routines, the same clothes, constantly living in hope that THIS year will be a good summer, only to have them dashed once more.
I remember the two glorious summers we have had - 2003 (our first up here) and 2006. We had breakfast outside every morning, the doors were constantly open as we shifted seemlessly from outside to in and back again. The deckchairs came out and one could sit in them and sneak in a snooze or simply rest and listen to the birds and the bees. Rugs were spread on the lawn and the children made camps out of them and various other bits and bobs from the summer house. It isn't much to ask, is it really, just to be able to go out into one's garden and enjoy some fresh air and outdoor living?
Each year I have dreamed of summer days and picking the girls up from the village school and walking along one of the lanes to find a picnic spot in a field by the stream. I have the odd photo and memory of this - perhaps two or three - but in six years that's not a whole lot, is it? Now my youngest child is about to leave the village school - just one week left to go - and then all that will be gone forever. Irretrievable moments of which I have always been so acutely conscious are so very very precious and so very short-lived, they grow up so fast. It breaks my heart, it really does, that such simple innocent summertime pleasures have been denied by the relentlessly poor weather.
I think it is this accentuated awareness I have of the passage of time that makes all this so unbearable for me. I feel a physical sensation of panic - tight chest, breathlessness - at the sheer frustration of it: the fact that I appreciate the moment and want to grab it, but am constantly thwarted. Let's face it, one of the key reasons I was so distraught at moving back to the UK from Italy was because of our piss-poor summers. London seemed a grey, damp mulch of weather which changed little in temperature through all the seasons - too warm to feel like winter, too cold to feel like summer, ill-defined springs and autumns. My one consolation for moving further north, onto the rain-swept western side of the isle, was that I would enjoy a good winter. A proper winter. But, yes, dear reader, you have guessed it: the moment Yours Truly arrives, the patterns change and the harsh winters that were typical of this region no longer happen. The snow has decreased with every year we've lived here. A long hot summer and white Christmas that first year, but has not been repeated since. Just rain, wind, rain, wind, rain. All year round.
If I'm being REALLY fair, I have to acknowledge that we have had SOME sun this summer. We all remember the sun-drenched two weeks of Wimbledon (completely predictable this being the first year they'd spent unthinkable millions on a fancy new roof); but I would like to remind you that, of course, it was not quite as blistering up here - I definitely remember a day or two where the dazzling blue of the sky in SW19 was certainly not replicated out of my own window as more spots of rain fell, but it WAS the best week or two of the summer so far. Shame I spent all of it driving around in a car. But I've moaned about that before, so I shall spare you a second rant on that one. Yet it is equally true to say that EVERY trip I have accompanied the village school on this 'Summer' term has been memorable only for the levels of drenching we have had to endure. I was so wet at the end of our canal walk that my knickers were squelching (and that was with a 'Dry as a Bone' style coat on) - I was chilled to the core and couldn't get myself warm for the rest of the day. At one point it was raining so hard and blowing such a gale that you could barely see these poor little wellington-booted figures a few yards ahead as the rain and mists slanted across the landscape. Ditto our trip to Solomon's Temple - the highest point above Buxton. We saw black clouds ahead but thought we might make it there and back before they burst. We didn't and they did. I was fully suited and booted this time in skiing regalia, yet as we huddled in the Temple with the wind driving the rain through the structure, a make-shift tarpaulin over our heads (a piece of sheeting held by the adults), trying to eat bananas and jumping up and down to keep warm, I was staggered at the violence of the weather and the depth of the cold and how, once again, these poor children were being subjected to absurdly wintery conditions on a summer term outing.
Our next was a nature walk round the village and over to the reservoir. Again, it should, or could, have been lovely. But no. Grey, damp, chill. Started raining just as we stopped for their fruit break. Sun just started to peak through as we walked the last few hundred yards. An infuriating taste of what it should have been.
Sports Day was similarly rained off, but thankfully, when re-scheduled, fell in the hot week. But I think last night really took the biscuit. After weeks of planning and organising, we were holding a farewll party to the Headteacher who retires at the end of this term after 13 years at the school. We normally have a fundraising barbecue in the summer term, but this was planned as a party that all the parents could enjoy as well. There was to be a hog roast, a bouncy castle, live music, some simple stalls for the children, a raffle and a barn dance. The school is in an idyllic position in the centre of the village surrounded by beautiful hillside vistas dotted with bleating sheep. Would it be too much to ask just to have a warm summer's evening where people could relax and enjoy themselves, the children could frolic about and we could all eat, drink and be merry? Not really. But it seemed it was. The day before it rained all day, but then turned into a lovely evening. Yesterday was dry and reasonably warm all day (albeit grey-skied) until....5 minutes before the party started. The clouds came down pretty much to field level and the rain was heavy and relentless. It had completely set in and was going nowhere - well not until 9.05pm, I predicted, with the party due to end at 9pm. People arrived hunched under umbrellas or swathed in waterproofs, their noses dripping rain. The marquee leaked (thank GOD we decided to splash out - no pun intended - on that, or the evening would have had to have been cancelled), the children were drenched from head to foot, bouncing in a lake of water. The moment the speeches were over, just as the Barn Dance was due to begin, loads of people decided enough was enough and took their soggy selves and soggy children home. The rest of us, feeling for the band and the feelings of the Headteacher, spread our smiles wider and threw ourselves into the dances. As with life in general, those that made the effort reaped the rewards. The dancing was fun and tipped the balance in our minds as to the success of the evening. We had a laugh. As the last chords were struck the rain finally began to abate. Indeed, at 9.05pm it had just about stopped. As only the British can, we had 'made the best of it', but how much lovelier it would have been to have memories of golden evening sunshine with children gambolling about and people drifting and lingering into the descending dusk. I felt the The Headteacher deserved that at least. She was sad enough without the gloomy elements to fuel her emotions.
Ah yes, 'The Great British Summer' - how great, indeed, this country would be without it.
And so, was our own 'Party Day' last Sunday wet and windy, as I so feared and dreaded? I think I shall have to tell you next time as my sleepy babes are waiting for their goodnight kiss and my Friday night curry awaits me...