Last time, I noted that I had experienced a large British ex-pat community in southern Spain. The reason behind the popularity of such resorts is the same reason why Brits seem to prefer Florida to all other destinations in the US (barring New York City, perhaps): an escape from British weather. Like death and taxes, it appears an inevitability (though I have heard, though not yet experienced, the splendors of Devon and Cornwall, where sunshine is quite often to be seen).
I recall reacting with amusement to Bill Bryson’s rather quaint view of British weather (then again, he was from Indiana): I like knowing that so long as I do not go walking up Mount Snowdon in carpet slippers in February, I will almost certainly never perish from the elements in this soft and gentle country. However, the last few years have made this exercise in poking fun rather too picturesque, especially the last two winters. Living in Britain, I have found three items of clothing to be essential: an umbrella, a pair of boots, and a decent coat. All over Swansea, carcasses of dead umbrellas are to be seen, discarded after the wind has blown them inside out. This is a very visible reminder of the truly nasty weather we sometimes have. I have been known to take an umbrella, a hooded jacket, and a change of trousers and shoes on my walk to work due to sudden downpours that completely soaked me through. To a girl from Albuquerque, this is a baffling thing to get used to.
I was miserable throughout the months of October and November 2009 because I had not yet been prevailed upon to buy a pair of winter boots or Wellies (almost never called Wellington boots these days). My first steps outdoors on an even showery day would soak my shoes and socks through to an unbearable degree and I’d squelch unpleasantly to work. If I was lucky, I’d get to dry my feet and socks out in front of a space heater/electric fire. Such events put me in a thoroughly bitter mood, and I wondered what I’d done to deserve such treatment just for walking out of doors, and was even more enraged when no one seemed to sympathize. To most people, it was an inevitability and shame on me for not being prepared. It was, of course, the frequency of this kind of weather that suddenly made the lightbulb go on in my head regarding the omnipresent obsession with tea, but we’ll save that for another time.
And this is really only Swansea we’re talking about. My original place of study for the MA was going to be Edinburgh, and I don’t know that even I could stand such dull greyness all the time, without the benefit of the sea (though I guess you can get used to anything). Not to even consider the Scotland further north, or London’s micro-climate (which I’ve since experienced in its range of oppressive heat and surprising chill), or the northeast. Hex’s comment to Ace in The Settling has always stuck with me: “you southern wuss.” Still, I had a somewhat hair-raising experience in Ludlow last year during the Great British Snow Storm, which hit that area fairly hard. I remember waking up that morning to a text from Jamie regarding the snowfall and thinking it surely couldn’t be so bad in the area, before I opened the curtains! I consider it a point of pride that I didn’t slip and fall down, much less freeze, in my quest to see the castle, the museum, and the library in a skirt and no boots!
But living in such a place of Swansea, with its undeniable natural beauty (which improves the further west you go, into Mumbles and the Gower), I can’t be completely cranky about my lot, weather-wise. Welsh people have told me it rains in Swansea more than anywhere else in Wales, but I can’t believe that’s totally true. I have experienced beautiful stretches of summer days, very hot sometimes in a place that lacks air conditioning, and sunny autumns and springs. Every day like that makes me quite grateful and I appreciate the sunshine much more than I ever did, or ever will, in New Mexico. The verdant greenness of the British Isles is also, still, a continual surprise, though it comes with it the unwelcome consequences of damp, mildew, mould, and slugs.
People think I must be insane to go from the almost guaranteed dry heat of New Mexico to this changeable and very often damp and rainy island, and while I can’t admit to enjoying being caught in a downpour, I don’t hate it as much as many people. I think I’d much prefer it to the pitiless winters in places like the Midwest. And it’s always an excuse for a cup of tea.