This July weather has been testing my culpability. I don’t know what’s going on in other necks of the wood, as I don’t watch the weather forecast on telly and have little faith in the internet’s chaine méteo, which seems to change its mind from one day to the next, but here we’ve had leaden skies, persistent showers and unseasonable chill in the Lot for a couple of weeks.
|The great French summer|
It doesn’t worry me too much: in fact, it’s a salutary reminder of what we’re missing back home. But when I meet and greet holidaymakers – who have generally paid a small fortune to get and then stay here – my middle-class English upbringing rears its apologetic head once more. I feel personally responsible for the bad weather and generally as guilty as O.J. Si… (no, don’t say it; don’t court controversy).
My Canadian friend Bret always chides me, ‘What is it about you English? Jeez, you’re so polite; you’re always apologising.’ Coming from the New World, he doesn’t understand the burden of the Old World that has kept my shoulders round all these years. It’s true, though. Sometimes I feel like I have to apologise for my very existence.
This very morning I went up to one of the two holiday homes that blip away on the periphery of my personal radar screen. ‘I’m so sorry about this weather,’ I started off. ‘I’ve never known a July like it. June can be a bit dodgy, but usually you’re guaranteed good weather in July and August’.
My luck was in. The holidaymakers in question – a charming family from Newcastle (Tyne & Wear, as opposed to County Down) – were very philosophical about it. I guess you would be if you choose to live in Newcastle (they met at university and decided to stay), where the weather is exactly like this for most of the British Summer, those five giddy weeks that span the tail-end of July and the August Bank Holiday, whereupon winter sets in again.
They explained that the upside of a fortnight’s lousy weather is that you don’t spend each day lounging with a good book by the side of the pool, but you get out and explore the area. And we chatted about places of interest that they had visited, like the Gouffre de Padirac: a great big hole in the ground where you can climb down an iron staircase into the centre of the earth and take a boat trip to explore the caverns and marvel at the stalactites and stalagmites at the earth’s core.
So I was lucky. I came away from our farewell meeting feeling reasonably good about myself and sufficiently reassured to think that they might have had a fairly good holiday after all. It doesn’t always go so well. Sometimes holidaymakers who feel they have been short-changed by the weather can act like sharks that scent blood. They’ll drop the kind of little barbed asides into the conversation that make you squirm with the conviction that you are personally responsible for their ill fortune.
Of course, it’s totally illogical. Of course you’re not to blame. Yet you go away feeling the weight of all those pounds sterling they have spent on having a lousy time. They’ve worked hard and saved for 50 weeks or so in the year in order to spend a fortnight in France experiencing the kind of weather they’d have had if they’d stayed put. ‘Next time, pal, I’m off to the Costa del Sol, where the plastic billows in the wind and the scorching sun sears your unaccustomed skin and where you can’t stop me having a good time.’
The trouble is – and I’ve said it before at the Brighton Conference – people just get the wrong end of the stick about France. We do get more sun and generally better weather than they do on the other side of the English Channel, but essentially it tends to mirror roughly what’s happening in the UK. If there’s a depression sweeping in off the Atlantic, then it’s going to depress us too, and if there’s a trough of high pressure settling in over the Low Countries, then we’ll be in for some settled weather, too – only it’ll be hotter in summer and colder in winter than it is in, say, Harwich. The only virtual guarantee of good weather comes on the Mediterranean coast ('warm wet winters with westerly winds and hot dry summers,' as we were taught).
A spell of unseasonable weather doesn’t worry me at all. We need the rain and it’ll help the flora and fauna. Besides, as a full-time resident, I know that we’ll run into some pretty good weather again soon enough. That shows how much I’ve changed after 16 years of living in France. Weather-wise, as Jack Lemmon might have said in The Apartment, I am now quietly confident. We moved here from Sheffield, where there were times when you wondered whether you would ever see the sun again.
So maybe the guilt derives from residual empathy. Since I still remember how grim the weather can be in certain parts of the Old Country, I still remember how much hope one invests in a summer holiday. So I know all about that feeling of being cheated by the elements. And I suppose that if there’s someone daft enough to assume a degree of responsibility, well why not offload some frustration on said eejit?