Raymond Kirkpatrick On The English Summer
Raymond Kirkpatrick is a colleague of Arthur Bryant’s. The bear-like heavy metal-loving Professor of English is currently working at the British Library and is our occasional guest speaker. His opinions are very much his own.
‘So I get up half an hour late and heave myself down the Euston Road to the British Library, trying not to breathe in on the twenty minute walk down ‘the most polluted road in Europe’, one of the problems our Latin-spouting ex-mayor failed to tackle along with the 4-passengers-a-week Emirates Dangleway, no night tubes and everything else he touched, when I notice something different.
I’m surrounded by the usual motley filth; building-management executives in cheap suits, fat tattooed monsters from Newcastle drinking Special Brew at eight in the morning and Hugo Boss-wearing art students working through their loans from the BOMAD, but there’s more of them showing than usual. Then I twig. Something horrible has happened to the sky. There’s a thing stuck in it that has caused everyone to expose their purulent bare flesh to the light. Stone the crows, it’s the day of the British summer!
What happens is, first the Daily Mail or some other witless venal trashrag says ‘Kilburn will be hotter than Morocco’ as if that’s any recommendation, then commuters dress as if they’ve been in kiln explosions. I pass a middle-aged woman dressed like two jellyfish mating and another looking like she’s been stuffed into a shredded inner-tube. Do they own mirrors? Did they consciously choose to go out looking like the kind of people who attract circus clowns? I’m sorry, if you feel that having ‘What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger’ tattooed up your left calf in Chinese empowers you then by all means go for it, just don’t show it to me because you might as well have an offer for a QVC car sponge tattooed there for all it says about you.
As the unpleasantly sweaty day drags on, tube mosquitos bring everyone out in welts, people start turning the colour of a baboon’s ringpiece and every single pub with a chair in the sun gets mobbed by shrieking, gasping lunatics acting like the survivors of the Lusitania trying to board lifeboats. Minutes later there’s a sodding great thunderstorm and it’s all over for another year.
There’s a moment at the end of ‘Passport To Pimlico’ that sums it up for me. The brilliant summer turns back to more typical British weather, the barometer plunges and it pisses down, the fete is cancelled and everyone cheers up. So the temperature hits oh, say 23C (the point when most of Southern Europe starts discarding its scarves) and suddenly the English are wandering about in their underpants. A bloke drifts past me who already deserves to be punched for his beard and topknot, who has decided to expose his legs. They’re the colour of the dot you used to get on the screens of valve televisions when you turned them off and are actually glowing white, bristling with sparse black hairs like a boiled crab.
When I was a kid and the sun came out, my mum changed into a floral frock and my old man let himself go by slightly loosening the knot of his tie. They didn’t redesign their clothes by tearing all the buttons off and binning their strides. Luckily, immediately after this happens the leaves are off the trees and the rain is sideways once more, and we can all get back into jumpers. Strewth!’