It’s summer, or so I’m told. Up to recently, it was hard to believe we would ever see the season again, such was the cut of the wind and the Siberian edge on the temperatures. One of my abiding memories of May 2021 will be the sight of a herd of cows heading for a hedge to shelter from a murderous shower of hailstones. The old saying that ‘a wet and windy May fills the barns with corn and hay,’ wasn’t predicated on the wind being polar.
The weather in Ireland can be exasperating but at least it gives us something to talk about. I wonder do the inhabitants of other parts of the world go on about it to the same extent Irish people do?
There are some indications they might. The Scots, for instance, are equally exposed to the hazards and vagaries of the wild Atlantic and keep a close eye on all things meteorological. A Scots thesaurus completed in 2015 claims our bekilted Celtic cousins have 421 words for snow. For our part we Irish certainly have no shortage of words to describe rain and how it falls – bucketing, pouring, raining cats and dogs, pelting, misting, dribbling, drizzling, driving. Indeed, the most common verb used for intense rainfall is also used for urination.
Living with changeable weather is like living with a cantankerous relative, everything depends on the humour he or she is in today.
In that regard I have a friend who was married to a most unpredictable man. Thankfully his unpredictability had nothing to do with temperament or mood swings, it had to do with his multi-directional career path. He changed jobs as often as some people changed their socks. As a result, the financial and economic story of his life and that of the family was as undulating as a Monaghan farm.
One hare-brained moneymaking scheme followed another. The house was re-mortgaged a few times, but, luckily, his wife had a steady job ensuring there was food on the table and the children were educated. The man himself died at a relatively young age leaving a CV that stretched to volumes.
A few months after the funeral her sister came to visit. Reflecting on the life of the departed husband the visiting sibling suggested that, in hindsight, she should have married a different childhood sweetheart. The sweetheart in question grew into a man with a permanent pensionable job and a railroad-straight career signposted by key concepts like superannuation, points on the scale, annual leave, graded promotion and a lump sum.
“Maybe you’re right,” she said, “but we’d have had nothing to talk about.”
It’s the same story with us and the weather, we’d have nothing to talk about if we lived in sunnier climes. In the course of my own undulating career I have spent time abroad in places where the weather is as predictable as a career in the Department of Agriculture, where the sun shines from dawn to dusk. The odd thunderstorm might disrupt the predictability, but aside from that it is scorchio, scorchio, scorchio all the way.
However, on these sun-drenched costas where one blistering day melts into another and one set of T-shirt and shorts looks like the next, there is little to inspire communal conversation. The only variety is to be found in the knobbly nature of the knees hanging below the shorts and the various states of curvature of the bodies inside the T-shirts.
While our capricious weather is the spark that ignites a billion conversations, more importantly, it makes us eminently adaptable, eternally optimistic and devoid of despair. We relatively free of existential angst, the inevitable by-product of clockwork predictability.
Our weather has made us a people of great hope, we have wardrobes and garages bulging with the accoutrements of outdoor living that are more appropriate for a lifetime of summers in Provence. All we need is the hint of a heatwave and, in a matter of minutes, our dress, diet and diversion goes from long-john to sarong, from thermal to thong, from bacon to burritos and from Murmansk to Mediterranean.
As soon as the sun comes out the roads fill up with convertible cars, our backyards are transformed into chiringuitos, garden furniture is assembled and barbeque grills are fired up sending smoke signals to the heavens. Even the parish priest shakes off the austere black and emerges from the presbytery in straw hat, Hawaiian shirt, Bermudas and Jackie Onassis sunglasses.
As those patches of blue that we like to call the sky appear from behind the clouds and fleetingly become the dominant atmospheric variant we are transformed and reborn, confident it will never rain again.
First published in the Farming Independent, Tuesday June 8th 2021