Recently, well no let’s be honest, for many weeks strange things have been happening in the United Kingdom. Middle aged men are seen walking around self consciously in shorts so crisp and new they’ve never seen the light of day before, railway lines have been buckling, total strangers are talking to each other in the street, grass isn’t growing much and deck chairs have been left out in the garden overnight.
And the reason obviously has been the hot weather, which has been experienced in many parts of the world over the same period but the fact that it is happening in Britain is what is strange. It seems that the weather is changing and over the last few years the summers here have been much warmer. Perhaps the bad reputation that Britain has for rotten weather will change also, but somehow I doubt it. I remember years ago when I was teaching English in a London language school, I had asked a group of delightful young French girls to write down their first impressions of London. Most of them wrote along these lines: «The weather in England is always bad…» — «Every day it rains in London…» — «You must always carry an umbrella with you when you go out…» — «You must take a coat with you because it is very cold…»
What I should point out is that during their stay the sun shone every day and on that particular morning the sun was so hot we had to draw the blinds and open the doors. The newspapers of course have been having a wonderful time as they dig out the old expressions to cover the heat wave. One of the most popular is «Phew» which means simply: «My goodness isn’t it hot!» Others are: «Britain bakes.» — «Another scorcher.» — «Temperatures soar.» (You should note here that they always «soar» not just «rise») — «Summer is sizzling.» Then of course a few days ago they all went crazy when the temperature actually exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It was almost like winning a gold medal at the Olympic games. Now we are approaching September and the autumn or «the fall» as our American cousins call it, will soon be here. The 19th century English Romantic poet John Keats described autumn thus: «Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness» hinting at the dampness in the air and the ripening of fruit on the trees. In department stores notices are appearing announcing «BACK TO SCHOOL» reminding parents as if they needed reminding that children will need new clothes and sportswear. Students are getting ready to go back to college or university or are starting out on new courses. To me it brings back two sorts of memories. First the frenzy of enrolment for classes due to start later in September. Popular classes tended to fill up early and so it was a case of first come, first served.
At one particular London college we usually had a queue about a mile long for students who wanted to learn English with people from as many as 130 different countries. On one occasion an entrepreneur seeing the queues every day thought he would rent a room at the end of the queue and try to enrol some of the students for his own «courses». Fortunately he was quickly found out. But among all the students we saw there is one young woman I shall never forget. She was passed from tutor to tutor and no-one seemed able to help her. We all tried speaking in as many languages as we could but all she did was laugh and shake her head. This rather upset our egos because we had some good linguists among our team but she just kept laughing and we were on the point of giving up when another student, obviously a friend, came running up and assured us we were wasting our time.
She didn’t need a foreign language at all, what she wanted was sign language. The poor girl was deaf. Secondly September brings back memories of my first day in the army at the start of my national service. That famous last day of the month I was walking up the road that led to the Tower of London.
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