I’m sitting here on the couch staring out the window. Rain is coming down. It’s damp…chilly…and bleak. Nothing like Monday’s heavy tornado-like rain. Just a rainy day. I’m used to rain. Growing up in England, rain was the weather I experienced the most. For all my school years, I always had an umbrella and a raincoat in my school bag. Rain was a constant.
My modern two-story childhood home in Manchester was allegedly centrally heated, but the heat was more theoretical than anything else. I remember spending evenings with my feet pressed against the radiator doing my homework in my bedroom trying to absorb heat…any heat at all. During a particularly cold winter in the late 70s/early 80s, the coal industry went on strike. Heat was rationed. Homeowners were allocated heat only on set days per week.
Our cold home was so cold. We only had heat every other day. On the days we didn’t have heat we evacuated to my grandmother’s house. She had heat in her Chorlton-cum-Hardy home on the days we did not. On the days we were at home, we only had a gas fireplace in the living room to keep us warm.
Because the house was oh so cold, my sister and I got in to the habit of doing our homework in the living room. Most British homes do not have a family room. Our formal living room was where my sister and I did homework, we ate dinner, and watched TV. How long did the power rationing go on? I’m not sure. Two months? Three months? However long it was, by the time we had our heat back on we were very used to doing everything in the living room. Did we ever eat at the kitchen or dining room table again? I can’t remember.
But back to English weather… Rain was a constant. Practically every day it rained. Not torrential downpours as in the U.S., but drizzly rain, bone-chilling rain. It was the kind of weather where you never feel warm. I was always rubbing hands together to stay warm. Remember Benetton sweaters? I wore those all the time to stay warm. While I can only recall one snowfall during my childhood, it was cold. Not cold enough to snow nor even cold enough for a ski jacket, but cold none the less.
The odd part about living in the U.K. is the complete lack of extremes in weather. Little snow. I don’t recall ever seeing hail or experiencing high winds. Rain was steady but never torrential. Temperatures in the winter were cold enough that I only needed to wear a school wool blazer and scarf to school. I wore a ski jacket only when skiing in Italy. Seasons changed with very little fanfare. It wasn’t unusual to wear a sweater in August.
In fact, I didn’t experience the changing of the seasons until I arrived for my freshman year at college. It was that sweltering day in August when I realized that I was completely. After the first couple of days of freshman orientation, I ran out of clothes. My “summer” wardrobe consisted of one pair of shorts, several t-shirts, and a pair of sneakers. I didn’t even have a pair of flip flops or sandals. I was astounded to see that my freshman roommate had a closet full of shorts, t-shirts, and sun dresses. Without a car, all I could do was pick up a pair or two of shorts and t-shirts at the college bookstore. By the following spring for the first time, I had a wardrobe for the season changes.