It’s Official! I’m A Jinx!

Hands up, I write a lot about the weather. I’s probably the most regularly covered topic on this blog. One reason is that before I moved here, Norfolk had the proud boast of being ‘The Driest County in England’. In fact, that was the title of one of the earliest posts on my blog, reflecting the irony that it seemed to rain every day here.

I also wrote a post about the fact that it always rained at 2 pm, my usual dog-walking time.

Over the years, my obsession with weather has led some people to conclude that I am exaggerating. Others might think it shows signs of serious depression, or some other mental abberation. Moving to a place supposed to officially be the driest spot in the British Isles only to discover it is probably one of the wettest, is a cruel twist of fate indeed.

Then yesterday morning, I had an interesting conversation with a fellow dog-walker, as we both stood looking at the severe flooding that has affected Beetley Meadows. The man was younger than me, but had lived his whole life in this area. And he was a gardener by profession, so spends his life outside, every working day. Gazing at the rushing flood-waters, he told me this.

“This used to be the driest place, you know. Some summers, we had no rain for four or five months, and it never rained during the school holidays when I was young. We had hosepipe bans that started in April, and water was treated like something rare, because of the lack of rain. They even used to close the drive-through car washes because they used too much water. But I started to notice that changing a while back. As I am outside all day working, I get a feel for those things, you know? We began to get heavy rain in early October, and then almost no snow at all during winter, but many consecutive days of heavy rain instead. Washed out summers, ruined barbecues, and only a few reasonably hot days each year.

I remember going home and telling my wife that something bad was happening with the weather here. Even the direction of the arriving bad weather was changing. It was always from the west before, but then it started to come down from the north, and across from the east. Weather patterns and gulf stream directions were all different. I looked it up. Then there was a really big change. I remember it as if it was yesterday. It started with weeks of rain, then a crappy summer, followed by a late winter that left us with snow almost into April”.

I nodded in agreement, then asked. “What year was that then?” He turned to face me, his answer immediate and full of conviction.

“2012. It started at the end of March that year, and it has been getting worse every year since”.

I moved to Beetley on the 23rd of March, 2012. It’s all my fault.

Talking To My Dad

I slept in late on Friday morning. Something had woken me up earlier, probably the gales, and I didn’t get back to sleep until almost 6 am. That meant I was still asleep at 10:45, when Julie decided to come in and wake me up.

As soon as I was old enough to have an opinion, I didn’t get on that well with my Dad. By the time I was twelve years old, he was working away a lot, as a sales and promotion executive for a record company. When he got home late on Friday nights, he seemed to resent the fact that my Mum and me had coped well enough without him all week, and his frequent absences made us grow closer together.

When I was fifteen, he moved us out of London to a house in Kent, as he felt our rented flat was too ‘down market’ for him in his new job. A year later, when I turned sixteen, he bought me a used car, even though I was too young to drive it legally. He liked to boast to people about that. He had become a rather boastful man, taking any opportunity to name-drop the various stars of the record business that he had dealings with.

By the time I left school, we were hardly speaking. Despite that, he got me a job through one of his contacts, selling records. That was so he could tell anyone who would listen that I got the job because of him, and not because I was any good at it. When I was nineteen, I moved out and shared with friends, mainly to avoid having to be around him.

Then not long before my twenty-fourth birthday, he left my Mum, saying that he believed he was in a mid-life crisis, and needed his own space to think. We knew there was another woman of course, and it didn’t take too long to discover who she was, and where they were living. I never spoke to him again after that, and he died when I was thirty-seven.

With that in mind, it was very strange to be dreaming that I was talking to him last night. He was in another room, and calling to me to bring various things in to him. When my wife came in to wake me up because I had overslept, as I opened my eyes to look at her, my Dad’s voice seem to be coming from her mouth. It was the end of a dream, no doubt. That moment when you wake up feeling as if you have been ripped from another place.

A place that seemed very real. As real as the reality of waking up in my bedroom this morning.

A very English conversation

If you live in a big city like London, you rarely even talk to your neighbours, let alone strangers in the street. This wasn’t always the case. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my Mum chatting away to other ladies on a bus. Sometimes, the conductor would join in the conversation, and pretty soon people further away would be twisting around in their seats, hoping to get a word in too. Shopping took forever, as Mum would chat about the same stuff to every shopkeeper, as well as to all the other customers in the shop. I would stand pulling at her sleeve, wondering what the hell they were all going on about.

Some time later, this all changed. And I never really understood why.

By the time I was in my thirties, approaching strangers was considered to be weird. You might get someone at a bus stop ask you, “Have I missed a 29?” But that would be about it. If someone saw you smoking, they might cautiously approach you for a light. Once the cigarette was lit, they walked away. If you needed to ask for directions, then you would generally seek out someone in uniform, like a policeman, or lollipop lady. But never a stranger, and definitely not a woman on her own. I once spent many hours on a long train journey, seated opposite an attractive woman of about the same age as me. We didn’t exchange a word throughout the whole trip. On arrival at a busy London terminus, I decided to do the decent thing, and offered to take her heavy case down from the rack. She looked surprised when I spoke, and curtly replied, “I put it up there, I can get it down.”

Many years later, I was descending a long flight of steps into an underground station. On the opposite side, I spotted a harassed young mum, struggling with a buggy. She was bouncing it and the baby it contained backwards up the steps, trying to keep a hold on her handbag and numerous shopping bags as she did so. I ducked under the rail separating us and grasped the footplate of the buggy, attempting to help her lift it up the steps. She looked alarmed. “Leave me alone please, and take your hands off my pram.” Her voice was raised as she spoke, and people around looked at me as if I was a criminal. I put the buggy back on the step, and returned to my journey.

I had well and truly learned my lesson about modern city life. After that, I spoke to nobody, avoided eye contact, and never once offered to help anyone again.

Then four years ago, I moved here to Norfolk. People started saying hello. Neighbours walked around the front and introduced themselves. Walking along the local High Street in Dereham, everyone nodded, or actually said “Good Morning” as I passed. Staff in shops engaged me in conversation, and even teenagers smiled as they went by. I was perplexed, and unsure what to do. Fifty-odd years of minding my own business was not easy to overturn. Then I got a dog, and it went up a gear. Dog-walkers talk. They don’t just bid you good day, they walk around with you for some time too. They talk about your dog, their dog, other dogs, and things like house prices, and where they used to work, or live. But then you keep meeting the same people. You find out their names, or at least their dog’s name. You begin to refer to people by doggy nicknames. Things like ‘Jenny two-dogs’, or ‘Mrs curly-haired Jack Russell.’ Very soon, it becomes all too apparent that you are running out of things to say. There’s always something fascinating like “I had my car serviced this morning”, or a search for tips on tradesmen, as in “Who services your boiler?”

One thing remains constant though. If in doubt, when all other conversational gambits have been exhausted, you can never go wrong with the weather. No matter how many times you encounter someone in the same week, you can rely on the weather to give you something to talk about. We English are experts at this, it’s in our genes. Never taught, never studied, we just grow up knowing how to talk about anything meteorological. Even something as mundane as rain has limitless options. “It’s raining much harder than yesterday.” “I think it will rain later.” “This rain might stop before dark.” All reliable standbys, and considered to be perfectly acceptable too. The recent heatwave has opened up some rarely heard opportunities for conversational gems of course.

I passed a lady today, on the path by the river. I don’t know her well, but have seen her occasionally, with her small terrier. We once spoke briefly about the mud, and the flooded path. Today, she looked at me, blew out her cheeks, and said “Too hot for me today.” I smiled, then replied “At least anything is better than rain.” Then we continued on our way.

That was a very English conversation, believe me.