Yesterday afternoon, the weather finally turned warmer. I was caught out on my walk with Ollie, and came home hot and bothered in my heavy coat. I changed into shorts later, and enjoyed watching the sun setting over the back garden. This morning, I woke up thinking about sunshine, with the weather forecasters predicting a steep rise in temperatures next week.
Most of my youthful memories are of being out in the sun. Summer holidays that always seemed to be warm and dry, blue skies, and trips to the beach. School holidays in July and August, always playing in the sunny streets of London, always hot and thirsty. Nobody ever talked about sunscreen, skin cancer, premature ageing, or cataracts in those days. They just got out in the fresh air, and enjoyed the end of winter.
By the time I was in my teens, I had been to the South of France, and experienced some really hot weather. Beaches too hot to walk on the sand, and humid nights that I wasn’t used to. Some people were beginning to move to countries like Australia, in search of better weather, more sun, and longer summers. One of my relatives had discovered Spain, and she was travelling to the sun on cheap holidays where the weather was more or less guaranteed to always be hot and sunny. By the time I had turned 21, I was keen to discover more such places, and a few years later, I went to Greece, with my first wife.
It was there that I first discovered that I could have too much of a good thing. Daytime temperatures in excess of 100 degrees F, and little relief from the heat at night. Sightseeing became a trial, and even resting on a beach soon became uncomfortable. I found myself retreating inside, sitting in the shade, or driving into the mountains to escape the extreme heat. I thought of those people who had flocked to Australia, experiencing their upside-down summers in six months of similar conditions, and wondered how they managed to go about their everyday lives in heat like that.
At least I was lucky in one respect. I had the sort of skin that tanned very well, and quickly too. Little or no sunburn, just a golden glow turning into a mahogany hue very rapidly. People took me for a local, and on returning to England, I was complimented on a suntan that lasted for months afterwards. So I carried on seeking sunshine abroad. Northern Spain, Turkey, Tunisia, Crete, Egypt, and Greece again. My main summer holiday each year supplied me with enough sunshine and heat to last the winter that followed.
Then everything changed. Sunshine was no longer our friend, we were told. Especially in hot countries like those mentioned, we should cover up, wear hats, use oily sunscreen, and avoid the strong sun at midday. Skin cancer was on the increase, and for many people, being out in the sun was actually very dangerous. So I started to visit cities instead of beaches. Amsterdam, with a similar climate to the East of England. Berlin, humid in the summer heat, and Barcelona, with lots of shade available. Bruges and Ghent, with worse weather than England, and Paris of course, with a climate almost identical to the one we left behind in London. Moscow and Leningrad, still snowbound and cold in late spring, and Beijing, with stifling heat, but little direct sunshine.
Over the last few years, we have settled for staying in England. No good weather guaranteed of course, but less danger from the ultraviolet radiation. Despite having that ‘good tanning’ skin, I am also someone who has quite a few moles on my face and body. Fear of them becoming affected by sunshine had me covering up, avoiding strong sun, and the countries where it is found.
So when I woke up to a sunny morning today, I was left thinking about how my perception of that much-desired sunshine has changed in sixty-odd years. I might have been happier never knowing.