One Of Those Good Old Summers (28 August 1975)
One day during the recent hot spell I was in a works canteen. It was hotter there than in the works and I admit I felt suitably frizzled. Three or four lads in their late teens and early 20s came in. They were puffing and blowing. Then another chap who could not have been older than the late 30s came in for a moment. He turned to the others and said “What’s the matter with you? Too hot? All summers were like this when I was a nipper.”
I could not help smiling as a I drank hot soup for starters. Here was a fellow of a mere 38 summers or so who already had the notion that things weatherwise were not as they had been in his young day. And here was I, a comparative ancient, who might have been under the same impression about the summers not of 30 years ago but of 60 years ago but for a few stark facts in my possession.
I worked it out that the only really hot, dry summer he had experienced as a nipper hereabouts and was likely to remember was that of 1947, when he would have been aged about nine.
At the beginning of 1948 the Newport Pagnell Rural Council reported that over the whole of 1947 only 19.4 inches of rain had fallen as against an average of 24.38 inches for the previous 11 years – a period which, incidently(sic), included the hot Dunkirk summer of 1940. No rain at all had fallen in the 36 days from August 5 to September 10.
These figures were supported by those of a Hockliffe man who had been recording the weather since 1903. He reported 19.91 inches of rain in his area during 1947, as against a yearly average of 25.3 inches for the previous 44 years.
During all that time there had been only five years with fewer than 20 inches of rain, but there had been 30 years with 30 inches or more. Driest year had been 1921, with 13.59 inches.
During 1947 he had recorded temperatures of 90 degrees or more in May, June, July and August. July had been the hottest month with a mean temperature of 66.64 and August had been the driest since 1940. He added that his equipment could possibly be just a little “out,” but he had always kept it in the same position so that the year-to-year comparisons should be fair enough.
All these figures indicate to me that the years 1947, 1940 and 1921 were quite exceptional, just as this year will turn out to be exceptional. I am much more impressed by the annual averages and by the 30 years in which more than 30 inches of rain fell. There must have been many wet summers among them and many others that were average English summers as we have known them over the past few years.
So, whatever our age, it seems to me that to talk about all summers being hot or dry “when I was a nipper,” is sheer nostalgia, though no doubt today’s youngsters will be saying the same thing 20 years hence.
I remember 1947 as the year the 2.50pm express from Euston to Manchester was derailed in Loughton cutting. The last six of the 14 coaches became uncoupled from the rest of the train, but remained coupled to each other. They were completely derailed, but they came to rest in line, leaning to the left against the slope of the cutting. They were well laden with passengers but there were no serious injuries. When I arrived on the scene I found scores of erstwhile passengers sitting on the bank for all the world like a giant picnic party. The subsequent Ministry of Transport inquiry concluded that the derailment had been caused by distortion of the track through heat. The temperature was said to have been 85 degrees in the shade. The day was May 31.
I remember the fateful summer of 1940 best for an incident which really had very little to do with the war. Just after the Dunkirk evacuation I was walking along a street in Leeds at a time when the shops were closed when I came upon a bunch of Belgian soldiers who were holding their sides with mirth and striking the most grotesque postures. They were a ragged crew. The seats of their trousers were hanging out and I wondered what they had to laugh about at such a time. Then I looked in the windows of the C/A Modes type of shop before which they were standing and found that all the models had melted in the heat and were drooping and lolling in the most comical fashion I ever beheld so that I was forced to join the general merriment.
During the recent hot spell I heard that a temperature of 93 degrees had been registered at a place in Water Eaton Road. I also heard that inevitably someone had cracked an egg onto a pavement to see whether it would fry but that it had shown no sign of doing so.
I also know a young man who spent that torrid ten days in Rome. His Italian hostess had warned him against going there in August because during that month it was usually too hot even for the Italians, but it had been a case of then or not at all for him.
“I bought an English newspaper and saw that temperatures of 90 degrees were being registered over here while it was only 82 to 84 degrees there,” he told me. “Sure enough, as she had said, many of the Italians were flaked out by the heat, but owing to its dryness I was able to get about comfortably all the time. Between you and me, I think they were kidding themselves and everybody else just to have two or three hours off during the day, though I didn’t tell her so!”