"...though the English are effete, they're quite impervious to heat,
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun."
- Noel Coward
It's been three years and a bit since I arrived in California, a native of colder climes, and apart from a 1977 foray into the Sahara Desert, pretty much a stranger to heat. The typical summer in Nottingham had temperatures tending to be in the region of 22°C (that's about 71°F), and believe me, I was no hothouse plant, wilting if the thermometer climbed much above that mark. Odd days it would hit a practically tropical 30°C – I would feel like I was dying, and crawl into the nearest cool space for a frothy tea and a dish of respite. I convinced myself that I had Eskimo genes, and told people that I preferred other, cooler seasons to the summer. "It's easier to dress up against the cold than strip for the heat", I'd remark. Being of the hirsute variety of Englishman, I'd occasionally threaten to take off all my clothes and shave my body, but had to content myself with steaming gently and whinging.
Many found it odd that I should wind up living in Davis, in California's Central Valley, a place notorious for whoppingly high summer temperatures. It was 1st March, 2005 when I landed. About teatime. Weather was good, you know. Warm for March, but there were equivalent Spring days in the English Midlands, so I thought nothing of it. That soon changed. I remember a day (possibly in April) when it rose to 80°F (that's about 27°C - I was also slowly converting back to the Fahrenheit degrees I knew in my youth...) I mentioned to Christine that I'd been to the shops, and it boy, was it hot out there. Her reply haunts me yet. Not just the words, but the gentle, slightly wicked chuckle. "Oh, this isn't hot - wait till it gets HOT!"
Of course, it didn't end there. Soon afterward, it started to creep up into the mid-80s. Same comment, same answer, same chortle. And not just from Christine, either. I'd started volunteering at the local food co-op, and got little sympathy from many folk there, either. It hit the 90s, and I thought "Surely, this must be hot!", but no. Apparently even those 30-odd degrees of Celsius didn't faze anyone. Then came the red letter day, one day when it was over 95. Scarcely daring to open my mouth about the heat in the midst of these fire-hardened Westerners, I finally plucked up the courage one afternoon outside the store. The moment dragged out like a winning boundary in a cricket Test Match. Time slowed to a crawl as I prepared myself for what I felt must be the inevitable putdown of the upstart Brit. But I was wrong. "Yes, it is, isn't it." Hoorah! At last I was vindicated, at long last it was officially hot! I wanted to dance, leap for joy, hug everyone and run home to tell Christine the tidings. No way was I going to do that. It was too bloody warm for those shenanigans.
So I settled in nicely, in the finish. I learned that there's no point in rushing around in that sort of heat. After all, when the outside temperature is higher than the human body's inside temperature, it's counterproductive in the extreme, and possibly even fatal. I learned to pace myself, to stroll, to keep in the shade and above all to drink plenty of water. Christine purchased a Utiliklt for me, an ideal garment for the clime. Certainly, there were still a few hurdles to jump - one of them being the almost-inevitable comeback to comments about the temperature. "Yeah, but at least it's a dry heat". Gah. Clearly, there was going to be no end to this.
Except of course, that there was. It was a hot day, inevitably. A Sunday. We were at the local swimming pool, and I'd made some remark about the pool closing if the temperature dropped below 72°, because of course, that's perilously cold to the effete Californians. Comeuppance was at hand. Christine pointed out that there were a bunch of people playing cricket in the nearby park. Now cricket, you must understand, was invented by those self-same English types as invented rugby. Only instead of running around in shorts during the icy winters, on rock-hard ground, cricket is played in flannels in the height of the summer. What was that? Oh, flannels. That's long trousers, long-sleeved shirts and possibly a sweater. The only concessions made for the heat are that the clothing is white (reflects the sun, in case there is any) and that the sweater may be short-sleeved.
So there was this bunch of guys playing cricket. Possibly in one hundred degrees of blazing summer (albeit dry) heat. In flannels. Now I had always thought that the English were crazy - after all, the song that inspired this is about English colonials ignoring centuries of sensible habit in the tropics, and wandering about in the heat of the day instead of taking a sensible siesta
. Locals must have laughed uproariously at the sight of the overdressed white men in their solar topees
and the women in their frills and furbelows
, all out and about (presumably, sipping their beloved tea) in the hottest part of the day. Now I saw the funny side of it all, and even though there was not an Englishman among the cricketers (they seemed to originate from the Indian subcontinent, for the most part, might have been a West Indian in there), they still stubbornly wore their regulation whites, and the bowlers still handed their pullies
to the umpire before starting their overs.
I had to chuckle at this - me, the cold-climate white boy transplanted into the hothouse of the West laughing at the antics of other (presumed) imports. I've had the chance to rub other's faces in it, too. Many is the time I have welcomed newcomers from cooler climes with that knowing grin and a "This? Oh, this is just warm. Wait 'til summer..." comment, before persuading people to count their blessings, because it is, of course, after all, just a dry heat.