June 13, 2006 in London

Understanding the English

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I started a post earlier this week regarding the English’s constant complaining about the weather. First they were complaining that it was cold and raining and that summer had not yet arrived. Then they complained when it got sunny and hot (85 degrees hot!) late last week. Now it’s cooler again, and they are still complaining. Personally, I don’t understand it, but hey — I’m a foreigner here. In any event, article below kind of sums up how some people are coping with the weather and all the World Cup excitment.

Mad Dogs and Soccer Fans in Midday Sun
New York Times, By ALAN COWELL, Published: June 14, 2006
LONDON, June 13 — It is summer in Britain and — surprise, surprise — the sun came out and the weather got hot. But just as the British always seem nonplussed by sprinklings of snow in winter, so too the heat of summer is greeted as somehow shockingly unexpected, an intrusion into the unremitting litany of complaints about the rain, and one more pretext, as if one were needed, to quench the national thirst.
This year, too, there was an added twist: the World Cup soccer tournament in Germany, coaxing forth twin passions of hope for, and despair of, England’s chance of victory.
Soccer, indeed, offered the nation a sun-struck parable for its discomfort.
“Deep in the English soul is the feeling that playing football in hot weather is not natural,” Simon Barnes wrote in The Times of London after the England players wilted and wobbled their way through 90 degree heat in the Frankfurt stadium, barely clinging to a 1-0 lead over Paraguay.
Usually there are two constants in a British summer — beer, and headlines using “phew” and “scorcher,” deployed this year as temperatures “soared” to 87 degrees on Monday to provide the hottest day of the year so far.
And so it is a time that blends heat and headlines, pints and patriotism.
“Another scorcher” was on the way on Monday, said The Daily Mail as Britons braced for a beer or two.
“We are struggling to keep shelves stocked with beer,” said Jennifer England, a spokeswoman for Asda supermarkets, which is owned by Wal-Mart. “It is absolutely flying off the shelves. What with the combination of the weather and the World Cup, it’s been a busy old weekend.”
As always, though, the alchemy of sport and booze yielded a darker subtext.
While England fans filled the bleachers in Frankfurt in relative peace on Saturday, crowds closer to home — an estimated 50,000 — thronged to watch the game against Paraguay on huge screens in city centers.
Some brawled; all boiled.

On Saturday, skirmishes broke out in London and Liverpool among fans watching big-screen live coverage. The screens in two places had to be switched off, the play replaced by a notice promising a white-out “until order has been restored.” On Monday the BBC announced that screens in those places would not be switched on again. Ever. Well, at least not during this year’s tournament. Having thrown their toys from their stroller, in other words, the fans would have to forfeit their playtime.
Not for nothing is the BBC nicknamed Auntie.
Among people prone to binge-drinking, it came as no surprise that the fusion of patriotic thirst and its slaking should yield unruliness.
Two years ago, some 400 drunken soccer fans rampaged through Croydon, in South London, after England lost to France in a European tournament. This time, the authorities ordered pubs in Croydon to close just after the end of the England-Paraguay game. Pub owners barred anyone wearing national team colors from entering their establishments when they reopened a little later.
The paired demons of heat and liquor were manifest elsewhere. Of the 5,000 emergency calls made to London’s ambulance services on Saturday — about the same number as on the average New Year’s — most were reportedly inspired by alcohol abuse or sunstroke or, conceivably, both.
In truth, this has been a quirky time for the weather. Until the heat began to build last week, the year had seemed unusually damp and dismal, even by Britain’s soggy standards.
And yet as the spring rain sluiced down, the water utility in southeastern England was warning that a winter drought had left reservoirs half-filled and lined with cracked mud, which evoked the parched imagery of Africa in the dry season.
Indeed, so out of kilter did the seasons seem that homeowners watching the incessant rain were told not to use hoses to soak their gardens or wash their cars because of the shortage of water.
Drought or not, the so-called hose ban did not deter vandals who broke open a fire hydrant on Saturday in Beckton, in East London, sending a 50-foot gusher to chill those who frolicked below it.
This is a nation, these days, of travelers who will hop on cheap flights to the southern sun, yet find their own land stretched to cope with too much heat.
Last weekend, British beaches filled beyond capacity with bathers and sun-seekers trading pallid for pink. In more urban areas, like North London, the lidos — municipal open-air swimming pools — were jammed with swimmers. In the city center, people paddled their feet in the Princess Diana memorial fountain and bared their (male) chests in Trafalgar Square. Commuters in shorts and safety helmets took to bicycles to get to work and avoid subway cars, where the temperature reached 97 degrees.
One subway rider, Aspasia Louvari, told The Evening Standard: “It’s really bad down here, and every year it seems to get hotter, and every year they’re still unprepared for it. It’s too hot.”
Tim O’Toole, the managing director of London Underground, which runs the Tube, acknowledged that “it can get hot in the Tube in summer.”
But Peter Hendy, who runs London’s fleet of 4,900 double-decker buses, promised a less torrid ride, saying 2,300 buses had been equipped with better ventilation systems “to help deal with the high temperatures that we sometimes encounter during the summer months.”
While you may think Mr. Hendy is talking about air conditioning, think again. In fact, this latest innovation consists mainly of windows that open.
“The remainder of the fleet will be similarly equipped by summer next year,” he added helpfully.
Of course, there is a reason that warm weather should be treated as something of a novelty: it is a novelty.
Even as the temperatures climbed yet again on Monday, weather forecasters pointed gleefully to thunderclouds moving in from the west, offering a promised return of Britain’s meteorological default: cooler temperatures, with showers later.
And on Tuesday, the rains came.

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