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Thursday, December 05, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Should we talk about the weather?
“Should we talk about the weather? Should we talk about the government?” wondered Michael Stipe in the chorus of REM’s 1989 single Pop Song ’89. I'm going to talk about one of those things, and it’s not the government, I haven’t been here long enough, they could still deport me. Or give me a house, depending on my stance.
As an Englishman it’s my duty to talk about the weather. Non-English people might not understand this. In Roman Polanski’s dark comedy Bitter Moon, set on a cruise ship, a young Hugh Grant looks out to see and says, “I do not like the look of that sky. I’m not sure if the weather’s going to hold,”
trying to avoid a deeper conversation that was in mid-flow. Peter Coyote, somewhat deranged and wheelchair-bound snaps, “Jesus, don’t tell me you’re taking refuge in the weather.”
He’s mining a classic seam of the traditional differentiators of the American and British character. Americans are our biggest critics, mockers even, when it comes to weather talk. They think weather talk is just small talk, as Stipe suggests in the song. It is not.
A dear Trinidadian friend of mine has just recently arrived in London where she’ll be living for the next few years. Already she understands why we talk about the weather incessantly. Why we “take refuge in it.” We have no choice. There’s just so much of it! And it’s all so different. I don’t just mean different from day to day, you can have four seasons in one day. Freezing cold wind and driving rain can give way to warm sunshine. Slate grey skies can part to reveal pale blue skies. Hailstone, sleet, drizzle, mist, fog...all sorts.
Marvel at the number of terms we have for rain alone. “Belting it down” and “sheeting it down” are two of my favourite terms for precipitation…there are ruder ones, of course. A Canadian once said to me, “You know how the inuit have 50 words for snow, you Brits have more then 50 words for rain.”
The geographical location of Britain, a strangely shaped and contoured country surrounded by the North Sea, Irish Sea, Atlantic and the English Channel, makes for some interesting, transient weather patterns.
I’ve seen interesting weather here too. Very dramatic. That night back in September when the storm broke in north west Trinidad stands out. (I was later told not to refer to it as a “storm” by the way, “that word scares people,” my colleague said.)
Looking out of my window at the lightning in Cascade at 3 am was intense. I was on the phone to a friend in Laventille and we could hear the time difference between the rumbles of thunder. Eventually the lightning and thunder struck at the same time just a few hundred yards from my house. I saw and heard the lightning crack in the black sky. Do they call that a thunderbolt? Whatever, I’d never seen that before.
I’d also never seen a complete rainbow arcing into a flat blue gorgeous sea, like I saw in Castara, Tobago. I’d never felt an earthquake until last Friday. A nice introduction, though perhaps seismological rather than meteorological.
I’d never seen floods before I arrived or their after affects, which were deemed serious enough for Anthony Sammy to bring in Venezuelan hydraulics and drainage experts to assess the ongoing situation in Diego Martin. Do we not have hydraulics experts in this country, I wondered? Perhaps not.
How seriously is the weather taken here? It feels like the general public, as well as environmentalists, recognise climate change. That this part of the world is heating up seems clear. Talking to people in taxis I’ll say, “Gosh, it’s hot today.” Their responses often suggest that it’s a lot hotter nowadays than when people were younger.
The rainy season in particular, it seems. Petit Carême, aka Indian Summer, is now indistinguishable, it’s just hot, hot, hot. (Indian Summer in England means something different, incidentally, it refers to a late extended warm summer stretching into autumn.)
There are two main types of weather in T&T. Hot and really hot. Just walking from my taxi drop-off at Duke Street to my office on St Vincent Street, I arrive with my shirt soaked in sweat. On the rare occasion I feel a cool breeze drifting up the street it’s heavenly. At the screening of Sustain T&T’s film A Sea Change, about global warming, an audience member stood up at the end and said these days it feels like the hills near her home are on fire.
I like the heat. I think most people do. It’s healthier than the six months of freezing cold we endure in Britain every winter. But if we don’t somehow turn down the earth’s oven a notch, we might just overcook the pie.
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