Sunday 27 June 2010

Summer in London

London has passed out from the heat. She is lying flat on her back, sweating horridly, with a handkerchief tied around her head. Occasionally she thinks about buying an ice cream. Her skin is as red as a pepper. Dickens put it much better than I. Here is a little something from the nineteenth chapter of Bleak House.

It is the hottest long vacation known for many years. All the young clerks are madly in love, and according to their various degrees, pine for bliss with the beloved object, at Margate, Ramsgate, or Gravesend. All the middle-aged clerks think their families too large. All the unowned dogs who stray into the Inns of Court and pant about staircases and other dry places seeking water give short howls of aggravation. All the blind men's dogs in the streets draw their masters against pumps or trip them over buckets. A shop with a sun-blind, and a watered pavement, and a bowl of gold and silver fish in the window, is a sanctuary. Temple Bar gets so hot that it is, to the adjacent Strand and Fleet Street, what a heater is in an urn, and keeps them simmering all night.

There are offices about the Inns of Court in which a man might be cool, if any coolness were worth purchasing at such a price in dullness; but the little thoroughfares immediately outside those retirements seem to blaze. In Mr. Krook's court, it is so hot that the people turn their houses inside out and sit in chairs upon the pavement—Mr. Krook included, who there pursues his studies, with his cat (who never is too hot) by his side. The Sol's Arms has discontinued the Harmonic Meetings for the season, and Little Swills is engaged at the Pastoral Gardens down the river, where he comes out in quite an innocent manner and sings comic ditties of a juvenile complexion calculated (as the bill says) not to wound the feelings of the most fastidious mind.

I am sure that my readers in warmer climes will scoff at this post, but that is merely because they don't understand. London is not designed to be hot. We have no air-conditioning. I own two pairs of shorts and one of those is so little worn that it still has a school name-tape sewn inside.

Nobody has ever thought to put a bench in the shade. The best a Londoner can do is to shelter from the sun under awnings that usually protect him from the rain and hail. It is for this reason that the Bible reads so strangely to an Englishman: heat and sun are curses, rain and shade God's promises. Only on days like this can an Englishman's heart pant for cooling streams.

I am now off to sit in a square in Bloomsbury in direct and perfect imitation of Dickens. I would follow the clerks to Margate, but all I seem to do there is sandily connect nothing with nothing.

The Inky Fool's method for keeping cool got rather out of control


  1. These are days on which I am so glad I moved from London to Warwickshire, where it is warm, but not hot, and one can eat an icecream before it plunges, melted, down your shirt.

  2. And then I find myself walking past Dickens' house on John Street.

  3. The Antipodean28 June 2010 at 15:51

    I scoff, hear me.

    That is an good point regarding benches, though. Illustrative.

    We have had days of below zero temperatures. Well, early mornings. Two of them. The days were quite nice, actually.

    Anyway, swap?

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