Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather,
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not!
Last night, whilst awaiting the arrival of the Husband to watch the latest episode in our catch-up TV marathon of Luther, I watched approximately seven minutes of a TV programme called The Great British Year. I think it was a wildlife documentary, because there seemed to be an attempt underway to film various kinds of birds nesting, egg laying and so on. The reason the subject wasn’t immediately clear was because every single sentence uttered by the voiceover, and every last camera angle, focussed not on our feather friends but on that Great British Obsession: the weather.
The rain was pouring down, making for uncomfortable preparations for filming. Little did the crew know that they were about to experience the warmest March on record! The sudden increase in temperature had brought with it mists: the boats were no longer sailing to the island where filming was to take place. The unseasonal warmth meant that the birds were already nesting by the time they arrived. And so it went on.
It is not an original observation that the British are obsessed with the weather. In our defence, our fickle seasons seem to me good reason for our endless fascination. Yes, there may be days when it’s tempting to yearn for the predictable sunshine of far-flung places; but there’s something about the sheer bloody-mindedness of our weather that’s to be applauded. As Noel Scott has it in his wonderful poem, England’s Weather, “On a day in June it can pour at noon/ from a sky where no cloudlets lay/ While a mocking breeze in the Christmas trees/ Plays a springtime roundelay.”
Last night’s weather fixation prompted me to think about the role weather has played in some of the classic works of British literature. It’s not difficult to think of examples. How would George Eliot have had everything end for poor old Maggie Tulliver had not the rains made the river Floss burst its banks? What if Jane Eyre had been wandering the moors in pleasant sunshine instead of a howling tempest? And what if Jane Bennett hadn’t caught that cold when it poured with rain on her journey to Netherfield?
Of course, one of the “rules” for writers is not to start a book with a description of the weather. in fact, the literary agency Darley Anderson has a series of blog posts on 11 ways not to begin your novel, (http://darleyandersonblog.com/2013/03/28/how-not-to-start-your-novel/), and talking about the weather comes in at number one.
With that in mind, I thought I’d check the second draft of my own novel for references to the weather. Happily, it passes the test in terms of the opening; but without really thinking about it at all, it turns out I’ve referred to the weather on three separate occasions. On all of them, it’s either raining or has been raining. And on one occasion, the weather isn’t simply the backdrop to the story: the rain plays a key part in the unfolding plot. There’s no doubt about it: I’m as weather-obsessed as those birdwatchers.
I’d be interested in any observations on the role the weather plays in your writing. And, as I know that the odd international visitor drops by here from time to time, tell me: is it really just us Brits who are so fascinated by the weather?