Sunday, August 2, 2009
This morning a man in the Meteorological Office in Bracknell is sitting in front of his weather charts with a smug grin on his face. As the rest of us wait gloomily for the next downpour to wipe out the cricket at Edgbaston, or gaze out at the rust forming on our shiny new barbecues, he’s positively beaming.
Only he and I know why he’s so happy. You see, like me he’s invested in a holiday home in England. Not for himself to enjoy – he has more sense than to risk the English weather for his own vacation. He rents it out to those optimistic enough to believe that England can still produce the long hot summers we read about as children. Earlier this year, as the recession bit, his holiday let bookings fell off the cliff along with the value of his property. So I reckon he panicked. Over a cup of strong-to-gale-force coffee in the Met Office canteen, he thought up a wonderful wheeze.
“Let’s announce a long-range weather forecast for the summer”. “That’s impossible”, said Tomasz Shufflepants (a strange name for a British weather forecaster, I know, but his real surname is even weirder). “Nobody can say what the weather is going to be like that far ahead, not even with our squillion pound new computer.” “It’s hard enough predicting the weather for this afternoon”, added Rob McElwee, with that mysterious stare he thinks female viewers interpret as enigmatic charm. “You know how we play spin the coin for next week’s forecast?”, chirped up little Dan Corbett, “We could do the same for August”. “Who cares about the summer?” added Tomasz. “It’s always wet in England. Even worse than Poland”.
“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong”, said our man with the holiday home. “What do you think the odds are on a some sunshine in August?” he asked. “A tiny bit better than fifty-fifty, I suppose”, conceded Shufflepants. “Exactly: it’s odds-on, then”. “Well they’re not very good odds”. “Perhaps, but so long as we warn there may be 'heavy downpours at times', we should be covered".
So it was that on 30th April 2009 our Met Office published its famous press release that began: ‘The coming summer is odds on for a barbecue summer’. The following week, I had a flood of enquiries for my holiday home, Barnhill House: the whole of August was sold out within days. Thanks, Met Office. And commiserations to my clients who moved in this weekend to yet another downpour.
Of course I’ve no evidence whatsoever to support this outrageous conspiracy theory but it’s hard to imagine why else the Met Office would have made such a rash announcement about something so clearly unpredictable. Unless, perhaps, someone there has shares in B&Q, whose sales of barbecues have gone through the roof this year. Or maybe one of the forecasters writes cookery books on the side. I’ve been given several “Summer Grilling” books this year and there’s a whole pile lying remaindered in a bin in my local bookshop. Sometimes I open the pages just to slaver over the photographs and imagine the smells that should be emanating from my new patio, built in response to Met Office optimism. Jo and I even got our lovely Californian garden furniture out of storage, dusted it off and waited.
We’re still waiting, along with Alan, our farmer neighbour, who is looking for three consecutive days of rain-free summer to crop our hayfield. Otherwise it will go for silage and the alpacas in the next village will go hungry. But I’ve told him not to worry, because the Met Office has told me exactly what the weather will be like over the next few weeks. They absolutely, confidently guarantee it will be warmish and fairly sunny every single day for the next month. Unless, of course, it rains.