The Great English Summer Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Great English Summer

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Two pensioners asleep on deckchairs on Bournemouth beach.
Mad dogs and Englishmen
Go out in the midday sun.

- Noel Coward

The Great English Summer is something that sparks an amazing amount of activity and excitement among English citizens. It is a period of unheard-of warmth and sunshine over the British Isles that lasts about a week (sometimes even two) around June, July or early August.

Sporadic glimpses of the sun are often marked by many English people finding their way out of their houses or places of work, to frolic in urban green areas or at the seaside to soak up the rays of light breaking through the more commonly grey, clouded skies. Important factors to prepare yourself for these bustling interludes at this time of year are the following:

Wear Sunglasses

Not, as you may think, to protect your eyes from the glare of the sun, but more the reflected light bounced off the alarmingly pale, almost marble-white, torsos that seem to appear at the first sign of sunlight breaking through the clouds.

Keep Up Your Fluids

Again, the assumption would be to imbibe fluids so as not to suffer from dehydration. The recommendation is in fact to disappear inside and have a good stiff drink, as most of the bare torsos you've just been subjected to are of red-faced pot-bellied hairy-backed men who really shouldn't remove any clothing whatsoever in a public place.

Make Use of Natural Cover

Staying out of the sun is wise, not only to avoid looking like many of the lobster-coloured beings around you that are burning and crisping nicely, but to stay dry when the inevitable English summer shower pours down from the heavens.

Keep Off The Grass

Grass during the English summer is something to avoid, especially for those who suffer from hayfever. The sound of lawnmowers firing up along every street and park across the country will soon have the air filled with the heady scent of freshly-cut grass, sweat and the occasional whiff of petrol.

If you do, however, venture out to some greenery, be wary of groups of university students cavorting about, either with a Frisbee or each other (or both), or the dreaded family picnic where you could be drawn into a domestic argument without warning.

Shore Is Sunny

Going to the beach sounds like the perfect idea for a summer's day. Kicking back in a deckchair, enjoying the rare warmth and the sounds of the waves lapping against the shore - not in England. Most of the beaches don't have sand, and the ones that do are so crowded you might as well stand in a packed elevator or take a ride on the 'Tube' - you'll have more room to breathe.

However, if the beach isn't to your taste you could try one of the many waterways of England to relieve the heat of the summer, idly punting up and down them. A famous Brit once exclaimed to his young friend: 'There is nothing - absolute nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.'1. Another famous Brit remarked that one English river was 'a Stygian pool reeking with ineffable and unbearable horror'2, so the choice is yours.

Shop Till You Droop

While the hot and sticky outside world is filling up with people drinking beer from cans or plastic cups, skimpily-dressed women are parading down the high streets, and young children are fighting in queues at the ice-cream van for a '99', it is clever to disappear into the nearest Shopping Centre. This is for two reasons:

  1. It's generally more peaceful - if you can cope with unending variations on the same theme of 'muzak'.
  2. Shopping Centres or supermarkets are the only places that have forethought enough to install air-conditioning.

Under the Griller

You could also try inviting yourself to a BBQ during an English summer. The English BBQ is something rare and unique; the food is often charred to a crisp, the music is loud, the smoke is irritating and plentiful, and the whole event usually ends up indoors as the atmosphere is invariably dampened by, well, damp.

This Sporting Life

The English summer often brings out sporting types en masse so be wary of sweaty people clutching gymbags, or fanatics like 'the Barmy Army'3. Wrinkled cricket whites, cobweb-covered tennis racquets and umbrellas are pulled out from under beds and the backs of wardrobes the country over.

In Wimbledon, strawberries and cream are consumed in amazing quantities by spectators in stands or on grassy knolls, who, while professional tennis players try to cram in a few matches between rain showers, attempt to stay dry and warm with makeshift raincoats preventing their strawberry punnets from filling with tepid rain water.

During the English summer both amateur and professional cricketers also play their game, standing around in ovals of grass in the sun waiting for a couple of blokes with bats to hit balls at them. This is, of course, up until the umpire's hat disappears under five feet of water when it's usually announced: 'Ladies and gentlemen, play is suspended'. This phrase has become common English parlance, much like 'fancy a cuppa?' or 'looks like rain'.

Durr Bee-urrs Silver Plate Garr Sun

Chances are that there's more sun elsewhere in the world to be had, so you could try a trip to the French Riviera, a Greek Island or the Spanish coast. Problem is, you'll probably find more of the English population at these resorts than in England, plus a great number of English pubs and fish & chip shops.

Why not try Iceland instead?

1Ratty, in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.2Prime Minister Lord Palmerston of the Thames River in 1858 - the year of 'the Great Stink'.3English Cricket Supporters.

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