Water, Water Everywhere | Pushing the Wave

Water, Water Everywhere

Opinion, 28 July 2023
by L.A. Davenport
Norwich Cathderal
Norwich Cathderal
This summer has, weather-wise, been up and down, to say the least, and the climate crisis, with threats this week of the world reaching boiling point, have seemed a long way away.

For a while, it seemed as if July would be washed away entirely, taking with it all outdoor plans and any sense of summer fun. The perfect example was last weekend, when friends had arranged a barbecue for Saturday afternoon.

By the time we got there, the day had started unpromisingly, with clouds of varied dark hues blanketing the sky and issuing forth a steady, if gentle, rain that followed us all the way up the A1.

As the day progressed and the hour for lighting the gas (we were taking no chances) approached, the steadily rain intensified to the point of being almost torrential and drove everyone, apart from the determined chef, inside.

By the time the food was ready and we were assembling our first burgers and hot dogs, it slowed to a fine mist, which came as such a relief that it seemed as if the sun was out and the poor weather had cleared.

Even the children abandoned their indoor game of playing hide and seek in every room from which they had been banned to run about on the grass with abandon, eschewing any form of hat or coat as utterly unnecessary.

Of course, that didn’t last long, and we were soon back to huddling under awnings or watching from the house as the rain cascaded off every scrap of protection for the barbecue and the water pooled on the sodden grass.

Those who stayed up long enough chatting into the small hours were able to report that it was more than 24 hours before there was any let up in the weather, and even the slugs abandoned the garden as being too damp.

That escapade was followed by a few days on the Norfolk Broads, which was wonderful but again dogged by occasional bouts of rough weather that made us scurry to the nearest shelter to wait it out.

But the apparently endless rain did actually stop us from doing anything. The barbecue went ahead as planned, if in a slightly modified format, and everyone declared it a success, and our holiday was only mildly impinged by the changeable conditions.

The British, of course, make it a point of pride to cope with whatever the weather can throw at us, and make the best of the circumstances. After all, if we didn’t brave the elements and keep on going, we wouldn’t do anything at all, and would be stuck inside for most of the summer.

An interesting comparison here is with our neighbours across the channel in France, especially those living in the south, on the Mediterranean coast.

I should declare at this point that my wife is not only French but also from Nice, and so we spend a lot of time there and we have a lot of French friends with whom we are very close.

And over the years, and over many a glass of rosé, we have discussed numerous times the myriad cultural differences, both major and minor, that exist between the British and, especially, the mentality in southern France (as they are aware that they have a different outlook from those in other parts of the country).

It has been a fascinating topic to explore.

We have examined the huge influence of language on framing thought processes, and the effect of location, particularly that of having land, rather than sea, borders with other countries, and what that means in terms of learning to live with close neighbours and affecting attitudes towards the European Union.

And then there is the climate, which has an enormous impact on our personal and collective relationships with the outside world, as well as on the provision of facilities. (In case you were not aware, there is a notable difference in the weather between the Côte d’Azur and the English Riviera.)

The joke with our French friends is that, in summer time, Les Niçois complain every time there is the merest cloud in the sky, and abandon plans as soon as the first drop of rain falls. What’s the point, they cry. You may as well wait for the sun.

When I first knew them, I used to find that frustrating and ask them if Les Sudistes, as they sometimes call themselves, were in fact soluble.

Now we just carry on regardless, assuming that our friends won’t join us if it starts to rain, but I do see their point: wait a maximum of 24 hours and the sun will typically be back in full force. That also means they don’t get so possessive about good weather, and their plans can be more fluid than over the Channel.

Moreover, when they do go outside, they are much freer and more comfortable, both with each other and themselves, than the British. Compared with the cliché of Mr Bean on the beach, the French southerners are utterly unselfconscious, and mock me for, to them, my absurd sense of propriety.

But there is another side to all of this, and underlines a stark differences between Les Niçois and their northern cousins.

All this free and easy frolicking in the Mediterranean sun means that they are not so strong on entertaining themselves when the weather is poor.

In my experience, a vanishingly small number have a hobby, or even an interest outside of sipping a glass of rosé for l’apéro in the setting summer sun, either alone or with friends. While this is wonderful, it has an impact on what people are able to discuss.

It fascinates me how conversations can be equally passionate on the Côte d’Azur as in Britain, but the tenor of conversation down there is to rake over the minutiae of daily life and work, alongside discussing food and drink in great detail, or complaining about the state of politics today.

It is rare person who will drift off into the abstract and talk about music, books, a TV series, or films they like, or even a hobby or interest. And while the southerners have just as keen a sense of humour as the British, it is rooted in the concrete, the everyday, and there is little of the whimsy and flights of fancy that characterise so much of comedy north of the Channel.

It can make French southerners not so good at interacting with people they do not know, as they need to establish a connection rooted in the quotidian. And that does not blend well with the French contrarian attitude, which is so ingrained that it can, for more easy going conversationalists from other countries and cultures, be a little off-putting.

All of these differences in language, location and climate, we note as we open another bottle of gorgeously blushed wine, have led to us having a wildly different take on many aspects of life.

And yet, when you get down to brass tacks, as they say, and clear away the surface aspects that seem to divide us, we are not so different after all; we are all affected by the same issues, and have the same needs from life.

More than that, we and our French friends have learned so much from each other over the years, and have grown immeasurably from our exchanges, that I like to think it has made us all better people.

There’s only one thing to say to that: Cheers!
One of the revelations of our brief visit to the Norfolk Broads is that we got a chance to visit Norwich Cathedral for the first time.

It is magnificent and filled with wonderful details, but it is the sense of stillness that pervades both the church itself and the cloisters that affected me the most. Perhaps I needed it after several weeks of helter-skelter rushing about and deadline-chasing, but as I contemplated the dappled light across the stone flagged floors, a calmness came over me.

There was also a reminder of a time from my past.

Maybe there was something in the architecture, or in the cathedral close, which is one of the most impressive and well-preserved I have seen, or maybe it was something in me, but I was transported back to a moment in the late-1990s, just after the end of my studies.

I was on a train from London to Leicester and fell into conversation with a young woman a couple of years older than me. Although there was little in age to divide us, she was so much more mature, aware and cultured than I, and I simply tried to keep up as best I could with her brilliant conversation.

Towards the end of our all-too-brief hour or so together, she talked about a series of books she had found interesting and thought I would to: the Starbridge series by Susan Howatch, about the Church of England in the twentieth century.

I didn’t hesitate and the next day headed down to the Dillons bookstore in Leicester to buy the first in the series, Glittering Images. For a while, these books, which are fictional but based on real-life Salisbury, utterly consumed me, and I read them all within the space of a few months.

I am not sure what exactly it was that pulled me in to the stories, beyond wanting to be a little more like my travel companion, and I haven’t thought about them much in the meantime. But standing in Norwich Cathedral and sensing a certain something that penetrated my soul, it all came flooding back.
With all the barbecues and revelations, this has been a slow week for working on my projects, but rest assured they are all moving along nicely, and next week I will have much more to reveal.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Water, Water Everywhere | Pushing the Wave