Wednesday, 1 July 2015

On The Hottest Day Of The Year

"So far", they should say. You never know, it might get hotter. I remember taking evensong in full choir fig on the hottest day of 2003, when, for the first time, the temperature in London reached 100 degrees F. The early radio broadcasts were saying that at Wimbledon today they are anticipating matches in as high, or higher, heat as in 1976.

I remember 1976. It was marvellous. There was sun, and heat, and it went on, and on. Eventually the government appointed a minister for drought (the Rt Hon Denis [later Lord] Howell), and almost at once, the rains fell, and it was over. We lived in Wimbledon at the time, and our garden was pure clay. There was about half an inch of topsoil on which to grow grass - which was my father's favourite crop. There must have been a hosepipe ban, but I remember wondering just how deep those cracks in the clay really were, and whether you could fill them with water, or whether it would eventually irrigate Australia. Well, you certainly couldn't fill them. And then my father stopped me being an eejit.

Today reminds me of my second day in Brasil on my second (and to date, last) trip there. I went out, merrily, for a cheerful constitutional. I had on my Panama hat, of course - it is a little understood fact that the incidence of skin cancer at the top of the ears is directly related to the decline in Panama-wearing - and within half a mile I felt like I was walking through a solid field of invisible treacle. I had to turn back. Today, in sunny East Oxford, wasn't quite on a par with that, but every so often, when you turned a corner, out of the breeze, it was like walking into a block of warmth.

My journey was to the Saltmine, again - for the last time, I hoped, and as it turned out - to complete my little computers-for-twits course. The only way to get there is along the ring road. There is no shade. At 8.30 in the morning it was hotter than the hottest summer day at 2.00 p.m., in a good summer. The trees and hedgerows had not had time to become wearied by the heat, so they were in fine fettle, and good to see, but for the toiling walker, with no consolation of shirtless cyclists along the way, it was pretty stony ground.

But, but, but ...! I passed the practice test for module 4 (of 4) on my computer course with 87%, and that was quite enough for me, so chocks away, and I did the real one and got 90%. Japes! On the hottest day of the year. My tutor seemed to want to drag out my departure, and I had to fill in forms which would have been fulsome in their praise for the LearnDirect outfit, if only anyone else could read them. How odd to offer a computer course, and then ask for handwritten feedback.

And then I was free! Yay! To go to the bank and shift money around for the rent and other bills, almost all of which will be late. And I was naughty. I treated myself to some king prawns in garlic and salt and chilli peppers from the little takeaway just underneath the bank. I figured in that heat, they would continue being cooked all the way home, and certainly not lose heat. This proved to be right. And they were lovely.

What shall I do with my bit of paper when it arrives in a fortnight (apparently, I have to collect it in person!)? I shall probably feel a bit like Neville Chamberlain when he came back from Munich with another bit of paper. All very well, so far as it goes, but it contains no commitment from the other side. I shall apply for administrative jobs, for a few weeks at least, with a spring in the steps of my typing fingers. Some of what I have learnt I shall use for my own purposes in personal accounts, and doing genealogy and other enterprises involving fiddling data. There is a certain charming confidence in knowing that things you thought you might not be able to do are actually rather easy. And it is morale-boosting in middle age to know that the old dog can learn the occasional new trick. The brain is not as razor sharp as once it was, but it is not dead yet.

At the weekend I shall be older (49); whether I shall be wiser is for others to judge; but for now, it's terribly, terribly, hot!

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Sweatwater, Oxford
July 2015


  1. Not like you to brag so much? Perhaps you are the one for whom we are waiting?

  2. Congratulations on passing the course with flying colours !
    You deserved the prawns.