SWEETNESS AND LIGHT
Where has the summer gone?
We’re all victims of nostalgia. A couple of decades are long enough to make almost anything seem wonderful and irreplaceable. Leila Wildsmith tells us to put our rose-tinted glasses back in their case: the summers are getting wetter, a fact we’ll eventually have to accept. Thankfully, Leila has some advice to make the transition easier.
For most of us, the word ‘ summer’ evokes childhood images of blissful freedom and endless days playing in the sun. We fondly remember trips to the beach, swimming in cool, blue seas, building sandcastles, getting sticky from ice-creams and, most importantly, not being at school. However, far from this picture of ‘sweetness and light’, the reality of today’s summer is altogether different. The recent UK heatwave aside, summer now is epitomised by wet camping holidays, relentless rain, and desperate attempts to warm up with a cup of tea. All of this leads us to ask ‘ What has happened to summer?’ Rather than putting on our sunglasses this year, many of us are donning rose-tinted specs and looking back on summers past with an exaggerated sense of nostalgia (and heaving deep sighs). There is definitely some truth to the feeling that our weather is getting colder and wetter. The UK’s Met Office Chief Scientist, Professor Julia Slingo, writes in her research paper Why was the
start to spring 2013 so cold?, “March 2013 was the second coldest March in the UK record since 1910”. What’s more, it was not just the moaning British that saw an unusually cold and snowy spring – the British weather was part of a much wider pattern across the northern hemisphere: The cold temperatures during March were part of a hemisphere-scale pattern of temperature anomalies. This was orientated across the pole with large anomalies over North America and across Asia. Extreme cold and snow has affected Russia and the Ukraine, and over the eastern and northern USA temperatures were more than 3°C colder than normal over very large areas. [read her full report
here] The weather “anomalies” that are sweeping the globe are part of a wider pattern of unusual or ‘extreme’ weather, which, due to its frequency, is becoming less ‘abnormal’ and more normal. In her article of January 2013 Heat, Flood or Icy Cold, Extreme Weather Rages Worldwide, Sarah Lyall confirms these changes: “the unpredictability of [the weather] turns out to have been all too predictable: Around the world, extreme has become the new commonplace”. Good or bad, the weather is definitely changing. However, whilst we may believe that it is only in recent years that the weather in the summer has become cold and wet (perhaps because of the
relatively recent developments in monitoring and recording weather systems and patterns), Shakespeare himself wrote of the British weather, “For the rain it raineth every day.” It is therefore wise to remember that our memory of the past (especially in relation to the weather) is not necessarily accurate. The ‘myth’ of summer being a time of ‘sweetness and light’ is perpetuated not only by our faulty, selective memories, but also by the expectations we now have as a result of tourism and advertising. The increase in availability and affordability of travel to warmer climes means that there is a cultural expectation of a hot and sunny summer. In addition, television and magazine adverts related to the summer season (be it for food, clothes or sun protection), use images, colours and sounds that we associate with sunshine and clear blue skies – even to the extent that the models have a healthy sun-kissed glow. Rather than just being a harmless fantasy, this selective memory – reimagining, rather than
remembering the past – is a dangerous thing when it leads us to believe that the present is not as good as the past. In her recent article for the New York Times, Beware Social Nostalgia, Stephanie Coontz writes, “In personal life, the warm glow of nostalgia amplifies good memories and minimizes bad ones […] It always involves a little harmless self-deception, like forgetting the pain of childbirth”. This ‘Golden Age nostalgia’ leads to a constant sense of dissatisfaction that our current situation will
never live up to the imagined history we have created for ourselves. And it’s not just a problem in relation to the weather, although that is often where the pattern starts. Our obsession with the ‘Good Old Days’ can pervade every aspect of our lives – jobs, houses, relationships – and we find ourselves longing for something which never really existed. Advertisers know that we will pay hard cash to try to relive an imagined past; they effectively use the phenomenon to market retro phones, time-worn furniture and VW camper vans. Coontz continues, “nostalgia can distort our understanding of the world in dangerous ways, making us needlessly negative about our current situation.” When we look back fondly on our imagined pasts, we overlook the positives in our present or, worse, only look at the present through a critical eye. Instead of believing that the past was perfect, or that we can only enjoy the summer if the sun is shining, we need to learn to make the most of every situation, come rain or shine. So remember to keep smiling underneath your umbrella this summer.