During most folks childhood there tends to be something, or someone, constant; the constant love of your mother, the constant need to get your homework done before school starts, the best friend who never leaves your side – especially if he has four paws and a wet nose. These are all quite normal but growing up in Northern Ireland there was one overriding constant and that was the rain.
When I left Northern Ireland and came to London it was like moving to the tropics. You get on the plane at Aldergrove airport swathed in ten layers and a sou’wester and you get off at Heathrow and everyone is in tee-shirts and shorts. And the reverse is true, when you make the return trip you leave London in tee-shirt and freeze your bits off the moment the aircraft doors open in Belfast. We say at home there are only two types of weather; “it’s raining” or “it’s about to rain” and it’s said in humour but “many’s a truth said in jest”.
I have lived in London now for twenty-five years and despite the very wet summer we have had here I still have a bit of colour – at least I don’t look like I’ve been sitting down a mine all my life and never seen sunshine but when I go home people stop me and ask where have I been on holiday because I’m so tanned, and I look at them confusingly and then realise that of course, compared to them I’m actually quite tanned, you see, at home in Northern Ireland the natural skin colour is a light blue.
And the weather affects you in ways you don’t (or didn’t) realise, at home it rained a lot so of course you bought big heavy waterproof duffle coats and Parka’s and you tended to eat big heavy warming meals in preference to salads because, well, because the sun didn’t shine long enough for a salad to seem worth it. But coming to London were it rains very little (apart from this summer) it is perfectly normal to wear nice light clothes and that was the biggest change I noticed arriving here – especially in the tourist spots were there were lots of visitors from the continent who always wore brightly coloured clothes.
There are some expression they have here in London that I’ve never heard of before, terms like ‘water shortage’ and ‘hose-pipe ban’, I’d never heard those words before in my life and couldn’t figure out why you would need them. The other phrases I had never heard before but was pleased to learn was ‘what a scorcher’ (not a reference to last night’s curry or it’s revenge this morning) and ‘heatwave’ and ‘too hot’, something I had to get used to saying.
It is said that the Inuit have dozens of words to describe snow conditions, from the state of the stuff lying on the ground to the speed and direction from which it is falling. Perhaps this is not surprising considering community survival used to depend entirely on the correct interpretation of weather conditions and in Northern Ireland we too have many words to describe rain; drizzle, pelting, lashing, bucketing, pissing, perishing, monsoon conditions, peeing etc
The weather would creep into our everyday speech unnoticed, we would say phrases like “It lashed out of the heavens the whole time” or it was ‘a soft auld day’ meaning it was raining gently and ‘passion’, you would hear your dad say ‘it’s passion doon’ which once you got past the heavy accent actually means ‘it’s pissing down’ and if you ask your mum how she was she would respond with ‘I’m right as rain’ which ironically means she’s very well. And one of my favourite chat-up lines is ‘your eyes look like the Irish countryside after a soft rain’, never used that line but it’s kind’a sweet. Perhaps one day.
When I was a kid and helping my older brother with his milk round I used to dread looking out the window at 4 in the morning and see the rain chucking it down. However when I moaned to my brother about the bad weather he would say there’s no such thing as bad weather – only the wrong clothes – and he’d make sure I had something waterproof on. During the winter it was particularly miserable, it rained constantly but was cold as well and then the rain would turn to sleet and I’d be frozen. We were constantly carrying cold wet milk bottles and he’d encourage me to run faster to warm myself up and although I was sweating buckets inside, my hands and especially fingers always remained cold.
I always wondered how everyone else, all the grown-ups, used to stay so warm and they let me into a little secret. They used to wear thick woman’s tights under their trousers and one of them pulled up his jeans to show me and yes, he really did have thick tan tights on as well as thick socks and jeans. I did wonder about a few things then, for starters he was very hairy, in fact I think he was part werewolf and just how he managed to get those tights up against the grain of his leg fur was a mystery. Perhaps he shaved his legs. The other thing I used to wonder about was did it stop at woman’s tights, did he wear other items of woman’s apparel and where did he get them from because I knew he wasn’t married, did he walk into Boots The Chemist and size them up against himself and get some very strange looks from the other customers.. But the biggest concern I had was what would happen if he was in an accident and had to go to hospital. He would have got some very strange looks if the nurses cut open his jeans and saw that he was wearing tights. Perhaps they’d think he was a cross dresser..perhaps he was..perhaps all milkmen are..
Yes, I know, I don’t think like everyone else…do I?