(In which the English heat wave of July 2013 has me raiding my old Greek holiday wardrobe, conjuring up nostalgia for island-hopping holidays and Greek island society – with Noel Coward’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” never far from my mind.)
The Gloucestershire village that I’ve made my home is not known for a warm climate. There’s a reason that the Tropic of Hawkesbury Upton did not feature in Noel Coward’s wonderful song about hot places, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”. But this summer its lyrics have been playing on a loop in my head.
Perched high up on the last rise of the Cotswolds before they fall away into the Severn Vale, Hawkesbury usually has lower temperatures, higher winds and more snow than in Bristol, at sea level, just 20 miles away. Even nearby Chipping Sodbury has a warmer microclimate than ours.
“When it’s jacket weather in Sodbury, it’s overcoat weather in Hawkesbury Upton,” was a favourite saying of James Harford, the aged sage who lived next door when I moved here 22 years ago.
Yet the current Hawkesbury heat wave has had me rummaging in my wardrobe for clothes that haven’t had an airing since pre-baby holidays on the Greek islands.
Transported to Greece
My favourite Greek holiday clothes include an airy turquoise beach kaftan and a Mediterranean-Sea-blue sarong, patterned with the sea turtles indigenous to the island on which I bought it: Kefalonia. Teamed with earrings from Lefkas, enamelled in the colours of the Ionian Sea and sky, they transport me back to my halcyon days of island-hopping.
Fortunately, these items still fit, despite subsequent post-motherhood pounds. You’d have to have a lot of babies to need to upsize your earrings.
It’s not just my old Mediterranean wardrobe that I’ve adopted to cope with this hot spell. Other useful habits acquired during our Kefalonian days include:
- closing wooden window shutters against the heat of the day (though ours in Hawkesbury were installed to keep heat in))
- carrying a water bottle wherever I go
- savouring cucumber salads so refreshing that they almost qualify as a drink
- looking forward to stepping outside at dusk, to be enveloped in air as cooling as diving into a swimming pool
And then there’s the perfume that instantly whisks me back to the Greek islands. No, not the sharp scent of wild herbs on arid hills, but the soft, fruity scent of suncream. These days my aura is Factor 50.
When we first started holidaying in Greece, my then boyfriend (now husband) and I were the classic Mad Dogs and Englishmen (sorry, Gordon, Scotsmen). We saw nothing wrong with going out in the midday sun.
But after a few visits, I began to side with the locals, who spent the afternoons safely battened into their cool, bare houses. From beneath the shade of a beachside taverna, I’d smile and shake my head at conspicuously pale, newly-landed compatriots making a bare-headed beeline for the beach.
If smartphones had been invented in those days, I’d now be able to illustrate this point with a vivid image of a pasty English family of four, two adults, two teenagers, that I spotted one day in Zakynthos Town. Clad in Marks and Spencer t-shirts and shorts, they looked shocked that their cheap hats, emergency purchased from a nearby stall, did not make a dent in the afternoon sun. I suspect they bore that startled look for the rest of their fortnight on the island. It was as if they’d got off at the wrong stop on their plane:
“GREECE? What do you mean, we’re in Greece? Our tickets very clearly stated Grimsby!”
Only in the evenings, after dark, did the locals emerge en masse from their quiet, shady houses. Suddenly noisily sociable, they paraded gleefully about the town squares till well after midnight, toddlers whizzing past their ankles on tricycles whose saddles were too hot to sit on before sunset. It was as if this were a nightly wake for the overheated day: there was a real party atmosphere on every town square. On first encounter, this has much the same surprise factor for foreigners as the wooden silence of the Trojan horse transformed by hidden Greek soldiers’ battle cries.
English Summer Sayings
Will there be such a wake in Britain for our current heat wave? I doubt it. Hot summers are so rare that we’re never happy to bid them goodbye. But when it ends, we’ll be very British and accept it. With heavy rain predicted for this weekend, it won’t be long before our recent mantra of “I daren’t complain about the heat after the winter we’ve had” segues into one of our commoner British summer catchphrases:
- “Well, the sunshine was nice while it lasted”
- “All this rain will be good for the garden”
- “What a shame for the children’s school holidays!”
And I’ll be tucking my Greek clothes back into the drawer, along with heady memories of the 2013 summer heat wave.
For the full lyrics of Noel Coward’s wonderful song, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”, click here.
OTHER POSTS YOU MIGHT LIKE
What is it with me and holiday clothes? I’m easily brainwashed by my wardrobe, as this post about our French holiday shows:
If you’re heading to France, read these words of warning about essential dress for men:
Or ignore them if you’d like a laugh at your husband’s expense…