Sunny weather puts a spring in my step

FLOWER POWER: Ellen's daughter with a floral sign that spring may now be finally on its way

FLOWER POWER: Ellen's daughter with a floral sign that spring may now be finally on its way - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

I’M A little frightened to ask, but has spring finally sprung?

The last few days have been bright, the air still crisp but tinged with that distinct smell of cut grass, new blossom and washing drying on the line. It’s a bit like everything that’s been on standby over the winter has finally burst into life.

I feel like dancing around the lawn in bare feet, inhaling extravagantly and breaking into song.

Spring can have that sort of effect on you.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” said the man at the butchers when I went to buy some lamb for Sunday lunch.

“Turned out nice again,” commented the lady in the flower shop as I scooped up a huge bunch of daffodils. “Thank goodness that cold wind has dropped.” The author Oscar Wilde once said that conversation about the weather was the “last refuge of the unimaginative”.

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Then again, he did not have to endure the miserable wash-out summer of 2012, followed by the Siberian shivers of the last six months.

And I am certain he would forgive the people of Woodbridge for turning to the UK’s favourite subject of chit-chat this week to welcome the return of the sun.

In this country, the weather is famous for being the hot (or not) topic of conversation.

We find it a useful social prop.

A study last year discovered that one in five of us found it an easy way of appearing friendly to strangers, a quarter of us said they use it as an ice-breaker and 12% said it helped keep conversations flowing.

But despite it being a very British trait, I do wonder why we developed such a peculiar obsession when, for the most part, we don’t really suffer from extreme weather events.

The heaviest recorded rainfall in a single day in this country amounted to 11 inches on July 18, 1955. Sure, it sounds a lot, but it pales into insignificance when you learn that in a tropical monsoon several feet of water can descend in a couple of hours.

What about the great storm of October 1987, when gale-force winds caused extensive damage on both sides of the English Channel? A mere blip compared to Hurricane Sandy, the deadliest and most destructive tropical cyclone of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, which ploughed across Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean nations.

And there was the time when flowerbeds in Hemel Hempstead caught fire during the heatwave of July 1983 – the result of someone dropping a cigarette on fertiliser warmed to a dangerously high temperature by the sun.

It is precisely because such incidents are so rare that it was deemed noteworthy.

I imagine our preoccupation with weather is due mainly to this – that it is unpredictable and rarely consistent from year to year.

But unlike Oscar Wilde, I don’t actually find the subject of weather a dull discourse at all.

And although most of you might think it a crushingly banal conversation filler (despite doing it all the time yourselves) I know I am not alone in finding weather fascinating.

Poets and novelists have written swathes of literature on the weather and scientists have spent hours understanding and explaining why different weather events happen.

What about organisations whose job it is to make weather interesting?

Take the Cloud Appreciation Society, for example. This is a group designed specifically for people who want to work out what the weather is doing from the shapes of white puff suspended in the atmosphere above us. There are dozens of variations as well, so if you fancy lying on your back all day, staring at the sky, you could wile away the hours quite pleasantly, trying to spot the formations.

If you can’t tell your cumulonimbus from your cirrostratus, however, don’t despair. You can always try to find symbols in the clouds instead, one of the great pastimes of the ancient Greeks who believed the weather could help shape the outcome of future events.

They were right, actually. Weather has been hugely influential in the course of history.

The Battle of Agincourt might not have been won by the English were it not for heavy rain before the hostilities began. It caused the heavily-armoured French knights to sink into the mud, handing the initiative to the outnumbered English archers.

And did you know Hitler’s invasion of Russia might have succeeded if there had been a late autumn? Apparently so, according to a book by historian Laura Lee called Blame it on the Rain.

She also suggests JFK would not have won the presidency if polling day had been sunny and that it was a “little ice age” during medieval times which led women to be accused of witchcraft for changing the weather.

We can only hope the horrible winter we have endured this year will not have dreadful repercussions.

After all, forecasters claim we have had the coldest March in 50 years and as a result conservationists now fear some hibernating species will struggle to find food as they wake up to a lack of insects caused by the late flowering of plants.

Oscar Wilde once wrote that “all the spring may be hidden in the single bud”, so perhaps the daffodils we can now spot offer hope that it’s not too late for the rest of our East Anglian wildlife.

Please email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.

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