Why the weather is our magnificent obsession



At the beginning of July, half way through the summer, there was little suggestion any kind of a decent Irish summer, despite conflicting forecasts. Small wonder they were tripping over themselves at the airport to find a place in the sun.

Then came the global scorcher. The heatwave.

All of which begs the question, what is it, this obsession of ours with the weather?

When it’s hot, it’s “very hot, isn’t it?” and when it’s cold or wet or windy it’s just downright miserable. How many times have you heard phrases such as: “There’s right drying out today” or “It’s to turn bad at the weekend”? And when it snows it’s a great excuse to close down schools or take a day off work.

We’re obsessed with climate though, sadly, not necessarily with climate change and its potential powers of destruction on future generations.

At the bus stop, in the taxi, in the lift, bumping unexpectedly into people we know on the street, the talk is of the weather. Maybe it’s a way of getting over any initial awkwardness of being in close proximity with our fellow beings while avoiding being intimate.

We have a considerable cache of clichés in our lexicon that is strictly weather-wise: It’s a soft day, thank God; raining cats and dogs; mmm, that cloud doesn’t look too good; I’d bring the brolly if I were you — just in case.

And now our obsession with the weather is official: a new survey has revealed that the weather is the subject we think about the most. We might like to think we could find this surprising but we, let’s face it, we don’t. The survey, by Ipsos MRBI and Dulux Weathershield, says 60% of people talk about the weather twice a day and 25% of people chat about it at least four times in a day. The research also found that 62% of Irish people believe every forecast they see online or hear on TV.

We all remember the winter of 2010 when we were practically snowed in and there was nothing on television except countless news reports about the state of the weather, loads of random facts about the North Pole melting down on top of us and, of course, the hilarious video of that poor man who tripped himself on some ice during the RTE news. Dare I suggest it is wrong that we still find this completely hilarious?

Our obsession is perhaps due, in part, to the fact that we are predominantly an increasingly urban society and our climate is so relatively temperate that we seem to have no collective feel for the traits of the seasons. Despite all the fond sentimentality about this green and pleasant land, few of us have much real contact with the natural world.

A smaller proportion of the population works in agriculture than in almost any other country of the European Union. More of us live in cities than is the norm for other Europeans.

Even in comparatively small country towns where local, and therefore seasonal, produce ought to be available, we pick our fruit and vegetables off the supermarket shelves — always available, uniform, and imported when out of season.

We city folk move in an artificial world, from our domestic central heating, which insulates us from the winter chills, to our offices, where the air-conditioning tempers the heat of the summer sun.

And so our obsession continues.

You won’t find such an obsession in, say, Africa, where each season, with its own beauty, comes at an agreed time.

You can tell the time of day by a sudden tropical downpour, though, increasingly, global warming appears to be changing nature’s seasonal time-keeping.

Some years ago I travelled hard and deep into South Africa’s Limpopo province for a prearranged meeting with the Modjadji or Rain Queen, a revered leader among her people for her powers to summon the skies to open and cultivate the arid land.

It was to be something of a little scoop to get an interview with this regal and revered figure who seldom talks to the public, preferring instead to spend her days in her royal kraal, contemplating the celestial clouds.

Instead, a member of the royal household came to meet me as I managed the last steps of a steep mountain climb.

“The Modjadji sends her apologies but is laid up, poorly, with a bad cold. Sneezing and splurting, the poor thing.”

An occupational hazard, I guess, when you’re a Rain Queen…

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