Another summer has come and gone and despite a mini heat-wave and some lovely days --a vast improvement on last year's washout-- we still have the feeling that it wasn't really a proper summer.
One thing that strikes me about the Irish people and our relationship with our climate is that we have never really adapted to it. We always live in hope that a Mediterranean style summer is on its way, harking back to some vague childhood memory of hot summers spent at the beach or chasing the ice-cream van. Many of us don't even own an umbrella because we regard it as a poor long term investment.
We hold St. Patrick’s Day parades in the freezing wind and rain of March. We play our GAA and rugby leagues in the mud baths of winter. Whatever we're using to build our roads seems to come with instant pot-hole mix --just add water-- at no extra charge. We do not create public spaces that are compatible with the weather. Bus shelters, public telephone boxes, parks and street markets make no allowances for the wind and rain in their design. They too seem to be searching for the lost continental style summers of their youth but find no respite from the wind and rain.
In harking back to the mythical sunshine of our youth we absolve ourselves from taking any responsibility for our fate. We shrug our shoulders and say there's nothing we can do but wait for the good times to return. Global warming may be threatening the future of the planet but we're just hanging in there in the hope of getting a bit of the action.
We always seem to get a few fine days around exam times or just after the schools reopen after the holidays. Maybe if we had exams all year around we could build up enough momentum to generate a summer.
The long summers of our youth are truly a myth. Through a trick of the mind, a week of fine weather one August twenty years ago wipes a lifetime of wind and rain from our memories. The weather records show that despite the odd aberration here and there our climate has always been characterised by mild temperatures and more than our fair share of rain. We just have to accept it.
Other countries have adapted to their climates, often in more trying circumstances so why can’t we? In Sweden’s Arlanda airport, planes take off and land all through the winter despite temperatures plummeting to -20 degrees C. Schools don’t close and roads are not impassable. The people have accepted the reality of their climate and adapted to it. Why hasn’t this happened in Ireland?
The Swedes love the outdoors so much that come the 1st April --the day when bars and restaurants are officially allowed to set up outdoor terraces-- they can be found sitting in the beer gardens whatever the weather. Usually it is cold and wet so the bar owners provide covered terraces, warmed with gas heaters and blankets for the customers. It's a curious sight but it does show that where there is a will there's a way.
In Spain they have siesta where shops and businesses close between two and five in the afternoon to avoid the searing heat. If we had the Spanish climate in Ireland we would probably work right through the sweltering afternoons, cursing the sun and dreaming of the wet winter days of our childhood.
It's an old joke about Ireland that says it would be a great place if we could build a roof over it. But is this really so far fetched --at least on a small scale? In Madrid and Seville canopies are hung across the length and breadth of the shopping streets to shade the shoppers from the sun. It doesn't take a huge leap to imagine Main Street, Castlebar with a similar arrangement to keep the rain off. Pedestrianise the street and you have the makings of a place that is actually a pleasure to shop in rather than a chore.
Maybe it's a bit far fetched but at least it's a step in the direction of action rather than talking. God knows, we do enough talking about the weather. And therein lies the root of the dilemma. If we solve the problem of our much maligned and cursed climate then what are we going to have left to talk about?