Weather or not
What a summer it was last year. A summer of extreme weather and a summer of extreme weather-based ‘facts’. ‘Facts’ built on a foundation of truth, but then ripped up by mischievous individuals and blown about willy-nilly, like the corrugated roofs of outbuildings in a storm. Seized upon by eager listeners, as if they were some token found in the ruins of their former home after the typhoon and cherished like no other possession thereafter:
Dodging the showers with reasonable success, I made my way up towards the office. The weather still threatened but I had no choice but to stroll around the grounds of the office to fill the time. It was there that I came across an old gardener tending the flower beds. Whether I actually had practical need to speak to him, to ask perhaps for tips on removing the moss growing in our bathroom, or whether I had some naïve notion that by talking to the gardener I would have a better chance of securing the position, I cannot say, but anyway I approached him cautiously. Jimmy laughed about this later, suggesting that the gardener might possibly have been some kind of Howard Hughes type character, and my chances rested on that initial exchange. It was a test of a character, he said.
“This summer seemed to go on forever! They say it was longer than the Great Long Summer of 1752, when the rainy season never came and the water dried even in the mouth of the ox…”
“And so hot! I heard that this summer is the hottest since the Great Tokugawa Summer when the heat wilted Hideyoshi’s fruit crops, and the dryness shrivelled his nuts…”
“And the storms! And the flooding! We haven’t seen the like since the Great Mythical Flood in Yamatai times, which washed away all the gods, covered the land with water, and showed the people how to grow rice.”
It’s not that I have some callous irreverence of the serious side of these claims – on the contrary, I have very keen empathy for anyone whose life has been torn apart by the elements – it’s just that I love all that over-focus and the embellishment that goes with it; the tall-tales torn down by the sheer weight of their own exaggeration, the shaggy dogs who are buffeted and battered until they are blown dishevelled from their paws and thrown back down to earth in an hyperbolic arc.
I love all that, it’s a wonderful show of a great commonality. We all love to talk about the weather, and we all love to ham it up when we do. Of course the kind of weather we suffered last year took away a lot of the need for ham and, at times, made chickens of us all. The weather was so extreme we had no need for any amplification. The devastating power spoke for itself. All we were left with were trivial truisms; “my, it’s hot isn’t it”, and hollow humour; “What a lot of weather we’re having lately.”
The latter puts me in mind of a weather-based conversation I took part in some years ago, back in my own country. Well, I say conversation, but it was more of a short hostile exchange. And I claim to have taken part in it, but my role was more passive. I was rather the recipient of the exchange; its victim, if you will.
I had travelled north for a job interview. As well as being out of my area, the job was well out of my league. It was a trainee managerial position that required some travelling and much responsibility, but somehow my application had been short-listed.
Over a beer the night before we reflected on my chances; Ernie, the realist, said I had no chance. I didn’t have the experience, or the skills necessary to do the job. Jimmy, the joker, said I might qualify on both counts, on the grounds that all I did all day anyway was travel around, inside my own head, while effortlessly shouldering the responsibility of waiting for the postman. Undaunted, I resolved to give it my best shot.
I woke early the following morning to warm spring sunshine. It gave me the confidence I needed. I knew it was going to be a memorable day for me; everything was going to work out fine. The bus was on time, the train too. The pretty girl sitting across from me on the train responded warmly to my smile, and the world was a good and compassionate place. Then it clouded over and started to look like rain, and I arrived at my destination fifty minutes early looking at the prospect of a good soaking just before the most important interview of my life. My confidence clouded over too and there was no silver lining, only nerves.
The old man weeded, I coughed lightly, he weeded some more. By way of an opening gambit, I commented on the inclement weather, he found yet more weeds to pull. A sideways glance, further weeding and then a pause as he turned to look at me. I took in his small bright eyes, and then I repeated my rain review in case he hadn’t heard it the first time. He looked squarely at me with a slight narrowing of his eyes and stared hard until I thought I was going to be his next weed, plucked up and thrown aside. Then he told me tersely that, so far as he was concerned, the weather we were having, although unsettled, was better than nothing! I didn’t exactly run away, I tried to stand my ground, but couldn’t think of any follow-up and just stood there nodding assent dumbly until he grunted and returned to his duties.
The interview on its own went well, but it was the gardener who sent things my way. He turned out to be the boss’s father-in-law and a pretty clever little ploy to weed the candidates. I was the only one who made any effort to engage him in conversation and that pathetic attempt earned me a chance. Jimmy was right for once. Now that’s as rare as snow in June.
The job? Well, that summer turned out to be the hottest since The Great Big Long Steaming Hot Summer of 1542, and I went to the beach with Ernie and Jimmy until I got fired, and then I went to the beach some more. Phew, what a summer it was!