Rain

I’ve been in London the past two days, looking at the rain.

The English are besotted with the weather, and ever since I lived here years ago, I’ve always found that a little peculiar. Let’s face it, British weather is shit, but it’s not extreme. My experience here has always been that the country just deals with it. Keep calm and carry on,  the royal mantra from the Second World War.

The concept is part of the British psyche, so much so that in a newsstand I saw a card for sale with that very message. On your birthday, keep calm and carry on.

Today, however, the Brits do have cause for alarm. The glorious British summer has outdone itself to the extent that on July 7th the country is on red alert, there are floods all over the southwest, and in many other areas. The Silverstone Formula One track seems ideal for water polo, and everyone is worried about the Olympic Games. One former Olympian shrugged it off. “We’re jolly good at water sports,” she commented drily, when asked about the weather by the BBC.

In keeping with the general calm before the storm, a sign outside a pub proclaims:

Wet and Windy? It must be Wimbledon!

But the English are overjoyed today because for the first time since 1936 they have a player in the men’s final of the legendary tennis tournament. The last guy defeated by a Brit in the Wimbledon men’s semis was killed at Stalingrad in 1942. A bit ominous for Tsonga, but these are different times. No one’s getting killed in Europe anymore. Yet.

So Murray, who in looks, speech, and name is indisputably Scottish, and of the ginger variety at that, has now become an official Englishman. This will quickly reverse on Sunday when Federer beats him, tabloids touting ‘Scottish hopeful dashes Britain’s hopes, sunk by Swiss clockwork precision.’

Nevertheless, Brittania rules the world in weather-related discussions, reporting, predictions (which don’t work), and whinging… You can learn a fair bit about any nation just by watching the weather report on TV. In Italy it’s delivered by smartly uniformed officers, in other countries scantily clad women with husky voices seduce viewers with permasun. But in England it’s a serious matter, worthy of deep reflection. Whatever sports might be ongoing (and in Britain, sports are always ongoing) are gravely discussed in light of forthcoming meteorological mayhem. Keep calm and carry on.

When I was in Scotland a couple of years ago, the groundsmen painted the pitch sidelines blue so teams could play official matches in the snow. And I well remember having to play rugby in the snow  in the West Midlands on Saturday afternoons. England has always functioned despite the weather, rather than because of it.

It’s not as though we’re in Norway, where the saying is there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Or three months of permanent darkness, perhaps interrupted by the Northern Lights, if you’re really lucky. In Tromsø, the local joke was that the mayor went to the toilet in June and missed the summer.

In all fairness, Britain is equally worried when the weather is fine. English heat waves mystify most other nations. In August 2003, major national concerns included railway track failure in temperatures which matched a cool day in Seville. An Afrikaner who was with me that summer was amazed this was the nation that built the Cape to Cairo railroad; secretly he was probably amazed it was the nation that won the Boer War.

Different perspectives. Society returns to a more pristine state.

Summer storms in the US east coast have also wreaked havoc. The climate patterns that drive these phenomena are the same that drove the caravels across the Atlantic in the days of The India Road. Water and air masses moving west at the lower latitudes, and east at the higher ones. Hurricane systems seeded in West Africa and making landfall in the southern US, moving north, pregnant with rain. The gulfstream doing pretty much the same on the way back, hot water vanishing into the clouds and tormenting the ever-patient Brits.

In the midst of all this mundane concern with the rain, the world is burning up around us.

In Arabian lands, Syria is about to immolate itself, despite Russia and China’s efforts to the contrary. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has secured the presidency, and the coming struggle with the military promises to be epic. On either side of the Islamic fence, two giants remain. On my left, in the Shia corner, the Islamic Republic of Iran. On my right, in the Sunni corner, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Private Eye, always a blessing when passing through the UK, shares some thoughts on the Egyptian presidential election.

Nothing that is happening in the Mid-East, in this interminable Arab Spring, promises to solve the region’s problems. Not for youth unemployment, women’s rights, or any other fundamental freedoms.

In the West, financial fiddles are back with a vengeance, causing one of the most acrimonious debates in recent memory in the House of Commons, between George Osborne and Ed Balls. A veritable feast of verbal fisticuffs between the two right honorable gentlemen.

This morning’s papers report that the still waters in Barclays Bank do indeed run deep, and that many other banks may be involved in LIBOR fixing. The only logical conclusion is that we, i.e. Jane and Joe Citizen, are all mugs. From sub-prime to sovereign debt, from toxic assets to austerity, there are two common factors: politicians and banks.

Ordinary people feel disenfranchised: in totalitarian countries because they can’t vote, in democratic nations because they won’t. The level of funding extended by big business to the US presidential candidates inevitably trades off into legislation, protection, and patronage. John Paulson, the hedge fund manager who made billions of dollars from credit default swaps in 2007, contributed one million dollars to the pro-Mitt Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future.

From pork barrels to horse trading, the only ones getting stiffed are us chickens.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.

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