We’ve just walked around the village for an hour; it’s light later in the evening now, birds are singing, the air is warmer than it has been of late and Mission Control said she thought Spring in England was wonderful, that it made you feel so good. It’s true, of course – it does. That’s why we wanted to walk, because it was so pleasant; it made us feel so alive. But that started me wondering about the effect that the weather has on people and the psyche of different countries. Just this week we’ve received notes and a call from friends in Sweden and they were still down in the dumps about piles of snow on the ground and temperatures in single figures. In England we look forward to Spring with such joy; daffodils and Easter eggs; baby lambs and chocolate bunnies. In Sweden, they look forward to it with dogged relief; lighter mornings with no ice on the roads; going out without a down-filled anorak; no icicles on your nose-hair – you get the picture. We’re elated; they’re depressed and Swedes do tend to suffer their winters with an attitude of long-suffering forbearance.
Now look at those Oil Sheikhs, which I’ve done a lot of. In the Middle East it couldn’t be more different from Sweden but, more or less, you only have two seasons to deal with. In summer it’s just bloody awful, very hot and very humid. You have sand-storms. The sun is so bright that the world glares back at you angrily whereas in winter, it’s just a less-hot version of the same only with winds and some torrential rain. There are pleasant days of course but mostly you combat the climate rather than embrace it. And, not surprisingly, these guys have ended up with attitude, too. OK, it’s taken the form of religious navel-gazing and it’s affected the type of clothes they wear but, nonetheless, intolerable heat, humidity and dust outside would make anyone choose to sit inside and philosophise. It’s little wonder that they take something of a more introspective line in their dealings with other people. They don’t have much of a sense of humour either – try making a joke about their women.
I thought that perhaps the reason the Swedes are so serious and analytical of events and, well, life is because they spend this long period in perdition each year, looking out at dark, damp days, waiting for lighter, brighter mornings and the ice to melt. You can’t do much outside at all in winter as it’s dark and frozen so it gives them more time to sit around. Sure, they work at technical innovation, distil berries, make jam and analyse stuff but the point is they have to sit it out and have a lot of time on their hands. Idle hands and all that. Swedish TV isn’t that great either and, unless you’re under 25, making babies is out too. Bottom line is, they come out at the other end of winter with a lot of frustration to get out of their systems and summers in Sweden are not very long. Does anyone know any funny Swedish jokes?
I don’t detect this current of underlying frustration in the British and the Peoples of the more temperate and Mediterranean countries. The principal common denominator has just got to be the weather. Look at Norway and Finland, where drinking oneself into oblivion is an art-form. [I once spent a very long weekend in Tromsø and despite there being posters everywhere showing the range and variety of locally available fish – and there were a lot – every dish on every menu in every restaurant had lobster-tasting sauce all over it. What kind of message does that send out?] Speak to a Russian; scratch that – watch Russians in a shop or hotel and you can taste the lack of humility. Now think about those Russian winters – they’re worse than Sweden’s.
In England when winter is approaching and the weather starts to close in what do we look forward to? A log fire, warm beer in the snug of the local hostelry, good company, mulled wine, warming stews, hot water bottles, Horlicks. We embrace it, enjoin with it, go to the pub and we just love discussing it. Our trains stop running and roads become impassable; telephone services and electricity supplies collapse but it’s all OK because we are again all at war with a common enemy – the weather. We abuse it, admire it; we speak of it in awe or in hushed voices but we exorcise it. Maybe we blame the Government but we deal with it! That doesn’t make us better but it does, somehow, contribute towards a national psyche that doesn’t bore the rest of the world.
Ernest Hemingway felt like I do – ‘The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself’.