It is a cliché that if two Englishmen meet they will always first talk about the weather. Samuel Johnson once said:
“It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm.”
When Stanley met Livingtstone and said “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” they probably then started to discuss the weather.
Noel Coward once sung that “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun“. The song is a reference to the days of the British Empire in what were, in those days referred to as “colonial times” and the self-perceived “sang froid” of the colonial rulers of the time. In these post-colonial times the attitude expressed in the song is embarrassing.
Although the English may care about the current weather to some extent, I think that the initial conversation gives the conversationalists the chance to size each other up, to fit the other person into one’s world-view so to speak. The other person’s way of speaking allow one to decide if they are “posh” or “common” or somewhere in between. Voice and body language would offer other clues during this initial meteorological discussion.
The English are proud of their weather which they informal believe is the worst in the world. Of course they are wrong, as their bad weather and their extremely boring weather is neither as bad nor as boring as the weather in other places in the world. They love to complain about the weather, and this has perhaps led somewhat unfairly to the stereotype of the “whinging pom“.
Most English people don’t realise that the ocean current of the Gulf Stream ensures that the British Isles don’t freeze in winter and boil in summer as it moderates the climate that the English and the other nations of the British Isles receive. A glance at a map will show that the British Isles are several degrees further north than Labrador in Canada, and only a few degrees further north than Moscow.
What I remember about the English climate was long weeks of gun-metal grey skies, but however I also remember long warm summer days as a child. I don’t have sufficient real evidence to support these memories, and although the climate is changing, I suspect that my mind is editing my memories somewhat!
I’ve moved to the other side of the globe, where weather patterns are distinctly different. (Aside: I originally wrote “the other end of the globe”, but that is a more mathematical topic, I think). Wellington has a temperate maritime climate and the weather is changeable, meaning that we may see “Four Seasons in One Day“. The Crowded House song, though, was not written about Wellington, but was inspired by Melbourne, Australia where Crowded House was based at the time.
The weather in New Zealand originates in and around the eastern parts of Australia. Anti-cyclones spin up off the south coast of Australia, past Tasmania and over New Zealand. High pressure bubbles emerge from the main land mass of Australia, and tropical cyclones can dip far enough south to cover New Zealand.
It is no wonder with these competing factors that New Zealand’s weather can change from minute to minute. Fronts can sweep rapidly across the country, bringing rapid changes of temperature as they do so. Temperatures can change by ten degrees or more between morning and afternoon.
The weather is not always changeable though. If a high pressure area extends from Australia across New Zealand the weather may “stall” and an extended period of warm weather in the summer or cooler weather in the winter may ensue, with clear skies and sunshine across the country.
Wellington is close to the Cook Straight, the gap between the North and South Islands. The Straight acts as a funnel for wind, and Wellington has a deserved reputation for being windy. However the average wind speed is not that exceptional, However, as the linked article says, there are more windy days per year than in most other New Zealand coastal cities. Hmmm. Some gusts can be exceptionally strong lifting roofs and knocking over trees, but the occasional strong blasts also happen outside of Wellington.
I was at Wellington airport yesterday, seeing my daughter off to Auckland. Several flights were cancelled but fortunately not my daughter’s flight, though apparently it was a rough take off. What we didn’t see was an incoming flight which actually did a touch and go before diverting elsewhere. I did wonder why the crash trucks were speeding about! No wonder New Zealanders, like the English, like to discuss the weather.
The changeable weather in New Zealand often catches tourists out. Mountain weather in any country can change rapidly, and New Zealand is no exception. Bright sunny days can often turn very bad, very quickly. Mist and cloud can suddenly descend and remove all visible landmarks, and if the tramper (hiker) is not well prepared, he or she might well be in trouble, and several foreign tourists do get themselves into trouble every year.
This is no different from elsewhere of course, but it seems that tourists may underestimate the wildness of the New Zealand “bush”, maybe because they come from countries where the countryside is more benign, or maybe because they overestimate their own abilities. Sometimes tourists venture into the bush, totally under equipped and are caught out by the rapidity of the changes in the weather.
In spite of my discussion of the bad weather above, New Zealand also has glorious weather. Following the winter storms, in the clear weather under a high pressure system, New Zealanders and tourists alike head for mountains and a number of world class ski fields. In the summer, glorious weather under a high pressure system leads people heading for the beach, or heading to the bush, or merely staying home and firing up the barbecue.
There is a saying in Wellington – “You can’t beat Wellington on a good day”, and I would add that the good days outweigh the occasional windy and rainy days!
Update: After writing the above, Wellington turned on a great morning, a crisp autumn sunny day. The first picture below is of the city of Wellington from Petone, framed by a couple of flax plants.
The second picture is of Petone Wharf from about the same spot.
Of course, in accordance with the principle of perversity and the “four seasons in one day”, the weather has turned grey.