Memories · Notes from West London · Word of the week

Word of the week: heatwave

We are in the middle of a heatwave here in the UK. The Oxford Dictionaries definition is very straightforward: “A prolonged period of abnormally hot weather”.  I will use their spelling, one word rather than two, though the Merriam-Webster dictionary entry (“a period of unusually hot weather”) lists it as “heat wave”.

I have mentioned the weather a few times in recent months. Back in May an unseasonably warm spell prompted this reflection about ice cream, and the cold snap we experienced back in March (Storm Emma, brought about by “The Beast from the East”) is recorded here.

This piece from the Guardian, from yesterday, compares our current hot spell with previous heatwaves. The only worthwhile comparison for those of us that lived through it is 1976. Is this the longest heatwave since that long hot summer? Apparently not; it’s currently the longest since 2013. I hardly remembered that one. Maybe it’s just too recent. The summers between 1973 and 1990 are much clearer in my mind. Say the year and I can picture whether it was grey or sunny. The grey years were 1974, 1977, 1980, 1985 and 1987. The sunniest years were 1975, 1976, 1979, 1983, 1986 and 1990. Other years were mostly warm, but not to the same extent. That’s how I remember things anyway.

1990 was the first year that I can recall yellow lawns returning to green almost overnight at the end of the summer, after a prolonged burst or two of rain. Since the 1990s the summers have not been so easily distinguishable. I can remember what we were doing, and can remember things such as big sporting events, but have to think a little harder about the weather. 2006 was definitely a hot one. My wife was expecting our second child and felt the heat more than usual. We went to Ireland on holiday. It was slightly cooler than in the UK, which was a relief. I had to think specifically about 2013, the most recent heatwave according to the Guardian piece quoted above. I can picture one hot July afternoon, taking my son (then aged 8) to a concert in Hyde Park. Elton John was due to headline but was unwell. The event is summarized in this piece about Nick Lowe’s “(What’s so funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?”, one of the great songs. The piece doesn’t mention how hard the ground was, and how the grass in Hyde Park had turned to straw by mid-July. By associating the state of the park that afternoon (baked ground, yellow grass) with what we were doing, I can work out that we had had several weeks of sun, with very little rain, just like the last six weeks or so.

We had a brief shower of rain last Wednesday evening, enough to create a few puddles, and to create that smell of rain on hot tarmac on a summer evening. It takes me back to my childhood in a way that very few other smells can. It forms a chapter in “1000 Memories”, which I have just copied to the Memories Menu. You can read it here.



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