We don’t have an extreme climate, says Richard Mabey in Turned Out Nice Again (Profile, £8.99). We don’t have tsunamis, active volcanoes, monsoons or Saharan duststorms. ‘What we really suffer from is a whimsical climate, and that can be tougher to cope with than knowing for sure you’re going to be under three feet of snow every December.’
Perhaps appropriately, then, he has written quite a whimsical little book, scarcely longer than a pamphlet, exploring the glorious oddness of British weather with characteristic elegance and perspicacity. East Anglian gales, ‘ranting uninterrupted from the Urals’, are ‘a sight more brazen than the tree-top gossip of the Chilterns’. As Britons we ‘expect to be punished ourselves should we ever be blessed with an inordinately perfect summer. “We’ll pay for it,” we gloomily predict.’
Mabey discusses seasonal affective disorder, the Impressionists’ fascination with London smog (see Monet’s ‘Waterloo Bridge’ above), and the notion of the halcyon day, whose perfection is framed, even defined by the weather that accompanies it. Mainly, though, he goes for long walks. ‘I meandered round the edge of the common, casually looking for fieldfares and barn owls, and enjoying the way the icy crust over the mud scrunched like a crème brûlée under my feet.’ Later he calculates that the arrival of spring ‘travels north and east across flat ground at roughly two miles an hour — walking pace in fact, so that it’s possible to indulge the fantasy of following it on foot, the guest behind the unrolling carpet.’ A perfect sentence in a wonderful book.