The English love talking about the weather.
It’s odd that we English spend so much time talking about the weather. English weather is almost never extreme, almost always temperate, and usually a depressing grey colour. I’ve just got home from the blue skies and warm Mediterranean sunshine of Crete and the weather in England this morning is manky. It’s not raining right now, but give it an hour.
All that rain and very ordinary temperatures is why England is so green.
Other parts of the world are not so lucky.
The Eastern seaboard of the United States is about to be hit by the monster Hurricane Florence, bringing 140 mph winds and a couple of feet of rain. Right on the coast the storm surge could raise sea levels by 15 or 20 feet. This weather is deadly dangerous and more than 1.5 million people are being forcibly evacuated.
In most immediate danger are the Carolinas and Virginia , but the whole of the Eastern seaboard from South Carolina northwards are in danger. Not only that, hurricanes are fickle, Florence could change direction at any time.
This is weather of catastrophic biblical proportions, exactly the kind of weather we don’t get here in England.
If you are in the danger area, then my prayer is that you will come through safely.
Inclement; severe, harsh, cold, wet, and unpleasant
Don’t dig there, dig it elsewhere.
Life is fairly tedious here in the garret today. I still have a head cold and nasty cough, so I’m feeling pretty miserable.
The weather is miserable too. Things are supposed to be brightening up, but it’s snowing again, so I don’t much feel like taking a walk today. Anyway, getting in and of the building means negotiating an obstacle course. Talk about urban survival skills.
There are a bunch of blokes digging up the footpath right outside my ‘personal’ door. And, they don’t just make a lot of noise and mess, they dig through telephone cables, broadband cables, water mains, sewage pipes…. eewwww.
Anyhow, I can’t go anywhere because I have no idea where my wallet has got too since I bought a friend a couple of pairs of spectacles on Monday. No money and no cards. I need to sort that out today.
On the bright front, I have water again. Living without water doesn’t just mean no tea, it also means no laundry, and no bathroom. eewwww again.
And I have phone and internet, so life isn’t all bad.
And Marmaduke gives me a hug at night.
Walking in clean, virginal snow makes me feel really special.
Where I live, in very temperate England, close to the sea, I don’t see a lot of snow. Well, today it’s pretty cold here ~ just below freezing. There’s been a little snow in the night, maybe 3 or 4 inches. Snow and England are not natural soul-mates.
One snowflake in Central London and the meteorologists warn of climatological Armageddon ~ and so it was yesterday. This particular cold-snap is being called ‘The Beast From The East’, and the weather men are saying this will be the worst cold weather in England since 1991, with ‘up to’ six inches of snow covering most of the country.
Thousands of London commuters were told they must complete their journeys by 6pm to ensure they would actually get home, and local authorities declared snow emergencies. Hundreds of trains and dozens of flights were cancelled last evening, and allegedly the major roads are in chaos.
Social media, women’s pages in the newspapers, and posters in doctors’ surgeries are full of advice on how to cope with the cold weather. Some of this advice sounds stupid; iced tea will warm you up more than hot chocolate, hug a hot water bottle between your thighs, stick your socks in the microwave, and think like a monk to get warm.
And, the ‘Met Office’ warns that the worst is yet to come… You’d think the English didn’t know about snow… Have you never heard of Scot of the Antarctic?
It’s not like we’ve never had snow here before. Back in the day, when I was nobbut a lad in short trousers, and central heating was something only the Queen had, we had some brutal winters. Whole trains were stranded in the middle of nowhere, Royal Air Force helicopters airlifted fodder to sheep starving in the hills, and the army was called in to keep major roads open. The wind cut like a knife, the ice was on the inside of my bedroom window, and my spit froze before it hit the ground. (Being young boys it wasn’t just our spit we tested to see how fast it froze.)
Although the Met Boys feign surprise, it’s not like here in England we don’t get a nasty cold snap in late February or early March. It happens most years, and it’s called the Buchan Cold Spell. Jeez the Taiwan Weather Girls might be better at forecasting English weather than our Meteorological Office.
The weather here is just a little inclement, so I will not be going far today.
due to the snow, today is cancelled
Climate is what we expect; weather is what we get.
The English love to talk about the weather; when an Englishman meets a friend or acquaintance they could spend a good hour or so discussing the weather.
The thing is, there are so many topics polite Englishmen almost never talk about; feelings, money, politics, religion, and sex to name just a few taboo topics.
The other thing is; we get so much weather in England. American tourists in London can never understand that, no matter how sunny and fine a day it is when they leave their hotel, within a hour it will be pouring with rain.
We English also have many, many interesting words and phrases to describe our weather. Brass Monkeys, Raining Cats and Dogs, A Bit Parky, Chucking It Down, It’s a Scorcher, It’s Just Drizzling, It’s a Bit Damp, Pea Souper, Sea Fret… to quote a few.
English weather is pretty clement, not usually extreme at all. For us 40 degrees Fahrenheit is bloody cold, and 80 degrees Fahrenheit is bloody hot. We don’t often get very strong winds, and even though it rains almost all the time, we don’t often get torrential downpours.
Mostly I like the weather in England, at least from April to September / October I like it here. From October to April it’s bloody awful and everyone in England will have colds, or flu, or even pleurisy. (I’m just recovering from a bout of pneumonia.)
So, if ever you’re in England, expect to be bored spitless by everyone always talking about the damn weather.
And, by the way, no sensible Englishman believes in Climate Change.
Folklore connects us with the wisdom of centuries past.
Modern science has ‘proved’ that old-fashioned weather lore is pretty accurate ~ for England anyhow, and what Gentleman really cares about any place but England? We shouldn’t call them old wives’ tales because much true ancient lore comes from sailors, soldiers, and farmers. Weather lore is often very accurate. And while older people often give good advice, the wisdom of ages past, seniors don’t much like taking advice from the young.
Advice in old age is foolish; for what can be more absurd than to increase our provisions for the road the nearer we approach to our journey’s end. ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Going back beyond Roman Times, our oral history is full of rhymes, anecdotes, adages, warnings, and axioms. They wouldn’t have lasted this long if there wasn’t a lot of truth in them.
- Red sky at night, sailors delight. This appears in the Bible, where it relates to shepherds. It means that if the sky is red at sunset, then tomorrow will be a fine day ~ and this is mostly accurate. In fact this saying is utterly reliable when the weather comes in mostly from the west, as happens in Great Britain.
- Mackerel sky and mares tails make tall ships carry low sails. If there are high clouds that look like the scales of a fish, (altocumulus), and / or streaky clouds like a horse’s tail, (cirrus), then we are due for a storm with high winds within the day ~ allegedly. As it goes, this is always true. A prudent skipper will be ready to shorten sail if he sees a mackerel sky.
- St. Swithun’s Day. If it rains on St. Swithun’s day then it will rain for the next 40 days and nights. This lore, and the poem that goes with it can be traced back to the 14th Century, but probably goes as far back as the 9th Century in Southern England. It’s mostly not true ~ we never get 40 days and nights of consistent weather in England. However, St Swithun’s Day, (or St. Swithin’s Day), is on July 15th, and you can guarantee that if it does rain on that day England will have a wash-out of a summer. As a matter of fact, it rained all day here on St. Swithun’s day this year, and the weather has been very wet ever since then.
- It’s too cold for snow. In England this saying is true. It can be too cold for it to snow. Actually the whole saying is a misconception, it should really be ‘it’s too dry to snow’. Very cold air is always dry air, because only warmer air will carry water vapour, and you need water vapour in the air to have snow. It almost never snows in bitterly cold Antarctica.
- A ring around the moon means rain or snow is coming soon. This is very true, and also applies to predicting the arrival of a hurricane. The ring around the moon, (less frequently a ring around the sun), is due to ice crystals forming in cirrus clouds in the high atmosphere. If you remember cirrus clouds are also the mare’s tails that predict storms.
- A stitch in time saves nine. This saying goes at least as far back as the 18th century in England, and it’s completely true, relevant today, and utterly applicable to our lives. What is means is that if you sort out a small problem now, it will save you from it growing into a much bigger problem in the future. It is exactly analogous to that other saying One year’s seeds is seven years weeds, which appears in Shakespeare’s Richard II. Ignore a small problem and it will soon grow into a great big problem. Ignore acorns and before you know where you are you will be up to your armpits in oak trees.
- There will be the devil to pay. Meaning that if we do something very bad there will be terrible consequences later. This is always true. This saying has nothing whatsoever to do with Satan ~ like many English epigrams it has maritime origins. ‘The Devil’ was the longest seam on a planked wooden ship, and ‘Paying’ means caulking. If you’ve ever done it you’ll know that caulking a seam on a boat is a heartless task, involving thick string-like stuff, tar, a special caulking chisel, a hammer, and a lot of time.
A hell of a lot of English folklore goes back at least as far as the Roman occupation of Britain; for example ‘If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need’. This saying is supposedly from Marcus Tullius Cicero, who died in 43 BC.
The snag with using folklore for your weather forecasts is that you don’t get to see the cute weather girls on TV. Seems a guy can’t have everything.
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It’s cold enough to freeze the balls of a brass monkey.
This phrase seems like a good metaphor for very cold weather, but at first sight it’s quite an odd thing to say. Americans, in particular, may wonder why normally staid and polite Englishmen would come up with something so apparently rude.
This damned place is 18 below zero and I go around thanking God that, anatomically and proverbially speaking, I am safe from the awful fate of the monkey. ~ Zelda Fitzgerald. (wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald)
There are also some contractions and derivations of this phrase.
- Brass Monkey’s
- Brass monkey weather
- As cold as a witch’s tit in a brass bra
- Cold enough to freeze the tail of a brass monkey
- Brassed Off ~ meaning ‘pissed off’ (which may or may not have anything to do with any of this)
First of all, let me put your mind at rest, this description of very cold weather has nothing to do with testicles, simian or otherwise. However, like most colloquial English / English expressions etymologists have no clear idea where, when, and how the phrase came to be.
Like many English expressions, the most widely accepted explanation is that ‘cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’ is nautical / naval in origin. The balls in this case are iron cannon balls, and the brass monkey is a frame to stack them in.
On dry land the neatest way to store cannon balls is to stack them in a pyramid. That doesn’t work so well aboard a heeling, rolling, and pitching, sailing ship. Said cannon balls would soon be rolling all over the deck. So a brass frame was made, the brass monkey, (also known as a shot garland), to hold the cannon balls securely in place. The theory goes that in cold weather the different coefficients of expansion and contraction of brass and iron would have made the cannonballs roll out of the brass frame.
This is most likely a load of balls.
As usual the professional etymologists don’t have a clue, but it’s a very useful and descriptive phrase. So, the next time you experience some cold weather, surprise and shock your friends by saying… ‘brrrrr it’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey…’
Next time I’ll try to explain £sd…