Observations on London: The Weather

British people love to talk about the weather. This is no secret. Living in London, the locals constantly complain about the cold days, the overcast days, the wet days, and if a hot day comes along, they’ll complain that it’s too hot. Although it is true that London weather isn’t the best in the world, the time I’ve spent here so far I’ve been a little underwhelmed. London weather is quite manageable, if not calm and pleasant the majority of the time. Far from the completely miserable conditions Londoners act like they live in most of the time. Auckland seemed wetter. Dunedin seemed just as cold. Admittedly I’ve only been here four months, and just in time for one of the better summers in recent British history, so I may have just got lucky. It does make me wonder why British people are so much more obsessed with the weather than other nations of a similar climate (New Zealand being one of these).

Another horrible London day in Hampstead Heath

Probably it’s just that English people like a good moan, or so my co-worker has suggested as a reason for the London obsession about discussing the weather. It is the most obvious and consistent topic one can moan about, so I guess the theory makes some sense. But I would be a hypocrite if I claimed it was only the British over here complaining about the weather, because as this blog proves, the immigrants, over-stayers and ex-pats are doing it too. I guess I’m only going to raise more questions than give answers here, but is England weather so bad that it deserves all this attention?

When I first arrived, I was greeted by blue skies and sunshine. Not exactly the image of England I had been expecting based on the images of this country I had seen broadcast on TV back home. Coronation Street always seemed grey and grim, the same with most crime dramas and the news reporting never delved much into British weather. I was warned before I arrived about how bad British weather is, so much so that one of the large reasons for me delaying my UK arrival was due to fear of weather. To my surprise, almost all of the first three months I’ve spent here have been in pleasant conditions. A British heat wave was reported on New Zealand televisions back in 2012, but the way it was reported seemed only a few days exception to the depressing norm. It barely rained the whole of June to September, which is more than can be said for my first summer in Auckland where I was constantly caught in torrential downpours. Forward to the present time in London, and although late October is seeing the climate getting colder, it’s bearable and not even as cold as my home town Dunedin would have been in early Winter.

view from london weather

The view outside my work window – The Westway

For example, we are nearing the start of November and on this particular day at 4.30, it’s not terribly cold and sky has plenty of colour to it. The grey British sky that I was expecting to see constantly seems to be partly a stereotype. Perhaps I got the wrong end of the stick, and London weather was always calm. Or could it be evidence of climate change, global warming or whatever name you like to use, that things are getting calmer around these parts. I can’t claim to be an expert of the weather of this country though – I’m yet to experience Wales or Scotland, which I’m sure is where all the really turbulent weather is found.

There is much to suggest that I am currently merely inexperienced and the bad weather has not yet hit. I am start to have to wear coats, and the sun is setting much earlier. I must admit that some nights after work, sitting outside having a pint with the work mates, it’s been pretty damn cold. But I’m adjusting. My friends and co-workers say that the worst is yet to come, so I’m bracing myself. Will it turn out that like other things in London, the worst weather will be a little bit over-hyped? (on a side note, other over-hyped things include – Hyde Park, the coolness of Hackney/Shoreditch, the quality of the local bands & the general social scene). Although I’m betting on a harmless winter, I will update you all in another few months time with word of whether things have gotten any worse. It won’t be long I’m sure that I’ll be eating my words.

Basically, if I can say anything constructive on the topic of British weather, it would be: don’t let it put you off coming over here. There’s plenty of other reasons to be turned off moving or visiting England, but the weather I don’t think should be the dominant reason. Unless you’re from California or Hawaii and you’ve never had grey skies and some cold ever in your life. But if you’re from a normal place like Auckland, Toronto or even Melbourne – London is probably on par with whatever weather conditions you’ve already faced. The winters are kind of cold, but not horrifically miserable and the summers are actually quite pleasant. Or at least so my fairly naive experience has led me to believe.

People reluctantly leaving their London houses

 

 

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Theatre Review: Everyman – National Theatre, London

Sometimes you’re drawn towards a piece of art because of it’s themes. Perhaps the topic of the artwork speaks to something that’s been on your mind at that point. Art, after all, is not just escapism but a way to learn about the world from different perspective. Or it is a medium of conversation, to discuss themes and transmit ideas in a way that would not be possible through everyday conversation. I felt drawn to the National Theatre’s staging of Everyman, not just because stars Chiwrtel Ejiofor of 12 Years a Slave fame – although I admit that was a part – but also because of the literalization of the theme of man’s confrontation with Death. With Everyman being based on a 15th century morality tale, it felt almost like Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal brought to the stage, yet subverting religious themes within the original text to become a modern criticism of the vacant materialism of modern lives. The subject of death is a fun one to ruminate on, and although it might sound heady, a contemporary update of a church morality tale is something worth venturing out to see.

Everyman3

In this version, Death arrives to interrupt the Everyman at the height of his success, just as Death came to the plague-era knight in The Seventh Seal. Chiwrtel Ejiofor’s Everyman character is not so cunning as Max Von Sydon’s Knight however, and is a much more of a jaded, pleasure seeking, ambitious modern man. The figure of Death here is portrayed as a wisecracking working class salesman, a subversion of the expected stereotype. Our narrator likewise is a figure taking the place of God, who here is cast as a cleaning lady with a wise mind. The Everyman, having not had time for his family for years, and surrounding himself with shallow friendships based on wealth and decadence – now finds himself with no one to testify in support of his character, in the face of death. These universal themes are boldly presented by writer Carol Anne Duffy and director Rufus Norris, who have pieced together a strong cast, backed up with original visual and aural cues. Spectacle is there right from the first act – such as Ejiofor descending from the roof on wire, simulating perhaps his suicide. A video wall is then used to enhance settings – and a hurricane, metaphor for man’s uncaring attitude to his earth, is simulated midway through. These tricks are impressive but not distracting. The acting and polish of the script is what shines through, with traditional dialogue sitting side by side with modern colloquialisms. Other notable strong performances include the Everyman’s parents, both of declining health, with a family dynamic many will able to relate to – with one sibling doing most of the caregiving while the other pursues more selfish ambitions. Ejiofor largely steals the show however, with a hugely expressive performance loud enough to reach to the back of the theatre, yet nuanced enough to effectively carry the emotion of the story.

It all builds towards a touching climax, where man comes face to face with his child self. I felt the director, writer and actors hit allusive grace note with the execution of the ending. We all have days where we sit around and ponder what could have been. Or other days where we hear the news and think of the destruction man is causing and whether the world is truely being affected by this. The play takes these emotions and deals with them in a way that is not forced, but instead sublimely executed. As my first time in the National Theatre and my first time seeing a major contemporary theatre piece in a British Theatre, I was perhaps always going to be impressed. Especially a performance which featured a major international actor who only recently was nominated for an Oscar for one of my favourite films of the last few years. But I will say I’ll just say – if in the mood for contemplating mortality, I suggest you head along to the National Theatre before 30th August.

everyman national theatre