Notes on a heatwave
Of curiously melting cats and really hot men
It’s shaping up to be a long, hot summer.
Days of children and dogs splashing around happily in streams. Evenings warmed by the fragrant after-notes of a sun-warmed days. That briefly delicious feeling of stepping out of an air-conditioned building into the heat of the day, thinking you’re on holiday.
Except you’re not. You’ve just left work and have to catch the tube home. And you can’t sleep because the air is so still. Because London has its own particular heat. A heavy, airless heat that hugs the city close in its sweaty embrace. Descending into the Underground is like entering the seventh circle of hell, only somewhat hotter.
We’ve just had the hottest June day for 40 years. A temperature of 34.5 degrees C / 94.1 degrees F was recorded at Heathrow.
As the temperature rises, things get seriously weird.
Roads begin to liquefy and rails buckle under the intensity of the heat.
Cats and dogs began to melt.
No, I’m not making this up. It’s believed that cats achieve a fully melted state at around 40.1 degrees C / 105.6 degrees F, but the process starts at much lower temperatures. I used to live near a grey long-haired cat that would form a fine feline puddle on the pavement, purring with pure pleasure in the soft evening breeze.
The melting point of dogs is very similar to cats, but dogs tend to remain largely dog-shaped even in a highly melted state. Frequently, only the extremities melt. Golden retrievers form jowly puddles on stone kitchen floors as the mercury rises, whilst whippets hardly melt at all.
Men dissolve like ice cubes.
They are often in a semi-liquid state even at the start of the working day. I’d often get into a lift and find several badly dissolving men dripping all over the place, and two or three other women keeping as great a distance as is possible in an average-sized lift.
Some men dissolve so completely that they have to be mopped up at the end of the day and returned to something approaching normal function in a cool, dark place.
Or at least a place with beer on tap and a TV showing Sky Sport.
A man in pre-dissolved state is subject to wildly unpredictable wardrobe malfunctions. Some feel the need to maintain sartorial integrity at all costs. Men inspired by the Peaky Blinders look suffer particuarly badly from this, driven by a need to display stiff-upper-lip stoicism. Albeit one beaded with perspiration.
Tweed jackets and ties? In 35 degrees C / 95 degrees F?
Even the organisers of Royal Ascot, the horseracing event with the very strict dress code, would regard that as going too far in the name of well-dressed duty. For the very first time, they allowed men to take off the top hats and suit jackets which they are normally required to wear.
At the other extreme, outbreaks of shorts and sandals occur in the office.
The horror, the horror!
Some people’s feet have to be seen to be believed. No, scrub that thought. Let’s not even go there. Please don’t get me started on feet.
Then there’s the need to ‘make the most of the good weather’.
A typical summer in the UK is supposed to be a couple of weeks of nice weather, one of which is guaranteed to coincide with your holiday, and three months of reasonably warm, overcast meh. For many people, going on holiday is a week in the sun at a Mediterranean beach resort. Hot sunny weather puts people in a holiday mood.
It doesn’t quite work.
London has one very tiny beach (a maximum of two deckchairs and three sandcastles allowed at any one time, otherwise it gets a bit crowded) and swimming pools tend to be indoors. Instead, everyone heads to the park for a picnic at exactly that point when the midday sun is at its fiercest. It’s exactly the sort of behaviour that led Noel Coward to write Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
And what is achieved by all of this? Mild heat stroke, embarrasing strap marks, squadrons of insects dive-bombing the lemon drizzle cake and the affront to civilisation that is warm white wine. And then you have to go back to work in the afternoon.
The truth is, we just can’t cope with the hot weather here.
We’re hoping for a respite. Royal Ascot has now finished, but Wimbledon is just getting into its stride. That’s usually a guarantee of rain, but this year people have started tut-tutting that the grass is looking a bit dry and stale.
Indeed, it’s enough to make you want to escape, to jump on a plane and leave the stifling, sweaty city behind. To somewhere where you can sit by the pool with a pina colada in hand.
Somewhere hot and sunny, in other words.