The English Summer


It’s been a week of treats, with invitations to events marking the start of the English summer.  But first, a note about the weather.

The English like moaning about the weather.  When we have a good spell, the assumption is that it won’t continue and forecasts are seen – at best – as suggestions.  And the weather has the ability to make or mar – but rarely results in cancellation of – plans for outdoor activities.  (At some point, I’ll post on the English picnic and anyone who doesn’t grasp the full impact of that will see what I mean.)

I mention this because the weather is the extra guest at every event, one that has to be accommodated and is rather unpredictable and so you’ll see it feature whenever anyone talks about summer events as I’m about to.

Last week was my first visit to the Chelsea Flower Show (and thank you to the kind person who invited me).  This is held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, built in the late seventeenth century as a home for elderly, retired soldiers – they’re the ones who wear the long, bright-red coats.

The gardens, created for the show, are months and more in the planning and they’re exquisite.  Each one has a plot of roughly 80 metres by 20 metres (although take that with a pinch of salt, as I’m not good at judging distances) and can include water features, rock gardens, precise topiary, a fire pit, large trees, benches, seating areas and sculpture, as well as the thousands of plants that are used.  My favourites were the Chelsea Barracks garden, that included a swathe of water to resemble one of London’s old rivers (now underground) at the Chelsea Barracks site, the garden that’s been designed for the roof of Great Ormond Street Hospital (a children’s hospital in central London) and is being relocated there and the garden of boxed privet because I liked the smell.

It was cool but dry, so a bit shivery but no baking sun and fraying tempers and no need for umbrellas.

And at the weekend, there was a trip to Glyndebourne on the South Downs for the opera.  I’d be interested to hear if other countries have anything similar.  The tradition is to wear black tie, with smart – often long – dresses for the women.  I got some very odd looks walking to the car on Sunday morning tricked out like this.  The opera started at 1.50 – we arrived at 1.52, which is another story – and there are two intervals.  The short interval is for drinks; the long interval is for dinner, which can be in one of the restaurants or a picnic in the gardens.

The weather was glorious:  sunshine, not too hot and it didn’t rain.  And on the drive home, the sun was setting in the distance.  As the friend I was with said, life doesn’t get much better than a day like that.  You see, the weather makes a difference.

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