Talking to my British friends and relatives has been extremely weird this month — in some ways I feel like Alice must have felt when she fell through the looking glass.
Firstly, the British are unusually and demonstratively ”thrilled to bits” with the month of July, as we say, in “Old Blighty,” which is an affectionate term for Great Britain used mainly among expatriates which originated in British India in the 19th century and became more common during the first World War.
Of course the main reason for British national pride is that Andy Murray became the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years. No crowd could have been more supportive of a player than when Andy played the match of his life to take the trophy at the famous grand slam match earlier this month, nor had a player ever had such a weight of history and expectation bearing down on him. As no American player had reached the Wimbledon finals this year, my husband and I were not divided on who to support. Of course 77 years is an “awfully long time” (as the British say) to wait for such a win. Back in Blighty in 1936, life was very different than it is today. For example:
• Wimbledon attire was traditional rather than practical — Andy Murray became the first Briton to win the trophy in shorts as opposed to the long “trousers” (pants) of the earlier years of the championship.
• Stanley Baldwin was prime minister of a Conservative (broadly Republican-like) government.
•Women ages 21 and older had only had the vote for eight years, whereas here in the U.S., that right had been granted with the 19th amendment in 1920.
• A loaf of bread cost four and a half old British pence, which roughly equates to around 8 cents, and the average house price was 550 British pounds, which is about $850 (according to www.thepeoplehistory.com)
The other major surprise of this summer is that the U.K. is experiencing — stop press — real summer weather! Temperatures have hit the high 80s on a fairly consistent basis, especially in the South of England, with little or no rain in many parts of the country. Regular readers will know that I am extremely critical of the British weather, so it seems ironic that we are having an incredibly wet July in beautiful coastal Georgia while the land of my birth is baking under the sun. However, to be fair, the U.K. is only just emerging from a sustained period of heavy rain, experienced snow as late as March, and its last prolonged heat wave was in 1976.
Actually I am not jealous. The British are not used to or prepared for such high temperatures. For example, only a tiny percentage of homes have any sort of air-conditioning and it is not even common in most workplaces. Many cars do not have this “luxury” either, and it is unheard of on most public transport. I well remember the grueling journey to work on the London Underground in my early career during any unusually warm weather — stuffy and overcrowded at the best of times, the heat on the “tube” (subway) added a new level of misery as we gasped for air and were at the mercy of other people’s personal hygiene.
One big problem that good weather brings to the U.K. is that many British people are sun-starved most of the time, so they overdo it when the sun does shine long and hard. They forget to wear enough sunscreen and cover up, drink enough fluids and be careful where to swim — all of which is second nature in the sunny southern U.S. According to www.bbc.co.uk, the emergency services and hospitals are now coping with extreme sunburn, dehydration and people drowning in rivers, lakes and “at the seaside” (as the British say).
After all, as the early 20th century upper-class English gentleman, songwriter and performer Noel Coward said, only “mad dogs and English men go out in the midday sun.”
God bless America!
Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.