Monday, March 10, 2014


According to the Met Office, spring begins officially on March 1st. In London, though, it started de facto on Friday, and continued all weekend.

I have no teaching on Friday afternoon this term so can get off early to collect my daughter from school. For the first time this year, it was a Terrace Gardens day in the rus in urbe that is Richmond-upon-Thames. Children have only to cross the road to tip out into the sloping, rambling gardens that tumble down to the river, full of trees to climb, bushes to hide behind, corners to secrete yourself. There’s a cafe halfway down with a terrace where parents can sit over a cappuccino and watch their children while they chat, read, tap on their laptops; or they can spread out on the grass below with a blanket and a picnic and watch the sun glinting off the boats on the river. Meanwhile, the children run and scramble, chase footballs, and move in and out of imaginative worlds in a perfect balance of freedom and safety. It’s pretty much paradise, above all on the first day, when, after months of rain and high winds, the sun returns like a rarely seen friend who can’t stop talking, urgently spilling all the gossip she’s been saving up all winter.

It’ll settle down, of course. The sun will be called away before long. Even in a good year, the light and warmth will become taken for granted, and in fact become a nuisance, needing to be accommodated with bottles of water, sun cream and sleepless, stifling nights. As school slips away, the vacancy of the days will start to drag, and we’ll be itching for the crisp mornings, the newness and activity of autumn. But summer won’t, in the end, outstay its welcome. That’s the genius of the temperate climate. It gives you just enough of everything, and, like a master performer, always leaves the audience wanting more.

No doubt those brought up in the tropics yearn for the reassuring security of continuous warmth, the simplicity of wardrobes empty of coats and scarves and households devoid of debate about when and how high to turn on the heating. But I’m a temperate man to my bones. The annual drama of the seasons gives a rhythm and a shape to my life, and always has done.

The other rhythm of my life, the school year, is very precisely counter-cyclical. Even as the sun was striding down the drive towards the Welcome Home banners, I spent much of last week at work beginning the process of closing down that starts every spring: setting up revision schedules, turning lessons away from learning new things and towards consolidation, bedding down, preparing for the harvest of exams, while at the same time looking ahead to the next year, planning timetables, agreeing budgets. As the trees grow heavy with foliage, one part of the school after another will peel off, as year groups leave, lessons stop, courses run to their conclusion. Finally, with the sun at its highest, the school will be awash with elegiac nostalgia and a mild, pleasurable grief as speeches are made and memories turned over in an attempt to ease the pain of departure to promotion, retirement, adult life. And on the last day the children will spill out of the gates in an inversion of the exile from Eden, into the timeless light of the long holiday.

Well, that’s how it’s supposed to be. The monsoon floods of the winter, and the sharp division between icy first half and sweltering second half of last summer, are reminders that an elegiac note is creeping now into the temperate zone itself, as the climate slips into a new, perilous phase. Let’s make the most of weekends like the last one while we can.

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