We British love a good moan. We moan about our jobs, our government, the food down the local pub, Europe, the French, the traffic and the price of bread; but above all we love nothing more than a good moan about the weather. There’s a perfectly good reason for this: it’s terrible.
As a person born and brought up in the UK, I know about bad weather. But we can’t claim that it’s ‘bad’ as such. We’re not unfortunate enough to have disastrous natural events, and are truly lucky if prolonged grey skies and drizzle is the only thing that justifies our calling the UK the ‘worst place in the world’ for weather — a fact we genuinely believe. Imagine my scepticism when I arrived here three years ago to find that nearly every Estonian I met told me that Estonia was the worst place in the world for weather. I have to say I was rather surprised.
There have been many arguments between ‘you lot’ and I: ‘You think this is bad weather’ I’d say, ‘you should have grown up in Worcester, then you’d really know what perpetual fine rain felt like, and a year round temperature sitting around 15C’. It’s the kind of rain that isn’t wet enough to warrant an umbrella, but sneaks up on you when you’re not paying attention, quietly and covertly drenching you. The thing about the Brits though — that they’ll never admit — is that they secretly love this.
I’d bang on about endless grey days, the kinds of days that not only drain the colour from the world in which you live but from your very soul, leaving you feeling as monochrome as a Cartier-Bresson. I’d chirpily tell rain hardened Estonians that their summers were positively beautiful, full of golden sunshine, and they didn’t know how damn lucky they were…
Until June 2017 came along. Juneuary, as I like to call it.
I’m going to start by apologising. I’d like to say a heartfelt and humble ‘sorry’ to all of those whose opinions I challenged, whose stories of blustery days I dismissed as Baltic pessimism, and whose practical summer wardrobes I scoffed at for being a little too cautionary; to all those at whom I laughed at for ‘escaping’ the Estonian summer, to the shops and offices I complained about for not installing air-con, and the way I acted so bemused at how a sunny day is taken advantage of so fully and completely here — the pleasure sucked out of every gloriously shining day from the break of dawn to the setting of the sun.
Now, and only now, I understand you. Could this be the reality of summer in Eesti? Surely things aren’t so bad? So, before we let the mood drop too much, let me take you on a journey across the seas, to a little known place called Stanley.
Stanley sits low in the southern hemisphere on the island of East Falkland, about 300 miles east of the Patagonian coast of South America, it’s the capital of one of the last remaining relics of the British Empire, and its climate is awful. Its highest ever recorded temperature was 24C, and lowest –5C, it’s often windy and talk of the sun is considered borderline folklore.
In 1765 when the British first claimed the islands I can imagine the original conversation between the captain laying the claim and his commanders back in London, went a little bit like this:
“These islands then, do want me to seize them?”
“Hmm, I’m not sure, there’s not much there, do we need the hassle?”
“We won’t get any hassle down the line, I’m sure…”
“…what’s the weather like? (I bet they asked that)”
“Hangs between 0 and 10 pretty much all year, constantly grey, drizzly, not much sun…”
“Tell me more,”
“It’s 300 miles from anywhere, no one around at all, not a Frenchman in sight!”
“Okay, sounds perfect, we’ll have it. Good work my man.”
Now apart from sounding like a place that the UK has always wished it was, Stanley and the Falklands quite clearly experience far more depressing grey days than both Estonia and the UK put together. They are quite literally miles away from any other civilisation, and with a population of just under 3000 people have a lot fewer inhabitants than Estonia: I trust the scene is set.
As I write this the sun is peeking through the clouds, and as my mum would say, “it’s really trying to cheer up.” I stand by my original view, that the summers here are indeed better than those in the UK from as far back as I can remember, with this June simply a blip on the Estonian summers’ record for me.
You see we British are defeatedly optimistic about the weather, on holidays we’ll stand in a thunderstorm dressed in t-shirt and shorts in sheer defiance: “It’s July, I’m wearing shorts and that’s it,” said every British dad, every summer, ever. An appearance of the sun from behind the clouds on any given summer’s day can render entire towns naked — people just stop and strip in the street, desperate for vitamin D. If young people are near running water they involuntarily jump in, they don’t even know why; it’s in our DNA.
Now I’m not trying to rubbish your claims of bad weather, it’s not the Mediterranean here in Estonia let’s face it, but there are more of those special days of sun than you might care to acknowledge. So the next time those grey days seem to close in on us, or the temperature is not quite what it should be, don’t despair. Pick up your smartphone, go to your weather app, and type in ‘Stanley’. You will see my friend, that things are always better than they first appear.
First appeared in Postimees, 8th July 2017