The Cornish Heatwave

It’s hot in Cornwall. For days, everyone’s been telling each other that. And the papers agree. “Heatwave!” they write. Shock! Horror! Remind the elderly to drink liquids!

The elderly have been drinking liquids all their lives. That’s one reason they lived long enough to be the elderly. So unless we’re talking about the demented (in which case, don’t be shy, just say so), mind your own damn business. And drink your own liquids, while we’re at it.

What’s a heatwave here? Temperatures are soaring into the low 80s F. Yes, all you Minnesotans, you New Yorkers, you sweat-soaked Southerners, the low 80s. You’d count that as a nice summer day, wouldn’t you? Not a heatwave but relief from a heatwave.

Mostly irrelevant photo. The cows are probably hot too. Photo by Ida Swearingen.

Mostly irrelevant photo. The cows are probably hot too. Photo by Ida Swearingen.

Before I go on, I should say that I live about a mile from the ocean, so “hot” here is cooler than it is inland. And temperature’s relative. To anyone used to the British climate, the heat’s real. Take our dog, for example. I mention her instead of a person because she’s not what you’d call imaginative. She doesn’t fancy herself hot or cold or put upon or much of anything else, she simply is what she is, at whatever moment we’re talking about. If she wants attention, she doesn’t complain about the heat, she brings a goobery old chewy and dumps it in your lap. And she’s been hot. When we walk, she pulls for the shade. She lies down in it if we stop. She perks up if we soak her down. So yes, I accept that by the standards of this time and place, it’s hot.

But still, I swear the British have a strange relationship with hot weather. They crave it. They talk about it. They wilt in it.

M. stopped by. She picked up the village newsletter and fanned herself.

“It’s so hot,” she said.

“Mind you, I’m not complaining,” she added, in case someone tried to do her a favour by canceling her subscription.

This spring, before the heat set in, J. said, “I want to go someplace hot.” She said it with the kind of longing people usually reserve for life-changing wishes.

I don’t want to descend into national stereotypes here (and isn’t that just the kind of disclaimer you find before someone dives right in?) but it’s not just J. Sometimes I feel like every single person in Britain wants to go someplace hot. Except Wild Thing and me (or I, or both me and I), and maybe one or two other immigrants and weirdos. The rest of them, though, want to pack up and move someplace hot. They want to push poles into the ocean and shove the whole island south so they can sit by a pool and wait for tropical fruit to drop into off the trees and into their mouths.

The facts that (a) fruit trees don’t grow beside pools and (b) if they moved they’d have to work and wouldn’t have time to sit by a pool tell you something about the nature of the fantasy.

And then it hits 80—and they wilt.

“It’s so hot,” they say.

Umm. Yes. This is the price of hot weather.

Wild Thing let herself get lured into a conversation about hot weather a while ago. “This isn’t hot, she said,” she said, and she tried to describe a Minnesota summer. Hot, sticky, the air so thick you expect schools of fish to swim past. Wild Thing’s from Texas. She can’t help herself. And no, I would never stoop to relying on stereotypes. I can only refer you to a favorite phrase of hers: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Me, I tell the truth, and the truth is that I’ve made up the opening lines of this particular conversation because I want to get to what the other person said, which was this:

“But you all have swimming pools in America.”

Sure we do. Every sweaty one of us. If we have four people in a family, we dig four swimming pools. If we live in apartments, we dig them in the bathrooms and call them tubs.

You can tell when people have been watching too much TV.

Anyway, it’s hot in Cornwall, and people aren’t complaining but they are spending a suspicious amount of time talking about it.