Hot Enough For Ya?



If you think our current, airless dance with the mercury on the thermometer is drying our throats and stopping us sleeping at night, just feel sorry for the poor people of 1911.  Not only did they have to deal with one of the hottest summers on record – and its following drought – but all the posh nobs in society where still in mourning for Edward VII, which meant flouncing around Bayswater and Kensington in heavy, black corseted clothes.  The temperature got to 98.06F in 1911, the highest ever recorded at the time.  Ladies fainted in Selfridges, chaps were forced to take their hats off in the street.  It was, more or less, anarchy.

In Kings Lynn, in July 1911, the temperature got to 92F, which was bonkers, so someone told the King, in the lunatic hope that he could do something about it. He clearly couldn’t, because in mid-September 1911 the temperature was still 92F so that shows you how useless Kings are.  One thing that the ruling classes did decide was that part of the solution lay in getting the poor out of bed earlier.  In Lancashire towns, still dominated by the quarry industry, workers were shoved out to work at 4.30am, and would finish their day at 12 noon, before the heat became overwhelming.    New-fangled motorcars being operated upon by squires from the shires suddenly found themselves grinding to a halt and getting stuck in the road.  A new road covering melted into black glue in the heat and trapped motorcars. It was crap.  No one thought much of this “asphalt” business.    Meanwhile in August, it all got a bit political, with 5000 workers at The Victoria & Albert Docks walking out as they refused to work in the heat.

Early harvests got taken in and pastures turned brown.  Soon “bush” fires broke out.  It was like Australia, but with nicer clothes. Wells ran dry, farming was disrupted and The Times ran a “Deaths by Heat” column daily, which meant you could rise from your stultifying, hot bed, retire to your morning room and have a quick read to check up on how many of your friends had died.

The next hottest summer after that was 1990, which most of us didn’t notice, because we were preoccupied in wearing day-glo scrunchies, lycra shorts and doing aerobics.  Not one person pointed out that the surefire way to add yourself to the numbers of the “Deaths in Heat” column was to do aerobics to Vanilla Ice whilst wearing lycra, the very Beezlebub of manmade fibres.   They had to close off a large section of the Peak District in case all the lycra in Britain got together and caused a nylon based fire.  At the very least, they were hoping that New Kids on The Block would be able to douse the flames by using their supply of hair gel.   Some people died, I think, but – hey – at least the Peak District was all right.

If you’re wondering what happened to 1976, it is because you were stoned.  But actually, although 1976 was the driest, drought-iest summer in the 20th century, it was not actually the hottest.   Temperatures reached 35.9C in Cheltenham, which was very exciting for Cheltenham, but still below the 1990 heatwave top heat recorded of 37.1C.  The issue with the 1976 heatwave was its longevity.  It started in June, when I was born as I had brought it with me from my mother’s womb.  Between mid-June and mid-September temperatures hung dizzily between 80F and 96F.  It was further exacerbated by a dry autumn in 1975 and a mild winter in 1975/76.  It was awful.  People didn’t know whether or not to take their flares off and jump naked into the Finchley Lido.   So, when we view the summer as a whole, through the shade of our tinted 70s specs, it comes in as the hottest, 1970s-est summer ever known, but in other summers there have been specifically hotter months.  But 1976 was, like, serious, man.  They appointed a Minister for Drought and everything,  but unfortunately they appointed Denis Howell.  His job was to go around staring at empty reservoirs whilst shaking his head and coming up with absolutely no rain at all.  Astonishingly, the only advice the government could give us was “share water, bath with a friend” which is the sort of thing you could say in the days before everyone worried about paedophiles.  Of course, they did have child abuse then, they just called it something else, like “public school”.

The 2003 heatwave was amazing.  It actually encompassed all of Europe, making it the hottest summer for Europe since the sixteenth century.  70,000 Europeans hit the “Deaths in Heat” column that summer.   It was a late bloomer of a heatwave here in England, not really getting going until early August, but when it did it the temperature pipped 98.8F in Kent, and even Scotland stopped complaining of the cold.  An unexpected benefit of the European heatwave was Hungary, who had an exceptional year for wines, due to the maturity of grapes coming earlier in the summer.  Hungarian wines from 2003 won nine gold and nine silver medals in wine awards in 2003.   Anyway, I missed most of the excitement as I sat in the garden and read War and Peace  that summer, so there’s six weeks of my life I won’t get back. Still, it could have been worse.  In Portugal, an area of forest the size of Luxembourg was destroyed by fire.

Ever since then, it seems, we have a heatwave every year, or every other year.  Each one seems to outstrip the last in terms of its Flames of Hell hotness.  2006 was a bit of a humdinger, if I remember, whiling away mornings on the Northern Line which had a humidity that made everyone go a bit loopy.  The oddest impact of 2006 on London was the power cuts, which meant that parts of Piccadilly Circus and Regents and Oxford Streets had absolutely no power at all, which we all thought was rather funny, but apparently it wasn’t funny and some people got a bit cross.  The Environment Agency stated that the drought that ensued was the worst for 100 years, which knocked all those in the 1976 camp into touch.  It was also the warmest July ever in Russia.  Kaliningrad reported a high of 70F, which is like Bognor on a bad day.   By July 2013, we were just fed up with everyone making such a fuss.  Now, we had the information that July 2013 was the third warmest on record to deal with (and still the Victoria Line did not have sufficient airflow) and there wasn’t really a point in calling it a “heat wave” if it was simply what was going to happen every July shortly after the end of Wimbledon.

If heatwaves are to be a regular feature in our lives, what do we do about having them?  Well, you can head over to the Met Office’s Heat Health Watch page where we are currently at Level 1 “Summer Preparedness”.  We are totally prepared for the possibility that we may or may not move into a weather front that promises sun until October.  Or we may not.  But basically we are “prepared”, Britons.  If you’re worried about what to do in the heat, says the Met Office, ask the NHS. Over at the NHS “Summer Health” website, you can comfortably draw a picture of the subjects that occupy the citizens of our country.  The three most searched items on the website Summer Health are :

1. Alcohol

2 Contraception

3.  Barbecues

Amongst the advice given on the website for a heatwave is “avoid tea”.  This is England.  This website shall fail.

Incidentally, in case you wondered, we are not actually in a heatwave.  Or maybe we are.  You see, the UK has no definition of what a heatwave actually is, which is helpful.  Meanwhile it’s bloody hot where I am.  Knew I shouldn’t have dressed in mourning for the King.  Stay cool, kids.

This blog is updated every other Thursday, so we will be back on Thursday August 7th.  That’s if we are still here by then, obviously.  We would probably have melted away like 1911 asphalt on the roads due to that bastard big fucker in the sky burning us to a CRISP.  The London Bluebird xx

Senseless Census

Over 85% of Londoners are happy with the health services they regularly receive and only 57% of Londoners would leave their front door key with a neighbour.  Do you know what this means? This means that statistically there are more of us willing to trust a stranger who has enough medical power to know how to kill us more than the people who we wave to over the garden hedge twice a year whilst preparing for a family barbecue.  This means that doctors, with their bizarre ejaculations of  “No, of course this steroid won’t make you fat and burn away your stomach lining, Mrs Smith” and “Yes, this contraceptive pill is not a pile of hormonal man-made cack that will make you sprout a beard when you’re 28, dear” are more trusted than the people we share common walls with.  I say we share common walls with as I am semi-detached, don’t you know, in mind and in spirit.

The reason is the class implications that come with professional standing I suppose.  That’s why the twats at the commercial bank I deal with day to day at The Job need a “professional” person to sign the back of my slightly ill looking passport photo to prove who I am.  That is because only a professional knows  who I am.  The people I see every day – the bus driver, the secretary, the waiter, the cleaner – are so mentally retarded that they do not know what the difference is between me and Rod Hull or Terry Wogan.  They are not professionally educated to know the difference.  But I’d trust half of them with my front door key and, most probably, with a kidney or two if the mood takes me.   But the labels we have chosen to apply to ourselves, solely for the purpose of earning money, are the labels we take to the grave.  And beyond.

I say beyond, because I’ve been looking at the 1881 and 1871 censuses.  How little we know of people who lived before us, beyond age, marital status, children dead, children living and profession.  Unlike birth certificates, the census forms tells us the profession of mothers all over the country.  And yet, so many of the jobs seem so remarkably archaic to us that we don’t know what class implications they imply.  “WATERMAN” – is this someone who worked on the canal, or a commission RA watercolourist painter?  “MANGLER”  Is this someone who cleans clothes, or owns a small business that does so?  Is a “NEEDLEWOMAN” her own business?  or a poverty-stricken freelancer?  Who pays her and how?  These are all professions, because the people who carry them out carry them out for money.  Yet, the people who carry them out may not be professionals.  I think to be a professional you have to be either in a 1970s cop show or someone who’s been educated : accountant, lawyer, doctor, teacher.   In these professions it helps, so I am told to be really, really bent.

I was floating about the 1881 census only to discover that the man who was employed as a Coachman in the house I was brought up was in fact a blind coachman.  Despite sounding like a rural pub, the blind coachman must have had a nerve-wracking time of it at the A41 / M25 interchange.  Who employs a blind coachman?  What is going on?  And also, what is the point of asking this professional to sign the back of your passport photo?  He can’t see it.  This blind coachman is from a long line of cottage dwellers whose sole income comes from serving the people in the big house, and the people in the big house seem like a peculiar bunch as well.  One of them made his money from shares in the Great Western Railway, so I know to write to him when complaining about the refreshment carriage.  Another was an 80 year old local woman made rich by a mill who appears to be living in the house with several random ladies.  AKA Victorian Old Age Care Home, and another family appear to be incapable of counting how many rooms the house has.  In some dwellings, you can smell the poverty.  Criteria for this is generally more children then you have habitable rooms and still more dead children than you have live ones.

There are three difficulties with the census : the first is that no one can read any of the writing on any of them before 1891, the second is that no one writes down the full address of anything until 1891 and the third is I am sure people told porkies.  How many secret sons and daughters were passed off as brothers and sisters?  And how many people who said they were indeed a professional man with a living actually had done nothing but sit in the pub and drink bitter for the last twelve years?  How many people pretended to be married whilst they lived in sin?  And how many people had accidentally mixed up their diary dates and forgot the census was being done on a particular evening and instead had arranged to shag the neighbour’s gardener, who they then had to hide in an upstairs towel cupboard when the census called and, a century later, created the reason the gardener’s grandchildren are unable to locate him on the census.  Too many truths get missed out.   The 1921 census won’t get released in 2022 and the 1931 census got burnt down in a fire in Hayes so there isn’t one.  There was no census in the war, so that’s 1941 out.  After we get the next census released to us in 2022 (1921 census) we have a 30 year gap until the next one.  That will be the 1951 census and I shall be 76 when it is released , which gives me something to look forward to.  But it will be set in the 1950s – it’ll have space age cartoons and bottles of Coca Cola to deal with and will be covered with graffiti celebrating the end of rationing and the people taking part will be boggle eyed children and older DA-hair-styled brothers, all  filled with medicine and cod liver oil looking adoringly at their new television sets and not giving the Census Man his due.

Census schmensus. It took them about 100 years to get the hang of how to do a census.  When we filled out our census forms in 2011 we had a seven or eight page document.  It asked us what we had for breakfast, whether our favourite colour for a bathroom was green or cream, whether we considered ourselves Jedi, how we worshipped, what we worshipped, how do you spell the word “worship” and what we consider to be the correct steps for a traditional foxtrot.  It’s mind-numbingly English in its dedication to the ponderous, pedantic detail.  But in 1851 a census entry looks like this:


Location  hedge at ende of streete

Name  sdfkjehrt dfikj.  (Could be James Smith.  Could be Bob Dylan.  Could be Lord Mendelson  Could  be anything).

In household   Head of house

Age   5

No of children living   12

No of children dead  25

Profession  Nursemaid and baiter of dogs employ. 5 men.

Blind / Idiot / Lunatic / Dumb / Deaf    Yes

I’m not joking you know.  I have reason to believe, beyond doubt, that the Head of Household in the house where I was raised in 1851 was a 5 year old male wet nurse with a professional sideline in dog cruelty who had given birth to 37 children.  The amazing thing is – this is evidence.  This may be the only historical remnants of Sdfkjehrt Dfikj’s life.   He may not exist anywhere else.   This is all I have of the house’s history at that point.   He may be a fragment of the census’s imagination.  Frankly, I’m just worried about the dogs.

Dare I go back further?  The house does, but the census does not.  What could I find out about 1745?  About 1692?  What about the massive knees up they would have had after the success of The Battle of Waterloo in 1815?  How many hogs did they roast?  How many people died of happiness the day they invented jam?  There was a secret altar in the cellar.  I’m really really not making this up.   There was, you know.  There was a  neat shelf for iconography.  There was an altar for kneeling upon and communing with the Almighty.   It must have been some Glorious Revolution nonsense when it was illegal to be a Catholic when there was an “r” in the month and a few years later illegal to be a Protestant if you’d been out and watered your garden on a Tuesday during a waning moon.  I reckon they were secret Sikhs.  History prior to 1800 in English villages is a hotch potch of hearsay, fable and faith.   Aside from the parish hatch, match and dispatch registers, all is a murky, mud-sodden, non-double glazed madhouse of Medievalness.

The census is only the surface of what goes on.  It makes life no less mysterious than what went on before it.  The census certainly doesn’t provide us with intimate knowledge.  But maybe I shouldn’t monkey with the past – and shouldn’t dig back any further.  Because before I know it I’ll discover that the inhabitant in 1712 was something awful – like a doctor.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every two weeks, so we look forward to seeing you on Thursday July 26th!  Thank you