Sometime too bright the eye of heaven shines
Often is his gold complexion dimm’d
Livingstone and Lawrence – they could take a bit of heat
Hot? Call this hot? One warm day and the whole country flops down in a faint like a bunch of wilted pansies. I mean what’s got into us, eh?
After being AWOL for most of June, the British sun has put in a brief appearance, and at once our airwaves are jammed with portentous government doctors warning us to stay indoors, wear loose cotton clothing, turn off the central heating and above all to slather our skins with oceans of foul seal-blubberish suncream. We are warned of heatstroke, kidney failure, heart attack and – mystifyingly – cold sores.
Listen, my friends. Here is my own personal weather analysis. It is a lovely sunny July day. It is admittedly a trifle close on the Tube – but how on earth can that be an excuse for closing our schools?
On trains, passengers are continually interrupted by the guard warning them to drink water, bottles of which may conveniently be obtained from the buffet car at a mere two quid a pop. What next? Will they have to remind us to keep breathing? Have we lost all sense of proportion?
The Middle East is aflame. Our Prime Minister has been exposed in a posture of abject servility before the American President, summoned with a click of the fingers and the words “Yo, Blair”, as if he were Jeeves to Dubya’s Wooster.
I only refrain from calling Mr Blair a poodle because several correspondents have protested to me that this is an insult to poodles, who are, apparently, keen independent spirits.
The Labour Government is in a state of meltdown far more serious than any softening of the tarmac at Eastbourne, and in only a few days’ time we must endure the national agony of seeing John Prescott at the helm of the ship of state.
In spite of all this genuine global catastrophe it seems that the main news – the big, front-page news – concerns the efficacy or otherwise of sun gunk.
In order to terrify its poor benighted readers one newspaper has recruited two groups of warring scientists. The first lot says that you must baste yourself with two 5mm layers of sun gunk, being careful to leave it on the skin like war-paint, otherwise it will have no effect and you will get cancer. The second lot says that you must rub it in, otherwise it will soon wear off and you will get cancer.
Which is it? And isn’t the dreadful truth, frankly, that we would be just as well off using Mazola?
Let me remind you of one thing, all you local authorities which seize the chance to close the schools on a gorgeous sunny day. The parents of these kiddies save thousands of pounds to buy them holidays in the sun everywhere from Crete to Cancun.
Look up at the sky and every 60 seconds you will see another huge airborne cattle truck taking the British to be scorched in climates far fiercer than our own. We sit in our villas and our condos around the shores of the Mediterranean, like pale frogs about a pond, and when our own watery sun is so pretentious as to put on a Mediterranean performance, we go into a national spasm of alarm.
Is this the nation that built the Empire? When Lawrence was cantering his camels through the sands, was he pursued by health warnings about exposing the tips of his ears and nose to the desert glare?
When Livingstone toiled through the sweltering jungles of central Africa, did he have coolies toting bottles of Evian and government officials warning him of dehydration?
This is a nation whose imperial greatness transformed the world, and which disseminated ideas of freedom, parliamentary democracy and above all the English language, the language of the globe, polar, tropical and temperate.
We pulled it off because we were equipped with colonial servants who didn’t care whether it was as hot as a chilli on the back streets of Bangalore. They were pink of cheek and rheumy of eye, and when their French and German rivals were having a siesta, they were out in the noonday sun claiming the planet for the Crown.
How fallen, how changed we are from that magnificent ethic. Even since the 1970s, when we last had a heatwave and, interestingly, movies about Superman and the Poseidon Adventure, we seem to have softened like a strawberry mivvi in the sun.
Our footballers blub when they lose a match. The nanny state won’t let us take our T-shirts off in public lest we get sunburn, and from November all children under the age of 11 will have to be equipped with an expensive plastic booster seat banquette before you can take them in the back of the car.
We have become so wet that the Government has tried to intrude in the housing market and abolish the ancient principle of caveat emptor, and while I am on the subject there is one final point I want to make before I fire this piece off to the Telegraph and go for a well-deserved pint of beer with dewy condensation running down its cold, golden flanks.
No matter how great the hysteria about the heat, no matter how many scientists warn us about the risks of either applying or failing to apply sunscreen, we should not allow anyone to convert the current panic into legislation.
We don’t want any more of those directives that make employers criminally liable for failing to see that their employees are covered with gloop factor 15.
Let us in conclusion remember the words of the poet. Sometime too bright the eye of heaven shines, he pointed out, and for some weeds out there that is the case this week.
But the key point, as he went on to say, is that Often is his gold complexion dimm’d. That is the way of the British sun, and that, if I read the forecast correctly, is what is going to happen this weekend.
My heatwave health advice is to jump in the delicious river Thames, upstream of Henley. And if you really can’t stand the heat, move to Scotland, where it seems to be raining already.