And then I had a ghastly vision. What if this is it? What if this is the long-awaited inflexion point – the moment that has been prophesied since the Eighties? What if winter is over – for ever?
Aaargh, I thought: and in that moment of horror, I contemplated the loss of something so intrinsic to our psychology. Imagine: no more snow. No more tobogganing on Primrose Hill, no more waking up to see the magic prints of the dog on the lawn.
Imagine if this unseasonably warm spell is just the beginning of a long period of meteorological mediocrity: no more ice on the canal, no lovely crispness in the air, no excuse to walk into a room with a fire and go “brrr” while theatrically rubbing your hands.
"In my despair, I rang the great physicist and meteorologist Piers Corbyn. You know, Jeremy's brother"
Imagine if we have nothing in these long, dark months save a muggy and melancholy mildness, soft, damp and unwholesome; nothing but rain and a louring grey sky pressing down on our hungover eyeballs. The thought made me feel almost unwell.
In my despair, I rang the great physicist and meteorologist Piers Corbyn. You know Piers: he is the older brother of Jezza, and he is famous for believing that the world – on the whole – is getting colder, and that the whole global warming theory is unsound, to say the least. Piers thinks that whatever the role of humanity in affecting the temperature of the planet, that role is pitifully trivial next to the Sun, the supercolossal boiling ball of gas about which we revolve and which enables life on Earth.
In the view of Piers and his colleagues at WeatherAction, it is all about sun spots, and he is on record as believing that we are now due for a new “Maunder Minimum” – like the famous cold spell in the 17th century, when the Thames froze several times.
“Piers,” I said – and I felt like the children of Israel, denouncing Jeremiah for getting it wrong – “what about the new Ice Age? Where is it?”
And Piers did his best to calm me down. “Helmsman!” he said (since that is how he addresses me). “Relax. Winter has not gone.” And he went on to argue, quite persuasively, that there are plenty of places that are really very cold at the moment – the west of the USA, for instance. He reminded me of the prodigious snows that hit the eastern seaboard of America last winter. Yes, it is warm in the UK at the moment – amazingly warm – but the UK and its territorial waters amount to only one six-hundredth of the planet.
The current mild spell would last till the end of January, he said, and it would then turn bitterly cold in February. Whatever is happening to the weather at the moment, he said, it is nothing to do with the conventional doctrine of climate change.
And there, of course, he is in agreement with the vast majority of mainstream science. Meteorologists of all kinds – climate change sceptics and believers – can see the difference between climate and weather; between randomly occurring changes and deep, long-term trends.
We ordinary human beings are not so rational; we are no different from all earlier cultures in that we have to put ourselves in the story, and to attribute this or that individual weather event to our own behaviour or moral failures. Think of Agamemnon at Aulis, unable to get the wind he needed to sail for Troy. What was the problem? He had shot a deer sacred to Artemis. And the solution? Sacrifice his daughter! It was all about him, him, him.
Scientists look at the data. But everyone else just looks at the weather – and it is the weather, therefore, that makes the psychological difference to the debate. Look at the recent summit in Paris, which ended in a good agreement to cut CO2, in contrast to the debacle at Copenhagen six years ago. What was the real difference? It was the weather. Paris was ridiculously warm for December. Six years ago, Copenhagen saw the biggest snowfalls anyone could remember. “Global warming?” everyone asked.
It is fantastic news that the world has agreed to cut pollution and help people save money, but I am sure that those global leaders were driven by a primitive fear that the present ambient warm weather is somehow caused by humanity; and that fear – as far as I understand the science – is equally without foundation.
There may be all kinds of reasons why I was sweating at ping-pong – but they don’t include global warming.