*As featured on the Huffington Post
With just days to go before we embark upon our much-anticipated escape to the British coast, and a weather forecast that’s looking somewhat less than tropical, I’m trying hard to embrace the uncertainty that accompanies a UK summer break.
Obviously, there is a part of me wishing we were jumping on a plane and heading for some guaranteed warmth. But could there be some hidden benefits to a few days of more varied weather conditions?
Variety is the spice of life, they say. If we were heading off to the south of France or an island in the Balearics, we’d be facing a seven-day forecast of solid sunshine pictograms (I know because, very sadly, I keep checking). But where’s the variety – or the fun – in that? I’d know what to pack in the beach bag for all the family (vest, shorts, swimming togs, towel), I’d know the agenda for every day: beach in the morning; swimming pool in the afternoon, or vice versa. And I also know I’d be spending hours of each day plastering sun-cream on to small, uncooperative bodies – sometimes through layers of sea water, ice-cream and sand.
Not to mention realising the effects of all that endless sunshine and heat. It’s a shock for us, after all; we’re not prepared for it. And, if you have small children in your party, it will inevitably just make them (and you) increasingly tired, uncomfortable and cranky.
Unless you’re having the kind of holiday where you flop into a hammock and lie there for a week sipping cocktails and reading, that kind of glorious sunny weather is surely overrated.
And besides, the kind of certainty afforded by a Mediterranean forecast robs you of so much. Like the unique thrill you experience when the sun peeps out from behind a thick layer of cloud and you can throw off your hoodie and bask in the 19°C glory for a whole three-and-a-half minutes before it dips back behind the cloud blanket once again. Like the challenge of successfully dressing yourself and your children for a day that incorporates sun, rain, wind and a 10°C temperature discrepancy. Like the muscles you will acquire through lugging around a windbreaker, tent and four alternative outfits and choices of footwear for every member of your group.
Sarcasm aside, didn’t our parents and grandparents find something restorative about a typical Great British holiday? It <em>does</em> seem to clear the cobwebs away to wrap up warm and take a bracing walk along the seafront. There <em>is</em> a certain comfort in buying an extra portion of chips and then zipping them into your jacket for warmth. Or huddling behind a windbreaker and sipping hot chocolate from a polystyrene cup.
Rain is even recognised in Charles Trenet’s <em>La Mer</em> – an undeniably romantic song that instantly conjures images of deckchairs and long promenade strolls – for its ability to transform the shimmer of the sea (La mer des reflets changeants sous la pluie)
And, following that train of thought, what could be more romantic than throwing back the hood of your cagoule and letting that horizontal warm(ish) summer rain whip your face as you attempt to skim stones across the water?
A bit of rain gives us permission to do so many things that would feel somehow wrong if we were passing up a perfectly good day on the beach. Many of us welcome the opportunity to browse the local knick-knack shops or take refuge in the quiet of a cinema for a couple of hours. If we’re honest, it’s also kind of fun to take a nostalgic trip to the local amusement arcade; a chance to unleash our inner gambler on the safety of the old-fashioned coin pusher machines. Unavoidably, we will soon realise that we won’t be escaping the arcade’s clutches without our kids catching sight of the claw crane, and pleading with us to have ‘just one go’ because they have fallen hopelessly in love with a cheap and garish stuffed toy whose face is wedged tightly against the glass at the bottom right hand corner. But then every silver lining must have its cloud.
Perhaps most exciting of all will be the realisation that we can now happily abandon the urgently-scheduled pre-holiday diet. Only the truly hard-core will be wading waist-deep into the sea in these unappealing conditions, while our swimwear can stay safely tucked away in the suitcase where it belongs.
Yes. Overall, I’m fairly confident we can do this. Our childhoods of rock-climbing in rain jackets and playing Guess Who? across the kitchen table have served us well. Our stoicism will rise to the challenge and force us to enjoy ourselves no matter what the British weather system throws our way. Well, it’ll get us somewhere close to lunchtime on the second day anyway. And after that, we will undoubtedly all be glued to our iPhones, searching for a last-minute deal to Torremolinos to cheer ourselves up…