Our poor British cousins. If you are close to any of them, check on them. They are sweltering in record temperatures this week and it is dangerous. Not much air conditioning there, you see. Almost no ice.
As I write this it is 101 F in London. The tarmac at Luton Airport has melted. The temps may soar past 104 F, roads have buckled and rail service is a hot and sweaty mess. The guards at Buckingham Palace, the ones who don’t move and wear wool uniforms and those gigantic bear skin hats, they are melting, too, but they can’t save themselves.
It is important to note these are the highest temperatures recorded in Britain, ever. It is easy for us in the border south to poo-poo their discomfort with memories of our own hot summers, especially those of us old enough to remember life before air conditioning. Oh, some stores had it, with penguins on ice floes painted on the door, exclaiming in tufted letters of snow, “Brrrrr…it’s cold inside.”
We didn’t have it a home, but rather, a big attic fan that circulated warm air, kind of like a convection oven, and beds dragged to the window in vain hope of a breeze. This is how I can taste, even to this day, a window screen. All dust and rust and some other thing. Because when your little chin is propped on the window sill waiting for some air, it gets boring, and after a while there is nothing else to do but lick stuff.
I was in England for a heat wave once.
After my work assignment ended, I had a few days and nothing would do but I stay in a Cotswold coaching inn. I was traveling alone and needed a place on the train line. I ended up in Moreton-On-Marsh, where I dragged my suitcase from the the little station until the village green hove into view, and checked into my digs, The White Hart Royal Hotel.
You can look this up. Go ahead. You will see the little courtyard I am about to tell you about. My room looked out over the umbrella.
The temps had been steadily climbing all day, and after my trek I needed a drink. Which I could have, in the little bar right off reception, a sweating, tepid bottle of beer, there being no ice for a proper drink. I made my way to the room, floors sloping, the ceiling lower and lower with each flight of stairs.
I have never been so hot in my life. The window opened, but just barely, and onto a courtyard below where no air circulated. I sat on my bed sweating and every fifteen minutes or so I shed another piece of clothing, until 10:00 pm arrived and I was down to my delicates, still perspiring and thinking this is dangerous. Limestone, that lovely golden Jurassic limestone, is gorgeous to look at, but it soaks up heat all the day long, slowly releasing it all through the night.
I feared my my life and I’m not kidding.
The courtyard was empty, as was the ballroom just across the way, the one that was on my level, and I made the decision to crank open the window, throw wide the drapes for for any scrap of air. I wrapped myself in a sheet I had soaked in cold water, and, in the altogether, tried to sleep.
And I did sleep, until midnight, when I woke to raucous laughter from the courtyard below, a strong beam of light illuminating my room, the entire length of the bed, and the tangled sheet that had come undone and was now lallygagging about my ankles. I rolled out of bed and crawled to the window.
The ballroom was now bright as day and shining in my window. It was stuffed to the gills with people drinking, laughing. They were as visible to me as I must have been to them, had any of them taken a gander.
I was beyond caring. I hoped they were drunk enough not to recognize me at breakfast. Assuming I lived to see breakfast.
The next day was easily as hot, hotter, even, when I asked directions from a nice young man. He was waiting for his bus and helped me, standing there in his short-sleeved shirt and wool sweater vest. He lifted his arm to point the way and I fairly swooned.
By noon I was close to dying again, and wished I knew of a pool. Then I remembered the great British tub in my room. It was huge. As was the book I took to the bath, where I stayed all afternoon, floating in cool water, working the taps with my toes, reading and drinking and saving my life.