Of Mad Dogs & Englishmen & A Very British Heatwave

So the heat continues to rise here in the UK, and it is hot!  On Saturday the thermometer  in our garden read just over 38 degrees centigrade (100 degrees farenheit) in the sun!  Now that is hot!

Of course, being Brits, we were out in it all weekend long.  We’ve used the barbecue more than once, a few times actually, and nothing beats winding down at the end of the day with a lovely, tall glass of Pimms, or a cold beer, or even some Prosecco.  All very civilized.  Who needs to go away for a summer holiday?  We’ve got it right here on our very own doorstep!

Well, except for the beach that is, but close enough…

Crete (c) copyright Sherri Matthews 2013

(c) copyright Sherri Matthews 2013

This heat wave has got me thinking about all things hot and sunny and how very different it was for me when I first moved to California.  I really couldn’t understand why, in the summer, everyone’s houses seemed to be plunged into darkness, curtains pulled tight, blinds and shutters firmly closed, neighbourhoods seemingly deserted.  It just seemed so alien to me.

But then I hadn’t yet experienced the kind of heat which makes this a necessity at the height of summer. I didn’t understand that it would be so hot that it was unbearable to go outside in it, unless in the shade, and even then, too darn hot for long!  The best and only place to be was shut up inside with the lovely, cool air conditioning blasting away!

Still, the thought of having to stay indoors locked up like that on a lovely summer’s day never really sat quite right with me.  As a Brit, this is what I’m used to:  The minute the sun is out we fling open all the windows, open all the doors and can’t wait to get out in it, sun-starved creatures that we are.  Going to see a movie on a summer’s day just seemed so strange to me, even though I relished the cool respite as much as the next person!

My children had a very different upbringing to my own. In Britain, this is what we do in a heat wave:

We go out for picnics and swelter. We go for long, countryside walks and visit garden centres. We sit in our gardens and bake in the sun, we go to the beach where we can hardly move for all the crowds and eat 99 ice creams.  We drink cold beer, yes, but we still drink cups of tea.  Hot tea.

What does make it harder here for me, I admit, is the humidity, as opposed to the ‘dry’ heat of California which I found easier to cope with, although  I have never experienced heat like the type in Las Vegas one August.  I opened the hotel door and it was as if somebody was standing there blasting heat from a giant-sized hair dryer straight onto my face, like a wall of heat that I could almost touch and say “ouch!” to.

Nobody can go out in that kind of heat.

The hardest heat I ever had to contend with, however,  was when I was pregnant with my daughter.  We lived in a tiny, rural town at the time, out in the middle of nowhere, population 500.  The summers there were hot, let me tell you.  We had one electric air conditioner in the master bedroom which shorted every time I tried to use it, so I gave up.

My daughter was born in mid-August so I carried her through the hottest months. I would be so tired that in the afternoons all I could do was to go into our bedroom and lie down on the bed, with my little boy cuddled up to me and we would go to sleep while his older brother would play a video game ( ‘Zelda’ ) while sitting on the edge of the bed.  It is no coincidence that my daughter became obsessed with that game and I think that the music from it brainwashed me as I have never forgotten it…

The day my daughter was born it was 47 C (that’s 116 F). I reckon if I can survive that I can survive anything.

But I do love the heat really.  My husband and I have visited the beautiful Greek Island of Crete a couple of times and it gets just as hot there.  One particular day, we decided to take a walk.  We were the only ones out  but then it was over 40 C (104 F)

Lunch on the Beach in Crete  (c) Copyright Sherri Matthews 2013

Lunch on the Beach in Crete
(c) Copyright Sherri Matthews 2013

The cicadas serenaded us with their summer cacophony,  out of sight, hidden deep within the surrounding olive trees, the hot, dry dust skimming  our feet as we looked for a place to sit down.  We came across a taverna on the side of the road, opposite the sea.

On the other side of the road, underneath the welcome shade of a tree and right on the beach, sat a brightly hand-painted wooden table and two chairs.

I think we sat there for about 3 hours having lunch.

It was magical.

Somehow, it just isn’t the same here, sitting outside in the high street in front of Costa having a coffee…

To finish, I think that our very British way of handling the heat can best be told in this amusing little story:

My uncle and auntie tell of their trip to North Carolina one summer to visit some friends. The sun beat down outside and they couldn’t understand why their friends never wanted to go out unless it was in their air conditioned car to the air-conditioned malls.  One afternoon, having some free time while their friends had some errands to run, my Uncle and Auntie, fed up being, quite literally, kept in the dark,  decided to escape.

My uncle, stripping off his shirt, and my auntie (who definitely didn’t strip off her shirt but had a lovely summer frock on) headed outside.  Finding a lovely spot in their friend’s garden, they lay down, basking in the sun.

When their friends later returned, they were shocked rigid to see two people lying, sprawled out on their front lawn, never having seen such a sight in all their lives, and  looking for all the world like a couple of dead bodies, upon which they called the paramedics.

You can just imagine the scene which followed, the unnecessary panic and then my lovely uncle saying,

“But we were only sunbathing, we’re English!”.

So yes, it is all true, and Noel Coward said it best:

Mad dogs & Englishmen (really do) go out in the midday sun.  Enjoy it 🙂

About Sherri Matthews

Sherri is a writer with work published in print magazines, anthologies and online. As a young British mum of three, she emigrated to California and stayed for twenty years. Today she lives in England's West Country, a full-time carer within her family. Her current WIP after completing her memoir is a psychological thriller.
This entry was posted in Childhood Memories, Current Affairs, Family Life, Musings, My California, Photos and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Of Mad Dogs & Englishmen & A Very British Heatwave

  1. Kristin says:

    Oh, what a delightful story! Thanks for making me smile!
    Yes, I can relate to that. I am from Northern Germany, and whenever the sun peaks out, we rush out to have a cup of coffee (or tea) in the sun – even if that means we have to still put on a coat and gloves. Here, however, it is unbearable outside due to the humidity, and I always feel like being in a gilded cage… when my parents were visiting, though, they insisted on sitting outside all the time which might have been the most exhausting part of their visit for me! I do love the heat, but I can’t stand the humidity (or the mosquitos).
    Stay cool! 🙂


    • Sherri says:

      Ahh, hi Kristin, so glad this made you smile 🙂 Yes, that does sound just the same as how we are here the minute the sun comes out no matter what! The humidity is the worst though as you say. I can just imagine what it must be like for you in Mexico – and all the bugs! You really have to stay in when it is like that. When you are visiting it is different isn’t it, you want to make the most of the sun but living in it is another thing altogether! I hope you have good air conditioning! We don’t but then it won’t be like this for long I don’t expect! Have a great day and you keep cool too 🙂


  2. I lived in Texas for a couple of years and I can understand the dry heat vs. the humidity-thing. One time the thermometer inched toward 110 degrees F. but it certainly didn’t feel that hot because of the low humidity. Even still, we hibernated inside our houses at that temperature. Love your storytelling!


    • Sherri says:

      Hi Bev! I can just imagine how hot it gets in Texas! Hibernating is a very good word, it does feel like that doesn’t it! So glad you enjoyed this post, I have been a bit dejected with all this spam stuff (still!) going on, but I’m so glad that I can still receive lovely comments such as yours and from others, gives me hope!! Hope you are nice and cool – I have to say the worst humidity I ever experienced was in Maryland in July. The only time I ever felt comfortable was in the shower! Have a lovely day 🙂


  3. Heyjude says:

    Well said! When we went to Florida in September a few years back we wondered why no-one walked anywhere until we tried to. The heat and the humidity had us beating a retreat back to the hotel in less than half an hour! I hate using the car for everything but have to concede that in that sort of heat it is essential. Since then when I visit the States I always hire a car! (Unless it is the middle of winter)


    • Sherri says:

      Thanks Jude! We learn the hard way don’t we! There is a reason why the streets are so deserted in the height of summer in the States! I’ve never been to Florida but I hear that the humidity is horrible there. Air con and a car an absolute must!!! 🙂


  4. jennypellett says:

    37 degrees in the car just now – first thing I do when I get in – put the kettle on. Nice cup of tea – works wonders!


  5. Sherri, we live in Texas – it’s hot and sunny most of the time. Like you, my wife likes all the blinds open, let the sun shine in, enjoy the view… It doesn’t matter to her that having the blinds and curtains open causes the air conditioners to run more and makes our electricity bill higher, she is willing to pay for the sunshine and the view.


  6. Marcela says:

    Lol. Great post.


  7. Steve Rebus says:

    Love this post Sherri! Thanks for sharing your great observations with us! 🙂


    • Sherri says:

      Thanks so much Steve, glad you enjoyed reading this post! Now I’m off for a long walk in the hot, summer sun 🙂


      • Steve Rebus says:

        Awwww sounds nice! Are there nice places to walk around your area? I live in Epsom, Surrey and there are a lot of walking trails through the common & downs etc. 🙂


        • Sherri says:

          There are nice places but during the week I just walk around our local park. I truly was ‘mad’ yesterday though, walking in the hottest, and muggiest day, yet! Too much! Small world…I’m originally from Surrey, born and lived there until I was 10, then visiting family there over the years, so I know that you have some lovely walking areas in those parts 🙂


          • Steve Rebus says:

            Wow, small world! I’ve lived in Surrey for 8 years now after moving down from Derby, Midlands.
            Hope you enjoyed your hot walk yesterday? 😀


            • Sherri says:

              Small world indeed! It was actually too hot, but not complaining! Cooler now after the storms. Hope you got my comment for your ‘Happy 1st Anniversary’…still nervous since spamgate 🙂


              • Steve Rebus says:

                Yes i got your comment, but missed it in the mass of comments i received!! I get lots of amazing comments but sometimes i overlook them as my screen zoom is really high so i only have a small section visible at one time.
                I spend a lot of time in the comments archive looking for ones i’ve missed! lol.
                Please be patient if i don’t reply quickly, hopefully i’ll find it soon after! 😀
                Thanks for commenting, its such a pleasure to connect with you and others, God bless.


  8. Rachel says:

    Wow, 38C is very hot indeed for the UK. I would find that quite unpleasant. When I first lived in the UK about 10 years ago, I was shocked to see so many people out sun baking on sunny days in summer. Growing up in Brisbane this was not something we ever did. We had slip, slop, slap drummed into us from quite an early age. In fact, I think Queensland was (maybe still is?) the skin cancer capital of the world.


    • Sherri says:

      Yes, for the UK this was very unusual. I was so glad when it cooled down. Just isn’t natural here. You can expect it in Crete, but not here!
      I can well imagine you must have been shocked. I think that I’m right in saying that Australia is the forerunner in education about skin cancer and slapping on the sunscreen? Certainly, it was just the same in California. I never sunbathed when I lived over there. When the sun is out here I do like to sit out in it for about 20 minutes or so just to get some of that good old Vitamin D but that’s it. I never wear sunscreen here.
      Thanks so much for taking the time to read so many of my posts Rachel, that’s so lovely of you 🙂


      • Rachel says:

        Yes, I imagine Australia is in the lead, or close to it, with education about skin cancer. But there’s also no better educator than a blistering burn which most Australians will have experienced at some point.

        It’s definitely a pleasure reading your blog 🙂


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