It hasn’t rained yet! And if we can just get the rain to hold off for the rest of the day, then it won’t rain for the next 40 days. Or at least that is what the legend says. July 15th is St Swithin’s Day, a day which will predict just how lovely or miserable the last forty days of summer will be. As the little rhyme goes…
“St Swithin's day, if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain;
St Swithin's day, if thou be fair,
For forty days 'twill rain na mair.”
Basically, if it rains today, England won’t have summer, just endless grey skies and wet days. Which would be rather disappointing, frankly. No one knows exactly who came up with the rhyme, but St Swithin was a person, and a person who liked the outdoors and rain too.
Swithin (or Swithun) was a bishop who for his burial requested that rather than being entombed inside a chapel he wanted to be buried outside. Legend has it that when they decided to move his body inside, it rained heavily. And so, the legend of St Swithin’s Day slowly came about.
But in twenty-first century Britain, does anyone even know about this day anymore? Surely it’s faded into obscurity and the only people who know anything about it are Shakespearean actors and druids. That’s what you’d think.
And yet St Swithin’s Day is trending on Twitter. Are you surprised? I am. But then what should we really expect from a country that is obsessed with the weather? For members of the British public, talking about the weather is a great way of passing time. Shakespeare even wrote multiple songs about the weather - to quote one, ‘For the Rain It Raineth Every Day’.
Weather talk is a popular British pastime. We have so many words for the rain, “drizzle, downpour, spitting”, to name a few. And then there are the number of ways we can describe the temperature, from “balmy, blistering, muggy” to “miserable, icy, artic”. Then there is the wonderful word “grisly”, and we aren’t talking about bears here.
A day of grisly weather is a day when the sun is completely covered by clouds, there is no heat, and it isn’t even raining properly. That’s right, in England there is even a proper and correct way to rain, and constant dripping is not the way to do it.
At least when it’s chucking it down outside (the slightly more assertive version of “pouring down” but the less splashy version of “bucketing down”) it feels cosy inside.
Wow, now even I am getting started. The fact is England and Britain as a whole love to talk about the weather. But that is also because when Brits talk about the weather, they are talking other things as well.
To quote the wonderfully flamboyant Oscar Wilde play ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’, “Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me quite nervous.”
What does weather talk really mean? Is it a secret code, is it how Brits let other Brits know where the end of the queue is, or the going rate for a pork pie? No, weather talk is more often than not a way for Brits, known for stifling any emotional expression, to actually talk about their feelings.
Let’s look at a case study, shall we? Imagine arriving at work early in the morning, rain sleeting down the windows, no sign of the sun, and it’s a little chilly inside. Then someone says, “The weather’s miserable today.” What they mean is, “I am feeling a little miserable today.” They might be feeling down because of the rain, or for another reason, but they are not feeling on top of the world.
If that sentiment is replied to with the words, “Yes, but they are saying the weather will cheer up later,” that very clearly means, “Don’t worry, your day will get better.”
A third person, late to the conversation, might declare, “It’s raining cats and dogs outside.” That third person is declaring their zeal for life, what an imagination! Of course, I am hoping this whole conversation isn’t happening on St Swithin’s Day, because that really would be miserable.
But it looks like St Swithin’s Day 2019 has passed without a drop so far, so we are looking at a dry summer for London at least. Get ready for constant conversation about the balmy, bright, stifling, suffocating, gorgeous sunshine.