I blame global warning. Donald Trump probably had something to do with it too. There is something seriously amiss with our seasons. “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers.” I remember my mother crooning the old saying to me as I was sitting on her knees when I was a child. She set her bearings, both emotional and perennial, on Wimbledon fortnight. That was the fixed date in the calendar, an annual ritual demanding due custom and observance, as immutable as Christmas and Easter. She even put off the birth of my brother so she could watch Jaroslav Drobny lose (to her chagrin) in the men’s final. It was always mid-summer, the courts would get parched and worn, the smell of syringa blossom was in the air and we children had to shift for ourselves. There was not much cooking going on during that fortnight. Today, the Championships are a week later on in the year. If she were alive now, she would be sighing, “Why don’t they leave things alone? The strawberries will have gone over.”
Who, or what, is responsible for not leaving our weather alone has much to answer for. Heat waves in March? A bit of snow every five years or so? Record rainfall? Record temperatures? Record this, record that? Rarely is it that our skittish weather forecasters have nothing much to get excited about. Our next-door neighbour was explaining to me over a rather nice bottle of pink fizz how he had unearthed an old icehouse in his previous property. The deeds of the house and the artefacts he discovered confirmed that the icehouse dated back to Elizabethan times. I was fascinated by his explanation of how they worked. Basically, ice was hacked away from frozen ponds and lakes nearby – a laborious task – and placed in large brick-built containers shaped rather like a bath sunk deep in the ground and then covered with layers of straw, protected by a roof of thatch or perhaps something stronger. And during the hot summer months, pieces of ice would be chipped off and taken up to the house to be used where and when required. What happened when nothing froze during the winter, I wanted to know. He reminded me that the 17th and 18th centuries had many more cold winters than we have today. “The Thames regularly froze over,” he said, “They used to hold winter fairs on the river.” I have just completed a biography of Colin Cowdrey. In his diary, which he kept whilst at school at Tonbridge, he talks of “heaps and heaps of snow” that lasted for weeks on end in the harsh winters of the late 1940s. Yes, I think we can agree the times they are a’changing.
No more so was this brought home to me than the dismal news that Glasgow Rangers, that once-great club, had just been knocked out in the first round of the Europa Cup. Hang on a minute. Was that not the same cup competition that Manchester United had won only a few weeks ago? The opprobrium heaped upon the Rangers players was fierce and plentiful. Perhaps they had put up an abysmal performance but the poor fellows could not have had much of a holiday, much of a rest, between the end of last season and the beginning of this. The seasons seem to be running into each other and the rhythm of our traditional games is all up the spout. Another fact caught my eye. Premiership footballers were back in pre-season training before we had had our first Test of the summer. Joe Root, the new England captain, has donned his whites for the first time in five months – and we are in July!
Like the No 49 bus in my schooldays, when none would come for half-an-hour and then three would roll up at once, Test matches these days seem to come not in single spies but in battalions. By my calculations, there will have been no Tests before the nights started to draw in again (ie 21st June) and then seven in a two-month rush. Why? No sooner has one Test finished before another hoves into view. It does smack of incoherent scheduling. I even have a ticket for a One Day International between England and the West Indies at the Rose (sorry, ageas) Bowl – on Friday 27th September! The match starts at 12.30. It could end just in time for the Thames to freeze over. Those England players will be grateful for their new (retro) cable-knit sweaters, even if they don’t match the rest of their kit. Or perhaps the fixture secretary at the ECB knows more than he’s letting on. There could be a heat wave predicted for late September.