on this day in 1362, st maury's wind became a genuine contender for the title of 'the greatest storm there has ever been'. it blew with such great strength from evensong to mydnyte' that 'threw down high houses, tall buildings, towers, trees, and other strong and durable things'. the damage in the british isles, however, is trifling alongside the catastrophe in europe, where floods drown one hundred thousand - half the populations of southern denmark and north-west germany. the event becomes known as 'grote mandrenke' - the great drowning.
walk down the street in the morning to the office or the newsagent, and there's a good chance someone will pass in the opposite direction with a 'better weather today' or looks like rain later' or even a 'colder/warmer (delete as applicable) this morning'. it's a tough call: are they genuinely interested in discussing the weather, on the off-chance that you stop long enough to chat? or is this simply, and more commonly, a case of uttering a phatic statement? the latter is described as an informal discourse that doesn't cover any substantial topic of conversation; in other words, hiding what at least one of you perceives as an awkward silence.
but the first accolade is only marginally less likely. it has been said that the british experience weather, while the rest of the world have only climate. this is perhaps a truism, but never having lived anywhere other than scotland, i really couldn't tell you if that's true. on the one day in portland when it rained, chris distefano informed acquaintances that he didn't feel he had to apologise to me for the weather, because i was from scotland. let's face it, like it or not, if we're not actually obsessed with the weather, it certainly has an impressive effect on our cycling. you need only have scanned several folks' twitter accounts in the early part of this month to validate that.
'in 1597, the third armada - a fleet of sixty fighting ships, 8000 soldiers, horses, artillery and fortifications that is smaller than, but just as purposeful as the great armada of 1588 - is lying-to, bow to wind, as little as 30 miles off the lizard in cornwall, when a roaring and violent north-easterly gale strikes up and rages relentlessly for three days. one by one, the spanish galleons surrender to the storm until the fleet is completely broken up. finally martin de padilla, the adelantedo of castile and commander of the fleet, puts his flagship, st paul, before the wind, and runs for home. 24 october.
personally, i generally ignore weather forecasts, not entirely because i figure they'll be wrong - though this can often be the case in islay's micro climate - but mostly because we're going to get what we're going to get. if you're a cyclist in britain, and not well equipped with winter clothing, then you're dafter than i thought.
the wrong kind of snow, if anything, proves that there is little new under the sun, always assuming you get much of it anyway. there are no chapters, and no recognisable narrative; the book features one day to a page, describing weather related articles from british history. thus the opening quotes are from the page dated 21 january; you can deal with this book in one of two ways: either simply read the entry relating to each date, much as you would do with a diary, or you can dive in and out as the mood takes you, and enlighten your workmates to death with tales of climatic derring-do.
personally, i haven't quite made up my mind which method i'm going to follow, which, i suppose, means that i'm working the second option; everytime i start on a weather related anecdote, gleaned and remembered from 'the wrong kind of snow', colleagues find an excuse to be somewhere else. i'm willing to bet that they're really impressed, but just too recalcitrant to admit it. and yet, for someone who writes as a gale driven rain batters off the windows in washingmachinepost cottage, patently disinterested in the weather as a subject of conversation, this book is fascinating. and i can't figure out why; but i'm sure i'll have the answer by december 31st.
i have nowhere near enough knowledge in this area to point out any discrepancies in the main body of the text, but practical testing has shown that the website for the book, listed in the appendices as www.wrongkindofsnow.co.uk answers only to the .com appelation. in this, i may be more obsessed with trivialities than the weather.
author rob penn is currently in the finishing throes of a book that will be of even more interest to those of us assembled here. entitled 'it's all about the bike - the pursuit of happiness on two wheels' (penguin publishing), rob spent a large portion of last year travelling the world to collect what he perceives as the finest componentry to hang upon his custom built frame. now before you interrupt, yes, i know we can, and perhaps do, carry out the same procedure in the quietude of our own bike sheds, armed only with a credit card and a laptop. what kind of an expense account allows a cyclist to internationally cherry pick the bike of his dreams? let me just say that, if that were all there was to the book, it would barely have merited a mention. the pages are filled with oh so much more. rest assured, i will let you know when it is released, and you can then prove me right.
posted wednesday 19 january 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................