Dark Mornings and Grey, Rainy Days
This is, apparently, one of the most depressing times of the year for British folk. The sparkling fairy lights of Christmas are long gone, but the winter drags on – bitingly cold and remorselessly damp. The mornings are dark and, throughout the grey days, the evenings loiter just beyond the horizon, bringing back the night-time before the day has even had a chance to brush its teeth and put its socks on.
‘The weather’ seems to be the main reason there are so many of us Brits here in the UAE (240,000 and counting…). Talk to any British expatriate and I guarantee ‘the weather’ will be in their top five reasons for leaving the UK. In fact, I’d wager it would be in the top three for most people. When friends out here are considering returning home, ‘the weather’ seems to be the thing they dread most (swiftly followed by taxation, pot holes and British politicians). We had one grey, rainy day here in Dubai last week. One day. A colleague told me it had left him feeling deeply depressed. I think he might possibly be the most sensitive sufferer of Seasonally Affected Disorder on the entire planet.
And I just don’t get it. As any regular Homesick and Heatstruck reader will know, I’m very fond of green things (You know – trees and plants and the like, not Kermit the Frog. Although I am also very fond of Kermit the Frog…) and without rain there are no green things. I’d much rather live somewhere green and damp than somewhere arid and lifeless.
I know how bloody miserable it gets – I used to find the cold, dark winter mornings just as terrible as everyone else does, particularly when you have to force yourself out of your warm bed, scrape the ice off your windscreen and go to work. But, like many other things that four-and-a-half-years in Dubai has made me appreciate about home, ‘the weather’ is now right up there at the top of the list of things I love. Any British weather at all – grey weather, chilly weather, blustery weather, drizzling weather, sideways-rain weather… It’s not just that I like talking about it (which I do – see my post Talk About The Weather), it’s that it does stuff. No matter how grim the British weather may feel, it’s still weather: it’s seasonal; it changes.
I remember very well how the long, dark winter can grind down the spirits, but, for me (and I appreciate I may be alone in this), there’s something about relentless sunshine that’s equally dispiriting. It’s a bit like that CIA sleep deprivation technique of 24-hour blindingly bright neon lights… So much sunshine makes my head ache – it’s against nature. When it rained the other day and everyone here was panicking about flooding and cancelled barbecues, I put my boots on and went for a walk on the beach. It was BRILLIANT – and really rather pretty – in a brooding, heathery skies sort of way. Oh, how I long for a frozen windscreen.
I went home to the UK for ten days in December – my first British Christmas since 2010 – and I saw winter in a whole new way. Winter is nature’s chance to rest, and if you too can find an opportunity to do so, it suddenly all makes sense. The darkness allows you to simply stop, to be cosy and sleep and recharge the old batteries. It gives us permission to hibernate.
And it can be beautiful too. There’s something uniquely lovely about bare, brown fields beneath a water-coloured, wintery sun. It’s a different sort of beauty from the bright, brassy tones of summer; it’s gentle and strange and humble. The stillness of winter is lovely too (when it’s not blowing a mighty gale of course) – the quiet, barely-breathing stillness of grey branches against grey skies.
Unlike the Middle Eastern Summer Heat (for which there really is no answer but to stay inside with the air conditioning on full whack), the British Winter Cold is bearable. Even on the chilliest days you can still get outside – put on your thermals, wear some thick gloves and a woolly hat – and walk briskly until the cold air makes your cheeks go pink. As Billy Connolly once said, ‘Get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little.’ And you can always come home to the central heating and a nice cup of tea.
It’s amazing how many British beauty spots are deserted at this time of year. When I was at home in December, the cold was an incentive for me to get outside rather than a deterrent. I went on some wonderful walks with my family. I saw the morning sun shining on frozen puddles and frosted berries; I saw kingfishers darting amongst the reeds and perched on bare branches, watching the cold water of the lake; I saw seal pups playing in the grey waves of the Swale.
It’s winter here in Dubai too, of course. For the next few months it will be warm rather than boiling hot, and British tourists will be flocking here to escape ‘the weather’ and soak up their bit of winter sun. Sorry tourists, but I’ve got my fingers crossed for a few more grey, rainy days before this winter is out…
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