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COMMENTARY

Don Paul: Reflections from a Buffalo Yankee in King Arthur's court

My wife and I just completed our first trip east of Nova Scotia to visit my younger daughter, who is temporarily assigned to London, and to tour parts of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

After a bit on the weather encountered, I’ll have some personal reflections.

When hot temperatures arrive, London gets about as hot as any place in Great Britain. Last Thursday, July 26th, was the hottest day of the summer. Here is the upper air chart for that day. It displays a huge, hot ridge of high pressure to the east, linked with the disastrous weather elsewhere in Europe, including the catastrophic fires northeast of Athens.

In London, it was merely hot, not disastrous (although premature heat-related mortality figures are not yet available). The official high reached 93 F/33 C on Thursday. Like other European cities, air conditioning is hard to come by in London, a city of more than 10 million. The “Tube” subways are mostly not air conditioned either.

This NY Times article about covers it.

I researched the topic of the lack of air conditioning in most of Europe before we left, assuming things had changed since 2003.

That was the year a massive, lengthy heat wave killed more than 70,000 Europeans, many in France and some in Britain. I’d assumed that disaster might have moved European nations and societies to move more aggressively toward providing air conditioning amidst a warming climate in which such heat waves are becoming more likely to occur. I was wrong.

Air conditioning remains rare.The magnificent British Museum was mostly insufferable. The Tube had measured temperatures of 37 and 38 C (close to 100 F). Mind you, the heat in London is not like that of our sunbelt, and doesn’t just go on and on. As I write this, it’s 64 F in London late in the evening — not exactly Houston. But the lack of adequate cooling in heat waves remains endemic in Europe.

Some personal reflections on London in our brief stopover days: Even with my wilted upper lip in the Tube, I saw many fashionable women and well-clothed men in dark blue suits who somehow did not melt as I did. I don’t know if they had some secret protective coating, and I have no idea how the ladies’ makeup did not melt away. But after all, these are people whose ancestors have survived far worse than a heat wave.

It also was gratifying to see newspapers everywhere. Those I leafed through were packed with locally generated articles, some authored by multiple reporters. People are reading, even in the sweaty Tube. London appears to have at least seven daily papers. Yes, they all have online editions, but the hard copies are still ubiquitous. And they are free at the airport, just as USA Today has been in many hotels.

London is as much a melting pot as any city on the globe, so I heard many unfamiliar languages mixed in with the many British accents, ranging from Cockney to John Cleese-esque. We did not meet a less than friendly chap or woman. Maybe we were just lucky. Yet I do remember stories from my dad about how great the Brits were to American GIs while they trained for the D-Day invasion, inviting them into their homes when unit commanders permitted.

Droll wit abounds, but the wit withered when London’s transportation authority announced last Thursday that all Tube trains will be air conditioned by "early" 2030.

London is a quieter city than New York; hardly a horn honk to be heard. These seem to be a patient people.

However, we were very disappointed to be doused in secondhand smoke outside. Smoking bans indoors are similar to ours, but the rate of smoking is much higher there, even in this well educated society.

On to Scotland we went, where native charm was everywhere, along with thousands of sheep and cows roaming freely in rolling green meadows, with cooler temperatures. We made it to gorgeous Loch Lomond. There was no Nessie but I thought I spied some edgy guppies on our boat ride. We stayed in wonderful Edinburgh for three days as a base of operations.

From there, we moved on to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. My wife chose to do the driving both in Scotland, where we had an automatic, and in Ireland, where we had a stick. The latter makes driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car even more challenging. For all its matchless beauty, Ireland has back roads which make your driveways look like an eight-lane interstate. I was too afraid to close my eyes, and my body has only just unclenched in the last 24 hours.

Seeing such sights as the Giants Causeway in far Northern Ireland, and the Cliffs of Moher in the west, along with Blarney Castle and its magnificent gardens was overwhelming at times.

My wife kissed the Blarney Stone, which seemed right. She has Irish heritage. My parents emigrated from Budapest and near Minsk, so it wasn’t my priority. Besides, I’ve already cornered the blarney market in my profession.

One very encouraging sign: We could not tell when we crossed over from Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland. There were no guards or signs along this boundary where there was so much bloody strife a few decades ago. Political progress seems hard to find these days, but we witnessed it here. After chatting with some natives and experiencing their warmth, I think I now understand why so many of us pretend to be Irish on St. Patrick's Day. But you'll be hearin' no brogue from me, laddies and lassies. It would be an assault on yer ears!

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