Joeblade

Staying in for the summer

It seems that in England, summer has arrived in force, with not just days of warm weather ahead but rumours of entire weeks of it. This seems to happen every year — almost seasonally — and with it comes the inevitable telling off I receive that I am indoors and not outside enjoying the sun.

People seem surprised when I say I spent my sunny weekend, say, watching four Coen brother films in a row, or playing Super Mario Galaxy, or working on my website. But I like doing all those things. I don’t stop liking them just because the temperature outside is higher than 20°C. Wandering around in parks just becomes another thing I can do with my time — it’s not as if all these indoor activities were just tedious filler, something to fill my days with while waiting for that glorious moment when I could walk outside of my house in just a t-shirt and jeans and leave my electronics behind me.

What am I expected to do instead? I don’t have a family of my own to take out to, I don’t know, The London Eye, or to Regent’s Park for a Tesco sandwich picnic or a trip to the seaside or whatever it is families do in the sun. I don’t have dogs I can walk. My friends are scattered all over the country so I won’t be attending any impromptu barbeques and I’m not in Oxford any more so there certainly won’t be any punting. There’s really a limit on the things you can do as an anti-social single man who doesn’t enjoy museums or art galleries. Eventually you just have to go to the cinema, which is fine, because I like going to the cinema even more when everyone else is roasting in the sunlight.

The English have this — probably well-founded — attitude that sunlight is a finite and scarce resource, and that if you’re not out absorbing as much of it as you can, you’re wasting it. In this country it’s probably fair enough to think that, seeing as in a few weeks time the summer will have passed and we’ll be facing six months of grey drizzle, but still, I can happily enjoy the sunshine even when I can only see it through my living room window. I like a sunny flat; I like not having to have three layers on, or have the heating on, or having to worry about hot water bottles. I like that I’m successfully growing bonsai strawberries in my kitchen window.

It isn’t as if I avoid the sun completely; I’m not Darkman. I do usually spend some time in it, even when I’m not walking from one indoors to another. I’ll get told to go and take a book to a park and read, so I do, and what happens when I reach the park is I find the shadiest bench I can find, read for a bit and then get irritated by a nearby heatstricken, ice-cream coated infant, or some teens playing ‘music’ on their mobile phones, or a group of muscular young men in short haircuts playing with a frisbee or football. If that doesn’t drive me off then I’ll start fancying a coffee or needing the toilet and I leave and that’s the end of it. I’m just not built for serious, long-term, outdoor lazing. If I’ve been out in the sun for at least an hour then I’ll feel that my solar obligations have been more than fulfilled.

And I’m not one of these that wilt in the sun after 30 minutes; I don’t burn easily, I don’t find heat oppressive, I don’t suffer from hayfever and I don’t sweat any more than the average overweight IT professional. I just think warmth and sunlight are both simply other forms of weather, and I don’t really ever want to be out in any form of weather for an extended period, at least not without carefully staggered espresso bars and lavatories along my chosen path. It’s why I’ll never be a hiker, or a camper, or a wandering minstrel.

Avoiding the sun is also not without its advantages. The gaming, film-watching and general internet pottering are actually made even more enjoyable because everyone else in the surrounding flats is out doing all those things we’re supposed to be doing, leaving me with nothing more than Mario’s infuriatingly chirpy jumping noises. Plus, you know, there are suns in Mario Galaxy. That counts.

Also, as I write this in the recently mentioned Sable d’or, the place is practically empty. There’s me, there’s a quiet couple by the window and there’s a large Irish man chatting up one of the Polish waitresses milling around without much to do. There are none of the babies, teenage girls or other irritants I’ve come to expect. It’s peaceful and I don’t find my bile rising whenever somebody nearby declares to their partner that they really ought to buy some more sun-dried tomato oil, so perhaps my search for the perfect writing cafe was only ever a seasonal problem instead of a geographic one. What I’ll do in the winter, I have no idea; perhaps just migrate to the south of France and have done with it.

By Paul Haine, in