Great word. Was once a great month.
August was synonymous sultry days, hazy vistas and grass the colour of piss. In 2010, the piss remains... It's hard to believe that on June 12, 2010, the temperature on my patio was 12 degrees centigrade and that was like a high point. I've touched on this before, I know, but apparently, despite the blisteringly cold winter, spring and the poor start to the summer, this has been a drier year than 1976 so far. It hasn't really rained much. Britain is renowned for being a country that suffers two fine days and then a thunderstorm; it would be nice to see a thunderstorm... What we've had since January has been not a lot of precipitation and by the dazzling arrival of summer in the middle of June, the ground has already taken on that August appearance. Today, with rain in the air, the fields, grassy knolls and parks look scorched. Yellow is a colour of spring; this year, washed out creamy yellow is the colour of late summer.
Not that I'm complaining. Grass is almost indestructible (unless it's trying to grow in my garden) and it bounces back - it always does.
Since when were blackberries ripe at the end of July? Especially in a year when the brambles were at least 4 weeks behind because of the poor spring weather? In fact, the thing that concerns me about the British climate at the moment is that the growing season seems to have shortened, and noticeably since I've lived in a house with fruit trees in the garden.
The year we moved into this house, we had apples the size of my fist and we were still picking them in September. Last year, the biggest apples were half the size and the tree was devoid of fruit by August bank holiday. This year, quite amazingly, there are more apples on the tree than there has ever been. It is fairly buckling under the weight. The apples are smaller than they were last year.
We had smaller strawberries than ever before; only 3 apricots (after 22 last year) and the plums are all actually behind where they have been in previous years. The effects this summer has had on my garden have been ... enigmatic. I'll be lucky if I get a single dinner's worth of runner beans - black fly has decimated the plants; yet I'm digging up potatoes the size of kittens and we've frozen over 2 kilos of raspberries. Squirrels have stripped the hazelnut tree, despite it being early and the nuts unripe (we can sometimes get a pound of hazels from this tree) and we've got massive great peppers and an abundance of chillies, two things we annually fail to deliver. Yet my onions aren't much better than they were when the set went in. I haven't changed the way I look after my produce. I can't be disappointed, but I am confused.
August is also the month where, for some strange reason, nothing much happens. So, as a consequence we get 'the silly season'; a time when you can make the news for eating your own weight in frogs or climbing to the top of a slag heap in Wales. We always used to joke that a tin of beans falling of a shelf in Wisbech would make Look East during August, even if it didn't kill someone. "Mrs Beaton of Manor Drive, Wisbech, has a small bruise on her right foot, but was much better after a nice cup of tea and a bourbon. This is Mike Liggins, going quietly insane, for Look East..."
However, if you read a quality broadsheet like I profess to do, you get your own unique version of silly season. It's called their annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival Love-In. Well, actually it isn't officially called that, but perhaps it should be. The Guardian spends about 4 pages a day with news of this festival, which is huge, but isn't likely to attract more than a handful of Guardian readers traipsing all the way up to Scotland to see some shit play performed on top of a post box. And as a Guardian reader, I don't want to read a paper full of reviews, analysis and high definition photos of said play.
I had a great conversation today with a very nice lady, who I don't know the name of. We were talking about young people - kids - the ones under the age of worrying about going on the pill or finding a quiet corner with one of their dad's porn magazines. After a while, I came up with a description of today's kids - culture mongrels; and that is the best thing about the future, in my humble opinion.
Kids don't have the same embarrassment as adults do when they hear Don't Stop Believin' by Journey. They can listen to the Grease soundtrack with straight faces and can't understand that John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John were the epitome of uncool once upon a time. I recently met a 13 year old who had read Great Expectations THREE times. "Why?" I asked. "Because it's a great story!" Was his honest reply. And there was me thinking this kid was more likely to be farting about on Facebook or trying to steal someone's car. Dickens will continue to sell from bookshops and that sort of makes me feel a little warm and fuzzy.
I half expect Toni Basil's Mickey to be back in the charts in the next year, as soon as the kids hear it again. But this is the thing; because kids don't feel the need for the same street cred scoring system we grew up with, they can listen to whatever they want to and none of their peers are going to take the piss or deride it. If you like something that makes the over 40s cringe, then job done.
Hoodies in choirs? Already happened.
I can't not make a quick(ish) mention of the return of the England football team. Wednesday night's game saw a new look England team eventually get the better of a team ranked 55 places below them. It should have been Man U versus Gillingham, but despite an encouraging performance at times, they still made hard work of it. We need to accept the fact that we're not that good any more and we need to adapt to this like other crap teams. I sort of like the idea of having England footballers contractually obligated, like they are in cricket and rugby union. Pick your squad of 23 players at the start of the season and keep them together throughout international breaks, even if they aren't playing. Make them a team rather than 11 individuals, which is how we play at times. If a player's form really dips or is injured, relegate him back to club level only and bring in a new recruit. Keep consistency, get the team used to each other and we might be able to emulate Greece.
In case you missed the subtext in all the newspaper headlines, and TV and radio news coverage; it's simple - we're all doomed.
It certainly felt that way for me in the last week. Last Tuesday night, I hurt by back attempting to capture an escaped duck. My neighbours have covered the entire bottom of their garden in thick blue industrial polythene and covered it with wood chip. It's like dancing on a glacier.
The back was just about working again by the time of the Umbrella Fair at Northampton's Racecourse Park. We'd agreed to volunteer and help and we duly turned up and aided with the running of the very enjoyable day long festival of Northamptonianism (which is a completely made up word). Half an hour into the day and I had a chunk gouged out of my little finger by a retractable tent pole. Blood everywhere! Not the happiest of puppies as I trudged off to the ambulance for some First Aid.
I managed to get through Sunday and Monday without too much incident, but Tuesday morning I had an important meeting with my boss to review my successful project. I also had to let my other neighbour's guinea pigs out for the day, in their run. I wandered round to the house next door, walked down the garden, got to the hutches and was suddenly gripped by a jolting pain on my knee. I reached down, felt another searing pain and realised that I had some kind of dangerous insect down my trousers. There was nothing else I could do. I had to drop my jeans, in the middle of my neighbour's garden, and stop the wasp from really getting pissed off. Another jolt - the little fucker had stung me again. Down went the trousers, but the villain fell into the creases around the crotch, not before he managed to give me another sting, or possibly he bit me because I'd blunted his stinger after repeatedly hitting it against the fleshy inside of my leg. Eventually, I managed to flick the thing out of my jeans and onto the floor. I didn't even kill it, I was too concerned about the enormous lumps growing before my eyes on the inside of my right knee.
As many people at work said on hearing the story - I should be thankful it didn't get any higher up.
Just as I thought my bad luck - in threes usually - had finished; I was at work yesterday at a library in Kettering and as I opened a door, my finger rubbed against the sharpened edge of a not proud screw in the handle and tore a nice centimetre long cut on my index finger. I'm wondering if we bleed more the older we get?
Today, I spent all day at work wrapped in cotton wool being pushed around on a health and safety approved motorised trolley by my own personal guardian...
August is the now the month of dull weather and karmic retribution!