Just in case the English language were to be considered to have come up a trifle short lexically, I have invented my own word to launch the title. I have decided that the antonym for outstanding must be instanding – I rejected outsitting as ugly and outlying is already in use.
In fact, I am being overly harsh to the fusion reaction in question: the churning maelstrom that constitutes our local star. Without its efforts (though I’d question whether the unalive can be considered to be putting in effort), my own paltry existence would not be possible. Indeed, without the work of its predecessors over some thirteen (and a chunk of change) billion years, many of the elements would not exist which have been brought together in the occasionally harmonious conjunction I like to call my body. So, I think I can admit that I’m pleased that stellar fusion is a part of my universe – though if you want me to be impressed, you will have to move beyond slave-like adherence to the laws of physics (which, by definition I think, is impossible). Shania Twain and I are as one in this (and probably only this) one area.
My objection is to the annoying tilting of my life towards the great celestial gasbag which occurs at this time of the year. In common, I assume, with many others, I find myself, during the long dark months of winter, eagerly anticipating the return of summer. Why? I’ve seen fifty examples of summer by now – surely, given such an extensive catalogue of disappointment to draw from, I should have preserved some memories to insulate me against such expectations? Apparently not.
Readers who share these soggy isles with the author may expect me to denounce the frequent rain and disappointingly low temperatures: instead, and ever the contrarian, I shall object to those summery conditions which are assumed to be a cause of universal delight. I speak, of course, of that over-praised combination of a peerless blue sky, strong sunshine and temperatures rising well above 20ºC.
I don’t object to the vault of heaven being suffused by a universally cerulean hue, but one can fairly quickly have too much of a good thing and better people than I (Gavin Pretor-Pinney for one) have explained the vital interest that clouds can bring to the sky. I could point to the fact that aircraft contrails rarely offer the imagination the fecund raw material provided by a single healthy puff of cumulus. Or we could consider the magical beauty of a sun-illumined land- or cityscape “popping” against the backdrop of threatening charcoal storm clouds. As my final example in support of our unfairly maligned vaporous friends, just think of the glorious canvas they provide to the long-wavelengthed palette of the sun as its light encounters the horizon.
I have nothing against sunshine when its photons catch me with a suitably glancing blow. For three seasons of the year, the over-excited ultraviolet rays (whether A or B) cast out by the sun are attenuated by a hefty thickness of atmosphere. As a result, my ravaged epidermis and I can go outside without fear of further damage or precipitating uncontrolled cellular reproduction. However, during the summer I am forced to coat any exposed flesh with greasy, titanium dioxide based gunk to avoid providing some free marketing for Messrs Farrow and Ball and the sort of wall-colouring they would recommend for rectory or “eating room” (their rather sinister words, not mine). Use of this gunk is not without expense and it is inevitably transferred to my clothing and certainly encourages me to perspire more vigorously: a triple whammy of unwanted outcomes.
This brings me to the temperature itself. As I have aged (it seemed the best available option), I find that life is at its best when the mercury is resting somewhere in the sixties, as defined by Mr Fahrenheit. It can peep into the low seventies (just for a quick look, but no loitering), but anything above that seems to encourage my fellow bipeds to expose excessive swathes of their flesh (and sight of such flesh rarely rewards the viewer). It also places severe restrictions on my own clothing choices, if I am to minimise my discomfort, and usually leads to a shortage of pockets. In this country, any warmth above my optimum level seems to be accompanied by excessive humidity, further increasing the discomfort. To strengthen my case still more, I would note that very little of the built or transport infrastructure of this country seems to have been designed or constructed with such warmth in mind – as with snow, it seems to come as a dreadful shock every time. I’m not sure precisely how much DNA we share with the humble (and probably apocryphal) goldfish but, when it comes to engrammatic efficacy, it may be more than is commonly realised.
The one key thing in summer’s favour is the wealth of tasty local fruit and vegetables that it grants: either directly or by putting in the preparatory work for an autumn harvest. However, I’m fairly sure this bounty could still be delivered with a few more clouds and less exuberant use of temperature. For this writer, spring and autumn are the pick of the seasons: summer with its myriad flaws trails in a very distant third or fourth. With a little luck, the mere creation of this post will spare me (and possibly you, dear reader) from fostering unrealistic hopes (how sad is it that so many hopes are abandoned by their parents?) in the short, chilly days of the coming winter. It is as well to be prepared as the current scientific consensus suggests that summers (as rated by me) will be growing worse, rather than better, as the century ages (and us along with it). Time to learn some Norwegian?