Reading Paul Evans’ Country Diary in the Guardian this morning in which he describes autumn leaves ‘fiery as metal blades in a blacksmith’s forge’, I was reminded that in recent posts I haven’t mentioned the extraordinary autumn we’ve been having this year. After an indifferent few months, summer burst upon us late, and from the last week of September through the entire month of October the weather was governed by a large area of high pressure that remained motionless over much of western Europe. Continue reading “Autumn 2015: mist, colour and unnatural warmth”
Sunset over Kenmare Road on 30 November
We’ve had some contrasting weather this week. After several days of calm, a storm swept in today, bringing an unusual storm surge to the coasts of Merseyside.
During the calm weather earlier this week, there were some beautiful sunsets. Terence Chan’s photo at the top of this post captures the sky over Kenmare Road on the afternoon of 30 November when the clouds looked like a pink patchwork quilt.
Two days later, the storm swept in, hitting Scotland and the east coast (where the storm surge was actually higher than the one in 1953) hardest. Even on the relatively sheltered Merseyside coasts, there were dramatic seas, as these photos reveal:
Crosby: no sign of Gormley’s iron men
Formby Point: the recently-constructed walkway took a hit
Liverpool: the Albert Dock gets a pounding
New Brighton saw the largest surge
New Brighton: Morrison’s car park
New Brighton: Morrison’s car park
These were the waves on the Mersey at Liverpool today: http://instagram.com/p/hikFiDgFWK/#
And this was West Kirkby:
- Merseyside hit by high winds and flooding: Liverpool Echo
We woke this morning to the sound of rain falling steadily for the first time in more than a month. The period of hot weather that has lasted since the beginning of the month (the longest spell of hot weather since 2006) continues for the time being, with today feeling especially humid. Walking the dog in Sefton Park this morning felt like being in a sauna, and last night at midnight the moon seemed to be shrouded in gauze, so pronounced was the humidity. Continue reading “Notes from the steam room”
Yesterday the first day of spring, today blizzards in a north-east wind. Winter hasn’t let go this year: we’ve been stuck with anticyclonic conditions for three weeks, and this has sucked in cold air from Scandinavia. For a while the weather was crisp, then it turned cold, damp and murky. Today, an Atlantic weather front pushing in has met that cold air from the north-east and, here on Merseyside, we’ve had heavy, wet snow swept along in blizzard conditions. Not what you expect in late March, least of all in Liverpool.
Yesterday the Guardian, in an article on the unseasonal weather, noted that
One hundred years ago, on the official first day of spring, the Anglo-Welsh poet and naturalist Edward Thomas set off from Clapham Common in London to cycle and walk to the Quantock Hills in Somerset. The record of his journey, called In Pursuit of Spring, became a nature-writing classic, telling of exuberant chiffchaffs and house martins, daffodils and cowslips in full flower and ‘honeysuckle in such profusion as I had never before seen’. Had Thomas taken the same route today, he might not have seen very much wildlife – and could well have frozen. Mist and fog, rain, a bitter north wind, and temperatures just above freezing are forecast for , the first “official” day of spring.
Certainly not much sign of honeysuckle around these parts, and the daffodils and crocus are only just starting to show. This time last year it was very different: a heatwave and barbecues in the park. But, as Edward Thomas was well aware, it’s not unusual for winter to hold on through March; he wrote a poem about it:
Now I know that Spring will come again,
Perhaps to-morrow: however late I’ve patience
After this night following on such a day.
While still my temples ached from the cold burning
Of hail and wind, and still the primroses
Torn by the hail were covered up in it,
The sun filled earth and heaven with a great light
And a tenderness, almost warmth, where the hail dripped,
As if the mighty sun wept tears of joy.
But ’twas too late for warmth. The sunset piled
Mountains on mountains of snow and ice in the west:
Somewhere among their folds the wind was lost,
And yet ’twas cold, and though I knew that Spring
Would come again, I knew it had not come,
That it was lost too in those mountains chill.
What did the thrushes know? Rain, snow, sleet, hail,
Had kept them quiet as the primroses.
They had but an hour to sing. On boughs they sang,
On gates, on ground; they sang while they changed perches
And while they fought, if they remembered to fight:
So earnest were they to pack into that hour
Their unwilling hoard of song before the moon
Grew brighter than the clouds. Then ’twas no time
For singing merely. So they could keep off silence
And night, they cared not what they sang or screamed;
Whether ’twas hoarse or sweet or fierce or soft;
And to me all was sweet: they could do no wrong.
Something they knew–I also, while they sang
And after. Not till night had half its stars
And never a cloud, was I aware of silence
Stained with all that hour’s songs, a silence
Saying that Spring returns, perhaps to-morrow.
I’ve remarked here before that I revere the Country Diary written by Paul Evans in the Guardian. Go here for the full text, but this is part of the entry he wrote yesterday:
Today is the vernal equinox: equal day, equal night, a moment of balance poised between the cold grey of winter and the green fire of spring.
Watching the budget on the news, I wait for George Osborne’s primavera moment, when zephyrs blow flowers through the halls of Westminster and birdsong drowns out the hectoring. Hope over experience, eh? He’s only going to frack it up so I switch off and walk outside where spring should be champing at the bit.
This time last year was sunny and warm, I saw butterflies and bees and at dusk bats flying under a strangely fat moon. What have they done with the spring? We had a day of it a fortnight ago and since then it’s been snow, hail, rain, fog. The ground is unyielding, greasy, sullen. Wallflowers and polyanthus are stunned by frost. A few sulky daffodils peer earthwards. Snowdrops are hanging on like a pillow burst of feathers from a peregrine kill, beautiful and pointless. […]
I stand under a dishwater sky, bone cold, cold as charity. Geese honk, hens cluck, small birds whistle without passion. The buds hold, tight-fisted, their little hopes. Between yesterday’s hail and tomorrow’s rain, the gutters run. I rummage through rattley hedges for that still point, the moment of balance where light and dark are equal, life and death cancel each other out. It’s a new beginning of sorts. Even though spring still feels as though it’s stuck up to its axles in mud, there is an urgency in the voices of birds. We agree.
It’s the birds I notice too on my morning dog walks through the park. The other day I was astonished when a pair of scuffling male blackbirds flew out of a shrubbery and continued their mid-air wing-flapping sorting out of the pecking order at shoulder height just an arm’s length in front of me; they only gave up and flew off after I had reached out an arm. There’s a song thrush that always singing loud and sweet in the same tree by the Palm House every morning, and a heron that stands, shoulders hunched like an old judge, staring at the stream. The nuthatch whose song I was pleased to identify last year is back in the same tree, making the same electronic, staccato call.
After this morning’s walk in the park with the dog, at breakfast we watched for some time as a fox poked around the back garden, sniffing at the fat balls hanging for the birds, and scrounging some fallen bird seed. The cold making for hunger, I expect. Yesterday there was a different fox on the back wall; that one had a tail like a broom: smooth for most of its length, but ending with a furry flourish.
Coming in mid-June, days like those we have experienced this week – with clear blue skies and temperatures pushing towards 30C – would be pleasurable but unexceptional; materialising as September turns to October, they have felt like a bonus, lifting the spirits and broadening smiles. The return of summer heat makes up for the rather disappointing summer we’ve had in the northwest of England (indeed, the mercury has risen higher in these last few days than on almost any other day this year). Temperatures peaked at 30C (86F) in Yorkshire on Saturday October 1, making it not only the hottest October 1 recorded, but the third hottest day of 2011. The previous October record of 29.4C (85F) was set in Cambridgeshire in 1985.
It’s not just the heat of the days; unusually for this time of year we have been able to sit outside until well after dark, enjoying the late evening warmth. I suspect that memories of this week, and especially 1 October 2011, will remain vivid for most of us – illuminated in a golden glow of nostalgia in the way that periods of hot weather in the past so often are, in personal memories as well as literature.
I’ll remember the silent cool of a walk in Childwall Woods, the view of Bleaklow from Bottoms reservoir and the astonishing sight of the towers of Manchester shimmering in the heat haze at the highest point of a walk along the river Etherow, from its beginnings in Derbyshire down to Marple where it joins the Goyt and becomes the Mersey. I’ll remember returning that evening and eating on the patio as darkness fell, watching a mackerel sky rushing in a southerly jet stream far above. I’ll remember a barbecue with old friends on the first afternoon of October, cows sheltering from the heat in the field beyond the pine, and a bit of guerilla gardening – planting an ash by the roadside on Gorsty Hill.
These are the days when birds come back,
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look.
These are the days when skies put on
The old, old sophistries of June, –
A blue and gold mistake.
Oh, fraud that cannot cheat the bee,
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief,
Till ranks of seeds their witness bear,
And softly through the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf!
Oh, sacrament of summer days,
Oh, last communion in the haze,
Permit a child to join,
Thy sacred emblems to partake,
Thy consecrated bread to break,
Taste thine immortal wine!
– Indian Summer, Emily Dickinson
As always, Paul Evans writes beautifully in his Country Diary in The Guardian today, recalling the magic and joy of those ‘big days’:
The big days burned themselves out. Startled by their own reflections, the days of burning sunshine, brilliant skies and hot still air, which somehow drifted here like fabulous but ephemeral creatures, turned and fled. Before they did, the heat built to a climate no one had felt this summer and certainly never known in October. People seemed possessed by a new spirit of holiday which rose against autumnal melancholy, played outdoors with children, walked with bounce and swagger, picnicked as rooks yelled into the dusk and roosted with the windows open. “If only we had more of this, if only … ”
Those days left behind them a morning of curious, silver-blue patterns like the wing marks of huge migrating butterflies in the sky and a diaphanous mist to veil the valleys. It was a strange leaving. The swallows had gone, the harvest was in, the season changed, yet some rogue dream of summer was left by those days …
Silence now, breeze in trees, leaves will fall.
The Daily Post today has a couple of great images of the electrical storm over Liverpool late on Friday evening. We hardly ever get thunderstorms in Liverpool, and I was puzzled about why we had one that evening. It hadn’t been an especially sunny day and certainly wasn’t hot: I always thought that lightning occurred when rising warm, moist air met colder air.
Nonetheless, for about an hour or so there were some impressive lightning flashes and peals of thunder – and some of the heaviest rain we’ve had for a long while.
The photo above was taken by Donovan Hyde from his apartment on the eighteenth floor of the Unity Building on Rumford Place. The one below, of lightning striking the Liver Building, was captured by Karl Scanlon.
Given that New York was subjected to its own storm this weekend – when hurricane Irene swept through – it seems appropriate to quote Northern Irish poet Derek Mahon who has a studio apartment in New York City. His poem ‘The Thunder Shower’ evokes the interwoven sounds, natural and human, as a storm breaks over the city streets:
A blink of lightning, then
a rumour, a grumble of white rain
growing in volume, rustling over the ground,
drenching the gravel in a wash of sound.
Drops tap like timpani or shine
like quavers on a line.
It rings on exposed tin,
a suite for water, wind and bin,
plinky Poulenc or strongly groaning Brahms’
rain-strings, a whole string section that describes
the very shapes of thought in warm
and spreading ripples. Soon
the whispering roar is a recital.
Jostling rain-crowds, clamorous and vital,
struggle in runnels through the afternoon.
The rhythm becomes a regular beat;
steam rises, body heat—
and now there’s city noise,
bits of recorded pop and rock,
the drums, the strident electronic shock,
a vast polyphony, the dense refrain
of wailing siren, truck and train
and incoherent cries.
All human life is there
in the unconfined, continuous crash
whose slow, diffused implosions gather up
car radios and alarms, the honk and beep,
and tiny voices in a crèche
piercing the muggy air.
Squalor and decadence,
the rackety global-franchise rush,
oil wars and water wars, the diatonic
crescendo of a cascading world economy
are audible in the hectic thrash
of this luxurious cadence.
The voice of Baal explodes,
raging and rumbling round the clouds,
frantic to crush the self-sufficient spaces
and re-impose his failed hegemony
in Canaan before moving on
to other simpler places.
At length the twining chords
run thin, a watery sun shines out,
the deluge slowly ceases, the guttural chant
subsides; a thrush sings, and discordant thirds
diminish like an exhausted concert
on the subdominant.
The angry downpour swarms
growling to far-flung fields and farms.
The drains are still alive with trickling water,
a few last drops drip from a broken gutter;
but the storm that created so much fuss
has lost interest in us.
Snow in late March 1963
Not much snow here today – though a ‘snow event’ in many other parts seems to have brought things sliding to a halt. It wasn’t like this in the old days – as recorded in this fantastic film from 1963.
Comprising train and track footage quickly shot just before a heavy winter’s snowfall was melting, the award-winning classic that emerged from the cutting-room compresses British Rail’s dedication to blizzard-battling into a thrilling eight-minute montage cut to music. Tough-as-boots workers struggling to keep the line clear are counterpointed with passengers’ buffet-car comforts.
In a mere half-dozen films released between 1959 and 1975, director Geoffrey Jones revealed himself as an outstanding talent, embracing industrial filmmaking as consistent with a personal style, blending movement and sound into a joyous, rhythmic whole. Brilliantly aided by Wolfgang Suschitzky’s shimmering camerawork, the Oscar-nominated ‘Snow’ is Jones’ masterpiece. It’s crisply invigorating enough to induce brief amnesia about our trains’ notorious inability to cope with the white stuff – then and now. (Patrick Russell)
More films from the BFI National Archive