This Side of the Pond – Aug. 2

By Sarah Pridgeon

Have I mentioned that one of my favorite things about you guys is your preoccupation with air conditioning? No, seriously, it is – here in America, for the first time in my life, my equilibrium is at a comfortable temperature when indoors.
Thanks to this weird and wonderful weather we’re experiencing, full of storms and clouds and sudden eruptions of sunshine (not to mention the microbursts, a thing I had never even heard of before a couple of weeks ago and am now very much living in fear of), you are getting a little taste right now of what summer is like back in Britain. Being an island nation has its advantages, but the water vapor is not one of them.
Whenever someone has mentioned to me recently that they’re not enjoying the muggy air, the same response has tumbled from my lips. “Ha! You think you know humidity?” my mouth crows, with or without permission from my brain. “This is nothing compared to REAL humidity.”
The weather back home is considerably higher in air humidity than our pleasant inland home. In winter, this causes the kind of cold that goes straight to your bones; in summer, it causes sweat to appear on parts of your body you didn’t know have sweat glands.
It doesn’t even need to be that hot. Anywhere above 70 degrees, even if the sky is grey and overcast, and you’re going to come home sticky.
Spare a thought, then, for the Brits experiencing record temperatures this summer – including the hottest day to ever attack our fair isle. Said Brits have spent the last few weeks sweltering through 100 degree days with humidity far beyond our own unusually stormy season.
It’s so bad that even the national cricket team of India cut short their warm-up cricket match because they’d warmed up more than they wanted to. As India is a country where heat is par for the course, you’d have thought they’d be doing better than the British.
London’s firefighters have apparently attended six times the number of large grass fires as they tackled during the whole of 2017 because ours is not a country that has ever needed to know what a fire ban is. The deputy commissioner and director of operations for London Fire Brigade responded with the most spectacularly British quote he could have dreamed up: the force is “fed up of politely asking people to take care”.
Nurses are fainting in the wards, social workers and community wardens have been placed on high alert to keep an eye on the most vulnerable and pet owners have been asked not to walk dogs during the hottest part of the day because several poor pups have scorched the skin from their paws on the pavement.
The temperatures on London Underground have resembled Hell itself. Thanks to the heat trapped in the tunnels, thousands of sweating bodies and no system of moving air aside from the tiny windows (which don’t do a single thing where there’s a delay and the train has to stop), commuters are sobbing their way home from work in moving ovens up to 110 degrees.
Transport For London made themselves a target for the pitchfork brigade when they attempted to cheer everyone up by assuring them plans are underway to introduce air conditioned trains. In 2030. It might have been wiser to just stay quiet.
And there’s the trouble, you see – no air conditioning to speak of. Our sense of design has always been inspired by rain and cold, not the kind of heat that would trouble a dragon.
I have now reached the stage at which I stare askance at anyone who doesn’t make use of air con during the summer. It has become inconceivable to me that a person would attempt to survive without it in the kind of heat Wyoming usually sees.
I forget that it’s only a few years since I was trying all sorts of hare-brained schemes just to get a breeze through my tiny London apartment, which only had a window at one end. My neighbors left me passive aggressive notes about propping the building door open, but frankly I would have issued gold-embossed invitations to burglars in exchange for a few moments of relief.
Before that, living in an apartment above a Chinese restaurant that only benefited in the winter months from the rising heat of the woks, we had no garden or balcony to work with. The tall buildings around us trapped enough heat one summer that our apartment reached temperatures in the 90s; eventually, I gave in and took up residence in the bathtub.
The numbers may not be so high as Wyoming’s, but the air moisture makes it seem hotter. There is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide when the thermometer begins to climb. Is it any wonder I’ve come to see air conditioning as my own personal refuge from the angry sun?