I'm going on a girly break in Cornwall next week and am in a fashion quandary.
I don't want to freeze to death but dressing in wintry clothes is depressing on a summer holiday.
Jane, by email
What to do? Jane, it seems to me that you – as so many correspondents to this column do – answered your own query in the letter. Yes, dressing in wintry clothes on a summer break is depressing. But you know what is even more depressing? Freezing to death.
Look, you would probably get a different answer if you wrote to one of the myriad British journalists around, but I'm going to give you some straight talkin' American advice here. There are many things I love about Britain: the national obsession with chocolate; the existence of Speaker's Corner; the fact that newspapers run front page stories about the health of the Queen's corgis.
But one thing I do not love and will never understand is the sense of pride some Britons take in being deliberately uncomfortable. You know, the ones who swim in the sea in November in the rain. The ones who insist on going on walks in lashing storms. The ones who seem to think they're residing on some kind of moral high ground by not turning on the heat until December, when all they're really residing on is a pile of their own smugness, which is all they have to heat their frostbitten bones.
I fully concur that Americans tend to take the whole "personal comfort" thing too far, with their overheated apartments and icy cold air conditioners, their giant cars that they drive 50 yards to go to the gym, and their insanely large portions of food. But really, there is a middle way, and seeing as "middle way" goes against every grain of American ethos (over there you're either a raging Muslim socialist or a swivel-eyed rightwing shock jock), then it is up to modern Brits such as yourself, Jane, to find it. There is nothing superior about making yourself uncomfortable. Rather, it is the person who feels genuinely at ease who should be the most commended, and that person is living in neither an unheated nor an overheated house.
Contrary to common British belief, you cannot bring on warm weather by dressing for it. I appreciate that it appears to be the law in this land that the merest peep of sunshine obligates every British man to take off his top immediately and parade around whatever park, sports ground or pavement is in closest proximity. But that, in my opinion, is neither a good thing nor a helpful thing. Men baring their chests not only won't hasten the sun along, but will in fact probably drive it behind the clouds to spare the sun's poor eyes.
Now you, Jane, I'm sure, have no intention to stroll around Padstow with a bare chest. Rather, you doubtless have an adorable summery wardrobe at home full of nautical tops, cute shorts, pretty summer dresses and rope-detail sandals that you are craving to sport, because they make you happy. But the reason these clothes make you happy is not because of the clothes themselves, but because they are meant to be sported in warm weather. Without that crucial factor, well, you may as well be eating sandy sandwiches on a rainswept beach. You cannot bend the weather to your will, however strong your will.
For whatever reason, you and I live in a northern country with northern weather. Doubtless, you – like I – are feeling a bit baffled by this weather of late, your head full of memories of long and lovely British summers in years that do not seem so long ago, and you wonder why such summers seem as extinct as Jason Donovan's career.
I'll leave it to my colleagues on the science desk to explain what the bejeezus has happened to the British summer, but the sad truth is, this summer does not look like it is going to be one of those summers. I appreciate that it will feel a little painful to relinquish your image of your holiday in Cornwall as you pack, leaving behind the cute shorts and bringing instead wellingtons and woollens, but let me tell you: the only thing worse than a washed-out summer is being physically uncomfortable in a washed-out summer. It just isn't worth it.
So take your warm clothes on this holiday and then save up over the summer and try to grab a quick, cheapo weekend break in Spain or somewhere similar later in the year, and wear your rope sandals to your heart's content there. This is the modern British way.
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