It looks increasingly likely that this will prove to be one of the driest Octobers since records began 300 years ago.
Actually, I am told that records really began 301 years ago, but they had such a wet October that year that the book in which the weather was recorded was washed away in floods. Over the years climate changes have certainly disrupted our conversations about the weather.
By October, about twenty years ago, we would already have been referring to brass monkeys, but we are now more likely to be saying: “Damn butterflies! They get everywhere.” Experts say it may be the third week in November before anyone walks into a saloon bar in rural Sussex and is greeted with the words: “Cold enough for you?”
Although records of the weather began a mere 300 years ago, records of conversations about the weather started much earlier. We know that in 1364 a monk in Chester was keeping A Book of Discourses About the Great Inclemency. In February 1366 he recorded Brother Stephen saying: “I doubt not, but that this spell of foul wet weather delighteth ducks.”
The records give us fascinating insights into life in this country during the Great Conversation Stopper of 1412. That was the year when the weather was utterly predictable; there were April showers, it was hot in August and it rained at Christmas.
As the year progressed, the people, with nothing to say to each other, became more and more discontented, until finally the good harvest was, so to speak, the last straw. An entirely silent mob marched on London to overthrow the king. They were stopped at Hounslow when the authorities sent out a body of weather forecasters who intercepted them and predicted that it would rain the next day. When the promised rain failed to appear, the mob dispersed and the people returned to their homes saying: “These forecasters never get it right. What do they know? Remember when they said the hurricane of 1403 would never happen?”
Happily for national harmony, the year 1416 turned out to be a complete mess. July was a wash-out and there were daffodils in November. It actually snowed on the opening day of the bear-baiting season. In the Record of Weather Conversations in the Parish of Okehampton in the County of Devon for that year, we read: “Mistress Martin sayeth that ye strange weather is caused by ye shooting of all those arrows through the air at the Battle of Agincourt last year. It was playing with nature.”
The first annual appearance of the expression “cold enough for you?” once occurred even later than November. It was said on 11th December in 1633 to one Edward Stockman, an apprentice manure grader, as he entered a tavern in Much Hadham on that date. Not much conversation followed this, as Mr Stockman then stabbed to death the person who had asked the question.
This was, in many ways, a shame, because the conditions on that date were ideal for somebody to say: “I would not send a dog out on a night like this.” One result of the stabbing was that this observation was not made until 1744 in Leicester. In 1802 the remark about not sending the dog out was made no fewer than 22,048 times in February alone. This was recorded in the fascinating volume, Repartee on the Subject of the Current Sleet.
According to the records of weather conversations, the Most Boring October Ever was in 1811 when, from the second day of the month to the 29th, without a break, at least 150 people in Rutland said: “Honestly, I don’t know what has happened to the seasons these day. You just don’t know where you are any more.”
I suppose one of the most dramatic years must have been 1866 when a gentleman in Pall Mall, in London, observed: “I should have known it was going to rain today; I got my coachman to wash and wax my barouche box this morning.” After that, the number of pages in the records, noting similar remarks, reached a thickness of four inches within two days.
It was thought that the Government might have to declare a state of emergency, then the weather suddenly turned fine and, in one day, no fewer than 40,000 people said: “I’ve just seen a round yellow object in the sky; I wonder what it can be.”