‘Hateful is the dark blue sky, vaulted o’er the dark blue seas.’ Thus moaned Mr Tennyson’s lotus-eaters. They were the first tax evaders and what a miserable bunch they were!
Their cry has occasionally been taken up by their descendants, those British expatriates who sit all the year round by a swimming pool in the West Indies and yawn and yearn for a November fog. I cannot seriously believe that these sybarites long to bring upon themselves the miseries of bronchitis.
I have no idea whether the noun ‘season’ is related to the verb of the same name but it is certainly true that for most English people the arrival and departure of the four quarters of the year adds the only spice to their lives that they are ever likely to receive. We who have decided not to leave this blessed plot but instead to brazen out the lies we have written on our income tax returns, tend, if we think of ourselves as intellectuals, to inveigh in secret against the more unwelcome changes in our climate and to disparage those who talk about them in public.
We do wrong. Remarks about the unexpected warmth or coldness of the day are intended as the first tentative steps in a Platonic courtship.
The season which occupies our thoughts most obsessively and on which we lavish the greatest number of words is spring. This is partly because it is the receptacle of our more fervent hopes but also in some measure because it is the time of year when the weather is at its most wayward. At the end of February we are treated to a false spring. Dreams of a better life are wafted into our skulls on the mild breezes; even the flowering trees are taken in; they blossom. At the end of March we are plunged back into darkest winter; the blossoms die and our residual pessimism returns.
April is the cruellest month, breeding quarterly bills out of the dead land, mixing influenza with desire.
I personally take very little notice of the seasons. During the various seasonal festivities, such as Christmas, I try to go on as though nothing unpleasant had happened. Those of us who are happy have no need of jollification. My indifference to sudden changes in climatic conditions is not entirely due to my stoical nature; it is also an expression of my meanness. Women welcome the revolution of the year. Each season is a pretext for buying something new to wear. They rush from fur to wool to cotton with squeaks of delight. I resist this temptation partly in deference to my theories of the persistent image but also because of the severe limitations of my wardrobe. On 1 April I exchange my overcoat for a mackintosh. This I shed on 1 July and resume in October. When my raincoat wears out I shall simply delete from my vocabulary the words ‘spring’ and ‘autumn’. This will be cheaper than buying a new garment.
In spite of my reluctance to give way to the seasons of the year, I am aware of the uses to which capricious changes in the weather can be put. If there were none, not only would all conversation between strangers lapse into embarrassed silence but half the poetry in the English language would soon become as unintelligible as Chaucer. In particular we would become dead to the delight of the following…
Ha’g the Spri’g, hateful thi’g
bost idclebent tibe.
All through you, I’ve got the flu.
Fide another scribe.
If I could remember the author of this gem (which appeared some fifty years ago in a paper entitled ‘London Calling’) I would gladly name her.
Of course I do not wish to imply that all meteorological poems are worthy of remembrance. A line I would love to delete from our anthologies is, ‘If winter comes, can spring be far behind?’ The question is fatuous and the answer is ‘Yes’.
Quentin Crisp, Punch Magazine