Scottish Life Magazine
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Notes from the Isles

An Island Journal by Kate Francis

Winter came early this year, which was a godsend for those of us who find small talk at endless pre-Christmas gatherings a strain. I know that the British are gently derided by non-Brits as being totally obsessed by the weather, which takes us by surprise every year and which doesn't begin to compare in intensity with that of most other countries. In Scotland, this meteorological preoccupation is exemplified by the practice of substituting weather reports for conventional greetings such as "good morning."

"A bit damp, today," we say to each other as we trudge along muddy tracks tugging reluctant hounds through torrents of rain. Or, "Breezy!" as we crawl almost horizontal into the jaws of a blizzard. "Warm today" is the acme of effusion, when the sun is so hot that some of us have dared to strip down to a mere tee shirt and even, occasionally, shorts. These are standard exchanges with strangers or dog-walk acquaintances; strictly no gushing. (I once made the mistake of exclaiming, "Oh, what a perfectly glorious day!" -- to be met by a stunned silence.) When we pass a friend or a neighbour and pause for a proper crack (chat), the weather is discussed in detail. "Is this going to last?" we ask each other anxiously. "They say it'll be Force 12/freeze again/snow again by tonight." Usually the garden is incorporated into the formula: "Do you think I should be bringing in my geraniums yet?" And wildlife: "How are you coping with keeping the bird-table/cattle trough unfrozen?" "Are you managing to get out to the sheep?" And, of course, there are memories to swap: "Do you remember that summer when everything in the garden died and there was a hose pipe ban?" Or, vicariously: "I recall my grandmother telling me of the time the roof blew off and landed in the Firth and they all had to shelter in the byre...."

So now, here we are, barely into December, and already enough weather stories to last us a lifetime.

The full text of this column is available in the Spring 2011 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on Gunsgreen House, A Smuggler's Lair, by Shan Ross.

Click here to preview our feature article on Scotland's Emotive Ruins by Richenda Miers.

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