Had I not gone for a run at lunchtime today, I would have never realized what a wonderful day it was. From my desk by the window, it looked grisly. Thick flakes of city snow, more gray than white, tumbled down onto wet ground. The library, a box of dirty concrete topped with an extension of reflective glass that sits opposite the building I work in, seemed to hover, its appearance unsteadied by traces of fog and the beaten snowflakes. There was nothing visible beyond the library; the weather had swallowed it all. There was no sky, there were no trees, there was no London.
Already on the way in, in the morning, it had been gruesome. The air was frosty and heavy with pollution that didn't find its way out of the city. Over the last week or so, the temperature has rarely ventured above the freezing point of water. In the UK, this is called a cold spell. It spells doom for homeowners with poor insulation and for airports, which regularly capitulate in the face of meteorological inclemency.
For me, despite rickety windows and an apathetic boiler, the cold is less of a concern than the permacloud that hangs low over the city. The sun went down some time in December and hasn't come back out at all this year. Or maybe it has, but no one has seen it. The days have been drained of all color. There has even been fog, a return of that old London staple that was consigned to history and people's imagination when coal heating was phased out in the fifties. To use a metaphor that's so fitting it can't possibly be my own invention, the city has the exact color of depression.
London isn't really like this, never mind popular stereotypes. When I interviewed in England in the summer of 2004, I was amazed at how nice it was. Forget drizzle and clouds, it was sunny and warm and felt like summer. When I pointed this out to a prospective colleague over lunch he went on about the beneficial effects of global warming and insisted that the weather had improved dramatically over the previous ten years.
Joke or no joke, the increase in average temperature and number of sunny days were real enough to convince vintners to attempt the creation of champagne in the south of England. The climatic condition, they said, were much like they used to be the Champagne. But who can say whether it's the more favorable climate or a more serious approach to the task that has led to the emergence of rather drinkable English wines?
The effects of climate change, in any case, mustn't be trivialized. Much of it won't happen linearly but a rather chaotic way. Temperatures might increase steadily for a few years but at some point all hell will break loose and weather patterns without precedence will reign, outside the realm of prediction. Last year was a case in point. It started so dry that a drought was called in large parts of the country and a hosepipe ban enforced, but then it turned dramatically and ended as the second wettest year on record.
As always, the country had difficulties coping, and when the first hesitant flurries of the year were on the horizon, severe weather alerts went out. Obligingly, Heathrow all but shut down. But severity is relative – and it's not in the weather. The perceived severity is a function of the lack of preparation multiplied by the incompetence of the response. On a personal level, there's no bad weather either. There's only inappropriate clothing.
So when my colleague asked me if I were up for a run, I said yes and went to bundle up in onionskins of hi-tech fiber, grabbed my lobster gloves, and jogged towards the park with him. After half a loop there, we were faced with the ever-same decision: donut or pretzel? Are we just going round the park or are we inserting the extra loop around the Serpentine? Six kilometers or ten? It was an easy decision, on more than one level.
Most fundamentally, there's no point getting changed for six K. More philosophically, if you go out to suffer in the wet cold, there's no point shortchanging yourself. If you're going to be miserable, you might as well do it right. We hung a right and ran along the partly frozen pond while the snow beat into our faces. What a nice day for a run!