To me, the term bank holiday always had a slightly absurd ring to it. I understand Christmas and Easter, First of May and Independence Day. Even Pioneer Day. Why not commemorate the arrival of the first settlers in Utah, celebrate the delusion that turned a desert valley green? But what is is about banks? What have they done to deserve not just one but three holidays? There's one early in May, a second one late in May and finally one at the end of August. That one's popularly known as late summer bank holiday.
I'm sitting on a bus into town, on the upper deck but not in the first row. There's room, but there's no point. There's nothing to see. Water washes down the front window in a flood, and only the driver downstairs has wipers. It is August, but it doesn't feel like summer.
Over the last couple of weeks, I started listening to 2fm, an Irish pop station. My stay in the Republic a few weeks ago got me into it. It was the station we were listening to in the car. Back in in London I started listening to it in the hope of catching the Irish farmers' road safety appeal again, to give my travel piece the authenticity that comes with getting detail right. When this wasn't happening, I stuck around for the voices. The Irish have their own way of speaking English, and it's very pleasing to my ears. There's also a dash of disconnect that gives drab programs spice. Words and meaning have different trajectories sometimes. There was talk about the Rose of Tralee and much time spent on the hurling scores. It was all done in flawless English, but I could make neither heads nor tails. It's like a different country.
As I'm getting closer to town, the bus gets fuller, rescuing the unprepared from shelters by the road. It's still raining. The queues into the Natural History Museum are long and frayed like old rope. The weather's wearing good manners thin. It looks as if the most determined will get to see the dinosaurs first.
Last week there was a giveaway on 2fm that didn't seem quite right. If you've turned the heat on this week, the radio host tempted, give us a call and tell us the story. You could win a full tank of heating oil. This was in August. A woman called and said her living room was arctic. It wasn't a joke. Two days ago, Radio 4 reported Northern Ireland's overnight low with considerable incredulity. It was -2°C.
The bus's side windows remain largely clear. Outside, tourists scuttle through the dreariness of a day with no hope. Traffic is denser than it should be on a public holiday. The driver is not in a good mood. He's honking his way through the jam with considerable irritation.
The seats in the front row are all taken now. You can't visit London and not sit up front at least once. It's part of the experience. I hear American, Spanish and French voices. The paths in Hyde Park glisten. A few people walk colorful umbrellas. Speakers' Corners is abandoned. This is not a day to be outside. I leave the bus at Oxford St. The big Metro Bank, a tasteless aggregation of bright red and equally bright blue, is doing good business.