Belfast Telegraph

Spring is in the air but winds of change won’t stop blowing

By Kevin Myers

It is a popular myth that the Eskimo people have 50 words for snow. It's not true, apparently: they have just one, in much the same way that we have one word for our equivalent, namely rain.

But, of course, we have many other words to describe the effects of rain; downpour, deluge, torrents, cloudburst, shower, storm, monsoon, inundation, lashing, floods, cats and dogs, cataract.

We'll need all these words and more to describe the weather ahead.

We are just rounding the Cape of Good Hope and are heading into a thunderous squall of more weathers in a day than much of Africa will get in a year.

On Saturday, the first flush of primroses erupted on south-facing banks near to where I live, a golden announcement that spring has finally come.

The months from February to May are rather like adolescence; a tumult of meteorological uncertainty, when two different seasons, and many different weathers, co-exist within the same confused spotty landscape.

The climate simplicities of other places are denied us in this adolescence, trapped as we are on a meridian whose temperament rather resembles that of a chainsaw-wielding, slightly vacant-eyed customer in a supermarket in Texas.

He is there to give you your birthday present, though perhaps a little indirectly: either cheap firewood for life, or your own personal body-bag — but you're never quite sure which.

Yet for all my experience of the weather here, I am always taken in by each false spring: the sure mark of a simpleton.

It happened again last weekend. On Saturday, the first giddy scents of spring were in the air, as warming bacteria, emerging from their long winter's slumber, began the silent industry of metabolism, releasing the first sweet molecules of the organic gases, announcing the return of microscopic life.

The winter is over, I yodelled, and got out those tasteful summer shirts that look like a couple of macaws that have flown slap-bang into the Texas chainsaw.

Then night came, temperatures plummeted and we woke to landscape on which a varnishing of snow had settled, melted then frozen: white crispy glucose covered the land.

All growth had stopped and the early germs had fled down the bacterial fireman's pole to the warm sanctuary below, or were dead. Meanwhile, we humans were back in the woolly thermals, fending off the frostbite and the gangrene.

On a more prudently chosen address, you can confidently say that spring arrives on a certain date — March 1, say, or the vernal equinox, March 21; but not here, where hot winds coming up from Africa can meet wet gales coming from the mid-Atlantic, to encounter icy fronts rowing in their longboats from Iceland, with guttural Viking oaths ringing through the breeze.

Words like ‘spring' and ‘winter' have only marginal relevance at this time of year, since they occur in meteorological blinks, rather like the flash-photographers snapping Lee Harvey Oswald in an underground garage in Dallas. One moment alive. Next moment dead.

And, just as the Japanese or Dutch or French languages have (or so I was solemnly told by journalists of the appropriate nationality) no clearly equivalent words for sleet or smog, we have no proper terms for the seasonal hybrid that now waylays us.

Is it sprinter? Or is it wing? Possibly it is sumter or winmer, or sprall or even sumtumn: the season of no season and the season of them all.

Whatever it's called, this is probably our longest season, some four months of constant inconstancy: the promises of winter's end that usually come in mid-February are still battling to assert themselves in May.

Baffled swallows will swoop through blizzards: cuckoos in mittens, chattering from the trees, brrr-brrr. The snows depart: sun returns — tan time.

I once went sunbathing nakedly on one May Day — causing some political pandemonium, being at the time in the gardens of Leinster House, where I had an appointment with a certain lady TD: gel by the name of Markievicz, actually.

No sooner were we down to our pelts than we had to swap the Ambre Solaire for woollen bodices against the Arctic that had suddenly elbowed the Congo aside. Too late. She died of a chill, poor thing, and I buried her in a sanguinary-kiosk belonging to a mathematical invariable: that is to say, a constant's gore-booth, which now serves as a garden house.

No more May nudity for her.

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