Monday, November 28, 2005

The First Ten Weeks: part three

A few more items to add to the list of observations about life in Cambridge:

● The weather here is unusually mercurial, more than anywhere I have ever lived. In Chicago we are fond of joking 'If you don't like the weather, wait a minute'. Here it isn't a joke: it's true. Take yesterday (November 26th) as an example: it rained seven times. Mind you, that doesn't mean that it was gloomy and overcast all day and somehow managed to summon up the energy to spit seven times. No -- seven separate times entire rain fronts plowed into Cambridge, and seven separate times they blew through within a half hour and left a very pleasant sunny day in their wake (only to be ruined by the next front to blow through.)

Or take last Thursday: I rode to a lecture in the morning in a foreboding gloom; came out around lunchtime in full, warm sun; and rode into town for a few errands, only to ride home (after about an hour) in soaking rain and gale-force winds, which subsided only when I arrived back at the flat. As one denizen of Cambridge once put it, the weather here is predictably unpredictable. I'll second that.

● Another weather-related observation has to do with clothing. I tend to run a bit warmer than many, and so living in America, I tended not to wear sweaters. It's not that I didn't like them; I had a number, and I seemed to enjoy buying them. But, frankly, even in winter, I was still warm. We kept the house reasonably warm, I rode around in a warm car (or only made brief trips in a cold one), and I worked in a warm office. What did I need a sweater for? Not so, here. Now I routinely wear four to five layers when I am going outside, one of them usually a sweater of some kind. The major reason for this, of course, is that I am riding a bicycle or walking rather than driving (the temperatures are down in the 30s to 40s these days). But I think that many English buildings are just kept cooler. This might be partly the natural thermostats of British people (they may be better adjusted to cooler temperatures); it may be partly due to large, drafty, and poorly heated buildings; it may be partly due to English cultural notions about the value of fresh air (they love it, even during winter -- I can't say they're wrong). I can only speculate on the causes, but the upshot is that I get to wear all of those great sweaters I've had for so long and only worn on rare occasions: nothing wrong with that.

● My final observation for now has to do with the windows. You may have heard that they don't have double-glazed windows. That is true on some older buildings, but most everything new or recently remodelled has double-glazing. What you might not have heard is that the English don't have screens on their windows: this is absolutely true, no matter what age the building is (which also means that double-sashes are unheard of). They don't need screens because there are no insects here -- or more precisely, there are no insects that bite or that you need to fear. (There are a few bugs that are attracted to the light and may come in at night, but they are big and comical-looking; Alex call them her 'friends'. You can easily shoo them back outside.) Even the bees are very docile here. What a wonderful place, that even the bugs are gentle enough that you need not fear them, and can just leave your window propped open all night without a worry.

More anon.


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