Sweltering

It is hotting up – even in the depths of my burrow.

A dear friend and I were whiling away our lunch-time comparing notes about the phases we went through reading books that reflected a certain sort of mood; a succession, perhaps, of slow-moving long books, or a spate of pacy thrillers. The choices often balance out our non-reading lives – slow and calm when the world is whizzing too fast, or thrills to shoot us out of stagnation. Sometimes it is a place that grabs us. There is a bookshop in London that organises its entire stock geographically. If you are having a Spanish binge you will find paella cookery books, biographies of Franco, maps of the Basque country, Lorca’s poetry, wildflowers of the Pyrenees, histories of the Armada, phrasebooks, all clustered together.

With me there is a very definite phase I go through in summer. You can imagine what it is like , having such a thick velvety pelt on sweltering days. When I am prostrate in the heat with wet socks tied around my paws and tea towels around my neck and forehead, I yearn for snow. I feel the poetry of cold-weather words like dreich and smirr and snell slide around on my tongue like ice-cubes. I seek out books that are set in the Arctic circle, or at the very least cold, wet places: Simenon’s Paris in winter, Cold War books, Russian epics. I don’t stop at books. I wear out needle after needle on the gramophone playing Schubert’s Winterreise. The walls of my burrow are covered with postcards of snowy landscapes.

It has been a cool summer so far, but tomorrow we head for 33C – or 92F on Uncle Ratty’s old thermometer. But this year I want to leave a bit of the bah humbug behind and collect pleasures that are particular to summer: washing woollies and splashing dripping cold water on myself, warm sunny sheets on drying days, the cool blast of cleaning out the fridge,
puzzles that I had thought perfect for hunkering down in winter are just as perfect for a hot afternoon inside my shady burrow – especially with a gin and lime and tonic and ice, and the lightness of Satie or Chopin on the gramophone. And I can daydream about Great Uncle Mole and Uncle Ratty and their mild English summers: the creak of deckchairs, battered old badminton rackets coming out of their presses, and a shuttlecock being idly thwacked.

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