We live in troubling, dangerous and altogether too exciting times. There’s only one thing to do …
Let us shut our eyes,
And talk about the weather.
Yes, yes, let’s talk about the weather
– Pirates of Penzance, Gilbert and Sullivan (1879)
At the end of 2016, I went walking with a friend in Blenheim Park. It was freezing and foggy and I later wrote about it. At the same time, I was thinking about what I might do to develop as writer and about the concept of the writer’s notebook. Out of this, came the idea of writing about the weather on a daily basis.
It’s now the end of January and I’ve pretty much done it, despite briefly dropping the ball on a couple of occasions.
At the beginning of this exercise, someone asked whether I was going to collect information about the weather “like they did in the 18th century” (the 18th and 19th centuries being a golden age of high quality amateur data collection). The answer was resolutely “no”. This was to be a writerly project – with a focus on using words to capture the sights, sounds and feel of the weather and to ask questions about the human-weather interface, such as “would this be a good day to carry out a murder?”.
The process of observation has been fascinating – I’ve learned new words and started to understand just how much our lives are affected by the weather. It’s intruiging to realize how much effort we put into defending ourselves from it – whether developing materials, structures and strategies to keep ourselves warm, dry and even alive or creating carefully managed microclimates to keep us comfortable or preserve our food.
And, although it was definitely not scientific – any hard data was gleaned from online sources – it was interesting to see how scientific questions arose naturally out of the process of subjective observation. I started to think about how people might have been able to “measure” the weather without scientific instruments. How thick is the ice in that bucket? How quickly does the fence dry? Are my fingers cold down to the first, second or third joint? Is the cat sunbathing?
So was it successful? Yes, I think it was. I’ve managed to exercise my writing muscle – and my photography muscle – most days and maybe laid down some reserves of words which can be mined at some future date. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of trying to describe things and the joy of learning new words, exploring the rich language of weather and starting to become aware of the role of the weather in literature and art.
Can I keep going for an entire year? Watch this space.
P.S. I’ve done it as a single entry for the whole month, if you you have any comments about the layout – e.g. would it be better if it was split down into weekly chunks, please feel free to comment.