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Seasonal Adjustment

It had become 'The Long Winter', not in any official sense, but rather by the consensus of a million conversations over post office counters, pints of beer, school gates and supermarket checkouts. The people, having a firm sense of how seasons should begin, precisely how they should conduct themselves and, most importantly, when they should end, were of the unshakeable opinion that this particular winter was not playing by the rules.

After all, it had begun no less than three weeks and four days early, had been colder than any in living memory, and now had the temerity to have overrun by five weeks, two days and counting. It was perhaps reasonable that, in the common parlance at least, it had earned its title.

Red-faced and fingerless-gloved horticulturists fretted over bare flower stall stands. Farmers protested at yet more hardship for the crops, the lambs, the milk yield. And even small children grew weary of snow, longing for freedom from the tyranny of scarves, hats, mittens and thick welly socks, aching for the simplicity of kicking a ball across fresh green grass.

In a small village in the heart of the Cotswolds, residents gathered to discuss the issue in the store, the usual meeting place for matters of such great import. The shopkeeper, an elderly lady with tightly coiled hairdo and business-like rolled up sleeves, bustled around filling out orders, making the most of the opportunity to flog more stock to gossipers distracted from their usual fiscal prudence by the unseasonal weather.

'I don't remember what it is to be warm,' said one lady, so muffled beneath layers of overcoats and scarves it was almost impossible to see her.

'Our heating hasn't been off since October. I'm dreading the bill,' said another.

'Well, that's it, isn't it?' said a man waiting to pass a parcel over the small post office counter in the corner. Everyone turned to him, not understanding. 'It's the gas company, isn't it? It's all a conspiracy, I'm telling you. Those swines are making a fortune out of this.'

Everyone fell silent, each privately questioning the logic of the suggestion that the gas company might somehow be responsible for the appalling weather. As the conversation stalled, the shopkeeper glared at the man with the parcel and made as many sales as she could before the customers came to their senses.

But as is the way of things, the weather did eventually break. Meteorologists spoke of depressions, highs, lows and changing wind directions carrying the Jet Stream. The spring bulbs suddenly burst into life in a flurry of activity as though embarrassed by their own tardiness.

Children were divested of their scarves and hats and mittens, and the people emerged from the lumpen disguise of layered clothing, revealing self-conscious figures and exposing shocked pale skin to the warmth of the sunshine.

Water companies issued pleas to their customers to be careful with their use of precious supplies and warned of hosepipe bans and shortages. Groundsmen fussed over crisping cricket greens, and dogs hunted, panting and drooling, for any patch of shade, no matter how small.

The elderly shopkeeper bustled around filling out orders, once more making the most of the popularity of her store. If she had an opinion on the weather, she gave no sign. There was money to be made and a freezer to be stocked with ice cream and lollies.

'I can't remember what is to be cold,' said one lady, mopping her neck with a handkerchief and flapping the flimsy fabric of her short-sleeved blouse.

'We're thinking of getting air-conditioning installed,' said another.

All eyes turned to the man standing by the post office counter holding several parcels. Looking down, two brown legs were exposed beneath cargo shorts, his bare feet encumbered by nothing more than flip-flops. He shrugged and gave a cheeky grin.

'It's no good asking him,' said the shopkeeper, rolling her eyes. 'He sells picnic hampers. He's making a fortune out of this.'


© 2013 Kay Lawrence.


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