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By Jason Offutt
Author’s note: I recently spent three and a half weeks teaching in London. In recent weeks, I’ve been exploring what it was like living in that city.
Walking down London’s Cromwell Road on my first day in this ancient city (seriously. The Romans founded it between 43 and 50 A.D. My hometown’s only been around since 1854), the cold, overcast nearly June weather took me by surprise. It shouldn’t have; London weather is always like this in movies. Have you never seen “Mary Poppins?”
People wrapped in dark coats and the occasional scarf trudged by under the threat of rain, the sky a sheet of slate. Then, in less time than it took to walk the 12 minutes from my flat to an office building where I would start teaching, the sun broke through and I unzipped my jacket. Just as quickly, rain fell.
Preparing for the weather in London requires planning, guesswork and quite possibly a degree in What-The-Heck-ology.
“That’s London weather,” Meghan Lobdell, program services coordinator for CAPA International Education told me when I walked into her office, rain pelting the window. I was in London to teach; getting pneumonia, I guess, was secondary.
Today, my first day in a new country, was a day for exploration. Between the time my students and I left the office, walking between tall Victorian buildings on impossibly narrow streets, and reached a nearby Tube station (it’s what Londoners call the subway, and stations are all nearby), it started drizzling again.
We went to Borough Market (pronounced Burah), an outdoor food pavilion in the lee of Southwark Cathedral, the oldest cathedral building in London and once the gateway to the city. A couple of pubs are also in the lee of the cathedral, which isn’t surprising. Pubs here are in the lee of everything. What a great city.
The smell of sizzling meat hung in the air around the market, punctuated by the occasional pocket of sweetness around various vendors. Coconut pancakes, salted pork sliced directly from a hock, drunken cheese, and pastries dotted the booths crowded by people from various countries.
I gave two boys wearing Texas A&M hoodies thumbs up and greeted them with the traditional Aggie “Gig ’em.” I asked, and yes, they were from A&M.
The market is an eclectic mix of people, food, and smells, including the occasional waft of sewage. The infrastructure’s probably been around since the Romans. Give them a break. Pigeons, over friendly with people, pecked the ground for whatever dropped from paper plates.
Then the skies opened again.
“Is that hail?” an American-accented voice asked as a group of college girls walked by.
Why yes, it was. Small white pellets bounced off the tarp roofs of booths not under the protection of the overhead train bridge. Then heavy rain pounded the market.
By the time I got back to my flat, it was sunny again.
London weather, you’re schizophrenic; you need professional help.
Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.