Mostly cloudy

In times before the Met Office adopted the Celsius measurements, seventy was thought to be a good temperature. Perhaps there was a subconscious association between the Fahrenheit readings and percentages – if temperatures rose to the eighties or nineties, we felt they were approaching the maximum point they could be.

Of course, seventy degrees Fahrenheit would now be considered a very modest temperature, a mere twenty-one degrees Celsius, pleasant, but certainly not hot.

There were many days when seventy was not reached, when the mid-sixties were the best that might be expected. Grey skies seemed more common than blue. Banks of cloud would build, day upon day the sky would become heavier, but sometimes the rain did not come.

Two summers spent in the iris fields of Kelway’s Nurseries meant there were many hours spent in mostly cloudy weather. There would be afternoons when, feeling tired by the day’s work, I would look up at the grey skies in the hope of a fall of rain. No matter how overcast the day, I do not remember a single afternoon where we had to return to the buildings to shelter from rain.

It was the summer of 1976 that brought a focus upon temperatures. Mostly cloudy had been the norm for most years, but in 1976 came week upon week upon week of hot and dry weather. Each day our copy of the Daily Mail would be delivered and I would turn to the weather page to see what had happened around the country the previous day. One day, I remember, the lowest temperature in the country had been recorded at Tummel Bridge in Tayside, Scotland, while the rest of the country was basking in warmth, Tummel Bridge had recorded an overnight low of minus four degrees.

Perhaps it was living in a country where, for most of the time, the weather was mostly cloudy that prompted our inconsistency in the scales we used.

When the temperature was going up and we wanted to make the most of the heat, we talked in Fahrenheit: eight-two degrees sounds much more impressive than its Celsius equivalent of twenty-eight degrees. However, Fahrenheit was undramatic when the temperature was going down: who would talk about twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit when minus four degrees Celsius sounded much more worthy of note. To be honest, there were probably not many people who would even have been certain what freezing point was on the Fahrenheit scale.

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