Aberdeenshire was warmer than Rome this week. 18 degrees was recorded, breaking a record of 17 degrees, set in Victorian times in that part of the world, so let’s not immediately assume that global warming is to blame. I suspect though that this February will prove the warmest in UK history. It’s the benignity (spell check didn’t pull me up on this) and pleasantness which is the most striking. February is often grey, often cold but this month it feels positively Mediterranean in London. Sunshine, blue skies and no wind. It is slightly disconcerting. The internal body clock senses that something is not quite right and the birds will feel the same. Although they have a biological clock that uses daylight hours to determine the season, the length of this mild spell must be tricky for them to understand. The garden is relatively quiet, the robin is ever present, and the other usual suspects but it’s all rather peaceful. A solitary bumble bee appeared yesterday but there’s nothing pollinating out there so it flew off, clearly confused. As for the birds, I assume they don’t need so much access to the food that is put out for them or maybe they’re just chilling. Either way they must be in shock at how trouble-free this winter seems to be.
Thirty-three years ago, February 1986, the birds, wildlife and people of Britain were succumbing to a different type of shock. A blocked month when the winds came entirely from Siberia, essentially freezing us solid. We like to call it “the beast from the East” these days as we’re very fond of our set phrases, presumably due to collective failing memory as technology further reduces our need to actually use our memories, or brains for that matter. This weather event was a particularly extraordinary one for the UK, as our winds come predominantly from the Atlantic. We do at times feel the chill of easterly winds but for an entire month is almost unheard of. It is one that I’m too young to remember, I’m afraid, except seeing an icicle under a bridge after school one day. Almost an entire month of freezing temperatures would have had a dramatic effect on wildlife though nature usually finds a way of recovering.
Quite what will happen this year if, as claimed, March stays mild too, is harder to predict. A cold spell in late March or April, which often occurs, could be damaging if the birds ignore their biological clocks and start breeding early. It is a strange thing as aesthetically it is undeniably pleasant. What’s not to like about this mild spring like weather? It just feels a bit more normal when it happens in mid-march. Bees appear, days are longer, the sun a little bit warmer. Nature is beginning to wake up. When it occurs a month early I can’t quite relax. Maybe I should just move to the Mediterranean?
One further thing about that month of February 1986 was my introduction to the joys of the five nations rugby tournament as it was then. More of a re-introduction as had I watched it before on occasion and remember Scotland winning the Grand Slam in 1984. However, on a Saturday afternoon in that month, my football game must have been cancelled due to the weather as I found myself watching Wales v Scotland at Cardiff Arms Park on the TV. I still remember the excitement as Scotland seemed to scored try after try and still the bloody Welsh beat us. With a penalty from inside the Welsh half by a guy called Paul Thorburn. “Whoof, what a belt he’s given it” screamed the late great Bill McLaren. Rugby was the loser that days as Welsh penalties essentially won the game but never mind, it prepared me well for the next thirty years. Scottish rugby flatters to deceive much of the time, sometimes it just deceives. And these days, finally, we have some serious world class talent; Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg etc. and they’re out injured. Quelle deception, as the French say.
Still it never stops the excitement of this time of year. We play the French tomorrow in Paris. We haven’t beaten them over there since 1999. I was in Paris that day. I lived there at the time. I had two tickets for the game and I didn’t go for reasons that I will explain. I suspect my friend Ewan whom I was going with has never forgiven me as we tore the French apart that day. We actually watched it in a Scottish pub I frequented at the time in the centre of Paris. ‘The Auld Alliance’. It may still be there. I don’t go there now if I find myself in Paris, primarily because I like to pretend to be French and also prefer to avoid being asked what football team I support. You can take a Scot out of Scotland…
There were about eight of us Scottish Francophiles that day – April 1999, a warm spring day - friends from university who had gathered and one honorary Scots Frenchman, Erwan. Seemed wrong for Ewan - not Erwan, stay with me - and I to go and leave them there so I sold the tickets and bought us all some exorbitantly priced beers. We had a ball. Five tries. Champagne rugby. Hasn’t been much Champagne for us in Paris since. Tomorrow we’ll see, the French are a bit of a car crash these days, a very large, heavy beast of a car with high specification but driven by a blind person. We’re more like rabbits in headlights but with the prancing skills of a deer. We’ll see. Either way, I can’t wait.