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29 May 2023

All it takes to transform me is the warmth of the first rays of the summer sun

I am going to put my nose in lilac and honeysuckle and roses and be generally unbearable with luxuriousness.

By Hannah Rose Woods

Everything is fine. I had thought we were all profoundly cursed for a moment, but then the sun came out and now we can completely recreate ourselves. It was just a bad spring. And it’s barely rememberable, now the days are getting longer like excess forgiveness, and I am forgiven my habits and look forward to three straight months of sybaritic pleasure.

I’m so easily pleased by the world becoming hospitable. Cow parsley, wet-grass mornings, very green trees. Horse chestnut flowers, Constable clouds and cloudless skies. Soft breezes, distant lawnmowers, the whirr of swallow song like radio interference. Drunken bumblebees staggering in and out of flowers.

I am going to sit on lawns and drink iced coffees and iced rosé. I am going to put my nose in lilac and honeysuckle and roses and be generally unbearable with luxuriousness. I’m going to finish work late and still be somehow, impossibly gifted with an hour or more of warmth and daylight. I look forward to al fresco dinners, petites bières en terrasse, the clink of cutlery and glass and table chatter in weighted evening air, and walking home afterwards past walls heated to the temperature of skin.

I’ll never understand why English people feel the need to tag on a little apology for weather-related conversation – as if to say, look at us, playing to stereotype again. As if it’s not the significant context for everything else that’s happening. The other day, I was in a supermarket car park and looked up from a particularly fraught bit of reverse manoeuvring to find the driver who had been waiting for me smiling and giving me the thumbs up for parking. Tell me that’s not the behaviour of someone glazed under a windscreen after months of damp and grey, warming themselves like a cat in a pool of sunlight.

“And one other thing: don’t ask me about the weather,” declares the narrator of Julian Barnes’ novel The Only Story. “I don’t much remember what the weather has been like in my life… Nothing significant in my life ever happened during, let alone because of, weather.” I think about these lines often, because I cannot imagine what that could feel like. I’m either a hostage to the weather or its accomplice.

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When summer arrives, I feel like Leo in LP Hartley’s The Go-Between, set in the record-breaking summer of 1900 – in league with the heat. “In the heat, the commonest objects changed their nature,” he says. “Walls, trees, the very ground one trod on, instead of being cool were warm to the touch: and the sense of touch is the most transfiguring of all the senses… One felt another person, one was another person.”

[See also: A garden should primarily be for enjoyment]

Isn’t it strange, sometimes, how difficult it is to remember what it feels like to inhabit anything other than the weather we are in? A couple of weeks ago, when it would not stop raining, I kept having dramatic thoughts about 1816, the “year without a summer”, when “Morn came and went – and came, and brought no day”, according to Lord Byron, who was shivering near Lake Geneva with Mary Shelley in weather disconcerting enough to inspire Frankenstein. It felt genuinely interminable, our non-spring, with the added disappointment of not being inspired to write Frankenstein. It’s fine now, though. The sun came out for a bit and transfigured everything.

It has been almost a year, since I bought my first houseplants and was overtaken by an urge for more and more greenery. By the time I wrote about it in these pages in November, I had amassed 51. I’ve just done a quick headcount – I’m at 73.

The ones that have made it through to spring have grown beyond reason. I swear I can see them growing, after months of dormancy, from one day to the next. Bees hurtle themselves against my windows in their attempts to pollinate. At night, as I fall asleep, I half-dream of the plants in my bedroom growing higher, higher, until they form a canopy above my head.

I’ve started working at my dining table, because the plants on my desk are blooming so recklessly that they’re claiming my workspace, and I don’t have the heart to relocate them.

I read recently that it has been scientifically proven that indoor plants give us cognitive benefits, enhancing our productivity and attention span. I’m not sure they’ve factored in how much time I spend just staring at mine.

[See also: Chelsea Flower Show’s truly unforgettable garden]

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This article appears in the 31 May 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Rise of Greedflation