The other day I was wearing my winter coat buttoned up to my neck when I walked past a girl in orange fake tan, a vest and flip-flops. We gave each other a look which said, “Seriously?”.
Indeed, the thing that has most publicly betrayed my recent expat status in the last few weeks has been my attachment to my coat while other Brits strip off, desperately keen to use their summer clothes for whatever limited period of availability there may be.
So while newspapers have screamed about heat waves, I’ve been the one walking around in at least two extra layers.
I didn’t find the recent spell of warmth hot. Hot to me is now 40 degree heat and 80 percent humidity.
Hot is having to have rugby training drills explained indoors in the air conditioning before going outdoors to complete them to save people from standing in the heat and running the risk of hyperthermia.
Hot is having to wait inside in the air conditioning while you sacrifice someone to man the barbecue outside.
Hot is leaving your office at 10pm at night and being hit by a mist of delicious warm, clammy air as you hear the cicadas clattering and start working out how soon you can locate a glass of gin and tonic to enjoy outside.
A friend who moved to England after spending his early childhood in Hong Kong told me that he needed a hot water bottle every night for his first year.
I moved back in November and a lot of people said, “What a shame you’re arriving back in the winter”. It may have seemed a bad time, but if you are moving back from China I can’t recommend it enough.
For a start, it didn’t feel like Britain really had a winter now that I’m used to what Shanghai gets thrown at it- temperatures around 0 degrees and humidity which makes it feel much colder. It doesn’t really feel like we get weather here at all to be honest now, just middling clement temperatures with the odd bit of extra drizzle or extra sun here and there.
It doesn’t even rain properly. I asked a friend of mine to send me a poncho from Shanghai for riding my bike in the rain but I haven’t yet had cause to break it out. We are technically in a drought- a world away from the plum season in Shanghai when it can rain torrentially every day for weeks and you don’t leave the house without wellies and a poncho.
I spent the winter wearing my thick Shanghai duvet coat on the days it was closest to 0 degrees while Brits wore thin coats and jackets and complained of being cold. I revelled in the fact that my office and home had central heating- most Shanghai buildings do not. And I felt the warmest I have in the winter for years, recalling days when I went to bed in Shanghai in a woolly hat and gloves and with heat patches imported from Korea stuck to my pyjamas.
I am enjoying the spring with a renewed appreciation. I don’t think I ever truly took on board how beautiful London looks with its blossoms. In Shanghai, people take day trips out of town to line up and look at the spring flowers alongside thousands of others, posing Romantically next to blooms. Here, they are on every street and every corner and people just walk past them. I have taken pictures of them as a tourist would.
I can’t help it. I know it’s weird to appreciate your home town. I also know it will be weird if I don’t lose my winter coat at some stage this summer. After all, nothing says “outsider” in Britain more than being positive and keeping your clothes on when the sun comes out.