Writer David Chandler ruminates on dressing for the weather in an unpredictable climate, and recalls a memorably mercurial walk on the Isle of Wight.
Photography by Jem Southam.
In Britain, our feelings about the weather have long been shaped by a sense of profound mistrust. It is an inherited condition, borne from generations of spoiled summer weekends, of cold and cloudy holidays and rained-on, tear-stained weddings. We have all become accustomed to the defining events of our lives taking place in a fine drizzle; if, that is, they aren’t abandoned altogether. But, as a result of this, and helped by the ironic distance we all learn to take up in relation to our own experiences, we share a kind of camaraderie and solidarity about these lost or spoiled times. They have become part of our national narrative and our collective memory. In fact, part of being British is learning to live within a climate of unpredictability: not only how to factor the possibility of disappointment into our plans, but to actively expect something to go wrong and then to embrace and transcend it. Just as apprehension about the weather is part of our DNA, so is celebrating how we once turned that rainy day together into something joyful, how we triumphed over adversity, and how for that brief and less than perfect moment we found each other again and remembered how to revel in our common humanity.
But now, as true aficionados of the outdoor life are so fond of saying, there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing. Since moving to the south west of England about ten years ago I have, reluctantly, begun to agree. For me each day begins with walking our dog for about an hour or so, out over fields, through woods and down narrow hedge-lined lanes. This is a strict routine and happens without fail in all possible weathers, and over time I have learned that keeping dry, being warm or cool, staying protected from the biting wind or shaded from the blazing sun are the only realistic criteria for deciding what to wear – comfort in all these situations being paramount. And yet, not being one of those true aficionados, I still feel a slight sense of resistance to the purely functional, head-to-toe weatherproof uniform that, certainly in these winter months, I now pull on every day. Although in general I am a big fan of utility, there is something dull and predictable about always being so well prepared. It’s like the now ubiquitous leisure kit that has accompanied the growth of a more gung-ho, extreme sports version of outdoor life; am I the only one who feels mildly oppressed by all those physically punishing outdoor regimes with their vaguely militaristic second skins of techno-fabric? At the same time, and perhaps with just a hint of nostalgia, I find myself mourning the loss of our more contingent relationships with the changeable weather in this country, when all we had to protect ourselves were gabardine raincoats and woollen balaclavas.