August can be the best time in the city as other people decamp to Umbria or Tuscany, Broadstairs or Southwold. And unlike Paris or Rome or Christmas, shops and restaurants and businesses remain open. But oh, the heat! The glare of it off the usually grey pavements, the cold water in the paddling pool turned soupy by midday, the tourists and pigeons sheltering in shady side-streets and any public fountain they can find, hoping for a pipe burst. Each bus ride purgatorial, every tube journey an inferno. Dogs die in hot cars, commuters swelter in theirs. The childless are deserted, left resentful and unhelpful in hot offices. I take to my bike to catch a bit of breeze, past bright houses that offer no relief, seeking out tepid, wet-look shadows.
People sit on a parched piece of grass in the Park, going pink, watching the ice cream queue stretching all the way to the street, looking at gaudy summer fashions and the exposé of red flesh. Sticky neck, clammy arms, gluey feet. SPF 30 dripping into eyes. The stink of piss and drains.
But at night, it’s a different world….reggae floats above the roof tops, the evenings smell of jasmine and lighter fluid and sweet cigarettes. Nocturnal flowers bloom as we pass from pillar to pub, and sycamores drop samaras.
I watch the lights above the city’s horizon stretch far, far up: orange into lime into smooth blue brown, the first two stars pushing gently though, twinkling white, red, gold. The city aflame with the sun and its setting.
But it only takes a sudden drop in temperature for the cafés to move their ice cream freezers back indoors and start a special on soup, and the sunglasses salesmen to try to shift umbrellas instead. Such is an English summer.