St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain, full forty days it will remain,
St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair, for forty days t’will rain no more.
This baseless meteorological superstition dates from the late 9th century. A group of over-zealous monks decided to dig up the grave of Swithin, former Bishop of Winchester, and move it to a more prestigious location inside the cathedral. Legend tells us that this botched exhumation caused it to rain for forty days and forty nights. Common sense tells us that this legend is rubbish, and has continued to be rubbish for every single one of the last 1133 summers. Having said that, given how appalling this summer has been so far, this might be the year that finally proves the rhyme.
So just what is up with the weather at the moment? It feels like it's been damp, cool and cloudy all summer. A telltale tanline round my watchstrap suggests that we have had a few scorching days, but they've been few and far between, and nigh non-existent of late. Maybe this is global warming kicking in. The government's chief scientific adviser is certainly worried, and has just given a speech suggesting that it won't be long before melting ice caps cover the globe with rather more water than a few shower clouds can produce.
London is one of the world cities with the most to fear. Should the Greenland ice cap ever melt then sea level would rise by nearly ten metres and a large part of the capital would be flooded. Never mind all those piddling security risks to the Houses of Parliament I listed earlier in the week - rising sea level would completely submerge the lower floors of this riverside building. It'd be also be farewell to Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street, St James Park and the Tower of London, and that's just for starters. A huge swathe of London lies below the ten metre contour (see map), including Fulham, Chelsea, Docklands and Stratford north of the river, and most of Wandsworth, Lambeth and Southwark south of the river. The City and the West End would remain safely above the rising waters, although the tube network would be flooded out. And my flat in Bow would be transformed into a valuable riverside apartment on the banks of the three-mile-wide Thames, but I'd need scuba gear to go shopping at my local Tesco.
We continue to pump excessive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere like there's no tomorrow, and for London maybe there isn't. Future generations will pay the price of our materialistic greed, and not enough important people yet seem to care. But I suspect our recent wet weather has nothing at all to do with global warming and is merely a symptom of the wildly variable British climate. Last summer was record-breakingly hot, this one's depressingly damp and that's just the way our weather works. It's unpredictable and that's why we love to talk about it.
St Swithin’s Day 2004 is looking decidedly wet already. I shall be keeping a tally over the next forty days to see whether the next forty days it will remain. Come back on August 24th and see if London's still under water.