Caught by the River

A British History in Weather

20th May 2016

Alexandra Harris, author of Weatherland (out in paperback in July), teams up with producer Tim Dee for this fascinating look at the British weather, recently broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Listen now on the iPlayer.

Tim and Alexandra will team up again this summer on the Caught by the River stage at Port Eliot festival, where talk will turn, once again, to the weather.

From the BBC website:

Alexandra Harris tells the story of how the weather has written and painted itself into the cultural life of Britain in a history of a country and its culture told by its weather from the earliest days to the present, come rain come shine.

We begin indoors looking outside. But the weather finds us everywhere. Inside, we are out of the weather. That’s the point. But when we shut the front door with relief we do not entirely shut the weather out.

In ten programmes, “During Wind and Rain” will bear witness to Britain’s cultural climates across the centuries. Before the Norman Conquest, Anglo-Saxons living in a wintry world wrote about the coldness of exile or the shelters they had to defend against enemies outside. The Middle Ages brought the warmth of spring; the new lyrics were sung in praise of blossoms and cuckoos. Descriptions of a rainy night are rare before 1700, but by the end of the eighteenth century the Romantics had adopted the squall as a fit subject for their most probing thoughts.

The weather is vast and yet we experience it intimately, and Alexandra Harris builds her story from small details. There is the drawing of a twelfth-century man in February, warming bare toes by the fire. There is the tiny glass left behind from the Frost Fair of 1684, and the Sunspan house in Angmering that embodies the bright ambitions of the 1930s. There are distinct voices of compelling individuals. “Bloody cold,” says Jonathan Swift in the “slobbery” January of 1713. Percy Shelley wants to become a cloud and John Ruskin wants to bottle one. “During Wind and Rain” is a celebration of British air and a life story of those who have lived in it.

With music by Jon Nicholls. Producer: Tim Dee.