The heat is on: storytelling and the British weather

Britain is a country that sometimes experiences all four seasons in one day.  You’d think that the weather is something which happens outdoors and as we’re basically an indoor nation for all but a few weeks of the year it couldn’t possibly be that big a factor on storytellers.  Well that’s true unless you happen to be doing an outdoor event or the majority of your work is in old public buildings like schools, museums and libraries.  A Carnegie Library may look beautiful but they can be quite drafty, a school hall of the 1960s or 70s may seat a lot of children but I’ve known them to be like greenhouses have the radiators blasting out in July and whilst it’s fun to tell stories in museums and stately homes curators can be curiously aquaphobic!

During the cold snap of all cold snaps back in March 2018 the weather posed me a range of problems.  First there was getting to the jobs.  Driving conditions were treacherous and in recent months British railways have been, shall we say “unpredictable,” so when the snow arrived for a while it was Russian roulette as to whether you would complete a journey.  Then there are the audiences; I get quite warm when I work so a chill in the air doesn’t bother me too much but if you have to sit on the floor for up to an hour, sometimes in wet clothes because you had a snowball fight at break or you walked through the snow to the venue, a draft can test the concentration of anybody.  During March’s extreme weather conditions some schools closed whilst I was on site.  I started one session with 45 children and finished up with just 8 children as the weather in the area around the school I was working in worsened.

It’s now July.  “The Beast from the East” is a distant memory and Britain is experiencing a heat wave.  The trains are still “unpredictable” but their reliability is no longer my only gripe.  Good weather can mean some trains, particularly the London Underground, become stiflingly hot and disgustingly uncomfortable.  As for my audiences well if cold weather wasn’t good for concentration heat is no better.  My audiences are a sweltering sea of shuffling, sweaty children.  Luckily for them I always incorporate a water pistol somewhere in my summer storytellings (although I’m  sure how a hose pipe ban would affect this – fingers crossed it doesn’t).

Whatever the weather the show must go on and I must look after myself.  In winter this means wrapping up and taking steps to avoid illness (ie being sure to eat enough fruit and vegetables and getting enough rest).  Dressing appropriately and living well is just as important in the summer time but as the temperatures rise it’s more important than ever that I drink water.

I understand my body better than when I first started working; I know that in the autumn I’ll have a cold and in the spring I’ll have hay fever both of which affect the quality of my voice.  I know that whilst March and then June-September when I am in demand I have to manage my workload, December will be a time to recover.  Last March I developed tonsillitis.  Whether this was down to work I’ll never truly know but undoubtedly it was a factor.

This blog may seem like I’m complaining about all forms of weather as only the British know how and I suppose I am but actually there’s a lot to be said for British weather too.  Each new season has its own identity and festivities which demand a different set of stories.  Then of course there are countless stories which are inspired by the weather and the seasons which I could not do without.  I can’t say that I ever miss the winter months.  It’s nice to watch the sunrise from a railway carriage but it’s even to be out and about in the early morning gloaming when it seems you have the world to yourself and the summer is stretching out in front of you.  So whether I’m dragging my suitcase through snow drifts, getting soaked to the skin in torrential rain or frazzled in 30 plus degree heat if there’s a story to be told I’m glad to be the one to be telling it.