Clouds of varying hues gather over and behind the Shard, 2014, Ravish London

Getting a Feel For London: colour, light and heat in London

Arriving into London

Excitement on a clear day

Taking a flight into London Heathrow from an easterly destination is a treat. Planes coming into London invariably sweep over the east, south and west of London, affording a view and experience, which quite apart from the reason for flying, justifies the price of your ticket. Planes for London City Airport sweep along the river, allowing passengers to behold the Olympic Park and the pear shaped topography of the Isle of Dogs, filtered through 30 centimetres squared of reinforced Perspex. As the plane tilts on its right the northern reaches of Greater London open up, bringing the parallel footballing universes of Wembley Stadium and The Emirates into one glorious panorama. A U-turn then takes the plane over south London and the green expanses of Richmond Park and Kew Gardens. The immensity of undulating greenery induces palpitations, providing a shocking contradiction to conventional expectation. Travelling back towards London City Airport the plane flies over the City of London and Southwark. When the plane tilts to the left, the horizon of the city rises above the pinnacles of the Shard and the monstrous glass towers of the City of London. At this point something surreal happens. The towers appear only in outline, that is, camouflaged, against the greyness of the surrounding urban, as if they had been transformed into two-dimensional structures, laid flat against the city floor, and regaled in invisibility cloaks.

Such sparkling views of London, as those offered by air travel, send a frisson of excitement through the spine of the returning Londoner. They remind one that despite the clouds, noise and pollution, despite the way people look right through you in this city, despite the favourable qualities of the place your plane is taking you from, that, this, London, is where it is at. This is the place where free speech, democracy, capitalism, greed, money, creativity, passion, innovation, diversity, acceptance, tolerance, weirdness, meritocracy and opportunity are all at. Looking down on it, knowing that I am about to be plunged back into it, I can hear my heart singing, Its good to be home, its good to be home, my heart is singing the chorus to Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind, smoking the big apple mind.

Returning to the yoke of a sunless existence or The dismal palette of the urban underneath

The convulsions of excitement, which grip, as one comprehends London from above are often follow an arrest of the heart as one reaches the south coast of England. Up until the South Coast, whether having travelled from east, south or west, one has usually been afforded a view of the brightest blue sky and unimpeded terrain or sea below. Clouds if present are bounded entities with amicable personality, drifting ethereally, enjoying the sun's rays. On such a tranquil trajectory the world over feels a delight. However this delight is quickly compromised as one approaches the doorstep of the British Isles, for no sooner does the south coast come into view than the land quickly disappears underneath a confogsion of mist and cloud. At the same time the plane finds itself being bullied and harassed, victim of an intense buffeting. Eventually the plan rises above, to reveal that the clouds have have coalesced into a formidable mass, into a continent stretching as far as the eye can see; unlike any other cloud formation ten thousand feet above the earth.

A shock envelops one's soul, as if one had just found out that one had been victim of an immense betrayal. The clouds, which had earlier affected to be bon-viveurs with pacific intent, now scurrilously band together. Whereas before they had served no more purpose than an adornment to the searing blue sky, now they mercilessly colonise and ruthlessly impose their will on these sceptered isles. Its as if an occupying force stole into the city whilst you were out. Like an aggressive mould covering a loaf of bread, this vaporous vapid mass appears to feed off and digest the land below. The position of dominance seems absolute, as if no stone has been left unturned. As you survey this mass, you are petrified by its immensity, horrified by its impenetrability; there is no chink in its domination. You find it hard to believe there is life underneath, that there are survivors.

But there is life and there are survivors, and as the plane plunges through and then out of the cloud, it is to reveal the dull but glorious metropolis. Relief that your countrymen still abound and that you can, after all, return to that familiar place called home, reveals itself in a sigh. However, a second sigh, one of sorrow, soon follows, marking the fact that you too, are returning to share that yoke of a sunless existence. It's as if whilst you were away, enjoying the sun, you completely forgot the years of oppression that Londoners and the British endure under the rule of that colourless canopy.

The welcoming sight of the South Coast of England, 2013, Ravish London

Colours of London

Colours, which sigh with resignation

London sits under a variegated sea of white cotton wool, which at its thickest bears a grey underbelly, and at its thinnest is punctured with hues of blue. In and out of this water vapour fly needles, pulling thread. The needles emit a drone, so common, it is often not heard.

Of the three colours, blue, white and grey, that make up the London sky, grey dominates. Grey is motif of the city. The vast expanse of greying clouds brings the shades of grey provided by brutalistic tower blocks, roads, paving stones, Portland Stone and pigeons into relief. Immensus glassus towerus an invasive and domineering species of building, adapted to the economic and political climate of 21st Century London, with its multitude of obsequious window panes, diplomatically reflects the motif.

So, London, concrete jungles that dreams are made of? Certainly thinks artist Stephen Walter, who spent two years sketching and shading a map of London in pencil, into what looks, at first sight, a grey cloud, but which when viewed more closely appears as hundreds and thousands of words, indicating history, emotion, experience and feeling, all jostling for space, a fitting grey metaphor. But despite the exuberance of London reflected in Walter's grey cloud, inspecting the pallete offered by the urban surround can be an underwhelming experience, the colourlessness provokes sighs of resignation.

The greyness sucks the vitality out of life, it ruins things. On the 20th March 2015, a partial eclipse of the sun was due to play out above the skies of London. Edwin Congreave tweeted a photo of the event. Above his message, which read, "The eclipse is really kicking off now in London." was a uniformly grey box. Enduring grey skies are something recent arrivals, in moments of antipathy towards their new home spite, as if they were talking about the ceiling of their prison cell.

In the middle of winter, the greyness, the bone chilling cold, the incessant rain and the poor light induces torpor in the body civic. It provokes dizziness, gloom, a sense of mourning for one's bed, for a hibernative state that articles in the London Metro claim mother nature intended us to go into, but which the deathly demands of commuting and capital and the desire for material accumulation prevent us from experiencing. What is the point of living? We start dreaming about skiving, doing just enough to get by, giving as little and keeping as much in reserve as possible. On days like this you can wake up and feel hopeless, paranoid that you are the only person of your kind, the only one feeling vulnerable. The cold, the clouds and drizzle cause the body civic to find an inner peace, to search for peace inside buildings, to cuddle up in the warmth of water tickled pink by oxidising Russian detritus[1], to bask in the bright bedroom lights of the internet, the late night venue, the cinema, the restaurant, the pub, the night club. Electricity, neon lights, food and music take up the space of sunlight and 'vur naycha' as Johnny Lydon once termed it, on an episode of I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!

Picture postcard grey over London, 2011, Ravish London

The grey sky is the perfect compliment to the brutalistic architecture of Euston train stration, 2008, Ravish London

The mists of the Thames

On cool muggy mornings, the clouds roll in from the sea and submerge London. The pea souper stops boats from rolling up and down the Thames. Whilst the Shard and the towers of Canary Wharf disappear from street view they are sufficiently large that their tops reach above the masses of fog. Viewed from police helicopters the pinnacles appear as survivors, neigh perpetrators of a a Godly holocaust or a new Great Flood, the fog a co-conspirator in an arrangement with those banking robbers to convene secret conferences between Canary Wharf and the City of London, to further plans to suck the blood from the minnions below.

The Sun is a pin prick of light in the mist and clouds over the Thames, 2013, Ravish London

The grey river merges with the grey sky, 2014, Ravish London

Dissension from the grey masterplan

The fabric of London takes on colours besides grey. Parts of Camden, and flats and houses by Rotherhithe and the Isle of Dogs are constructed in a happy yellow brick. Multi-coloured seaside terraces are found in Notting Hill and an Olympic Leyton High Street. The old brick surfaces in Shoreditch and its surrounds are routinely plastered with colourful works of street art. In affluent Hampstead, post-modern structures are craned on to the top of murky Victorian brick where the desire for the old and tranquil meets the need for contemporaneity and modernity. On Bethnal Green Road, funky living arrangements, rusted metal sheets and big windows are airfixed to the old Tea Building. London also has a lot of red brick, shaped into terraced housing, 1970s shopping centres, GPs and local libraries. In the northern suburbs a plethora of such brick is pebbled dashed and plastered with black and white Swiss fa¨ades.

A colourful work of art in grey Shoreditch, 2013, Ravish London

Seafront terrace colours in Camden, 2008, Ravish London

Classic redbrick construction, Wapping, Ravish London

Tending towards grey

But overall, in the grand scheme of things, it is hard not to see greyness in all the colours of London, to see colourness even in the presence of colour. The transparent splodges, formed by the purposive swipe of the back of a hand against a window frosted with condensation, a window on the 179 bus to Chingford, afforded a view of the dirty old red bricks of a 1970s town planners wet dream, a community building hosting library, GP and gym. There's red there I thought. And yet as the bus ploughed up the grey road, through the rain, on that cold dark Sunday afternoon, and as rainclouds of varying hues closed in, with my feet wet, and a depression triggered by a journey through the far Eastern wastelands of Ilford, my soul and spirit registered no colour except grey.

In London, buildings and facades are fuzzed and scuzzed by vehicular particulate and other types of muck of undetermined origin. Vistas are smudged and blurred by the poor quality of that so-called light, that residue which remains after the most life-affirming elements are filtered out by clouds, gossamer mists and pollutants.

Town planners refer to the green, grey and blue infrastructure of London, the blue a delusional reference to that grey-browny river, which farts and bulges its way through London, carrying with it wood, rubbish of varying kinds, and the occasional blow-up doll. The colour scheme for the river is invariably shared by the city's numerous ponds and lakes.

A blow-up doll amongst the jetsam and flotsam of Limehouse Basin Approach, 2012, Ravish London

Even the people of London regale themselves in greys and blacks. The occasional browny green or dark blue denim jean makes no discernible difference. Everyone appears psychologically and emotionally committed to the dominant motif of the surrounding concrete infrastructure.

The lady in green stands out in a crowd of black, blue and white, Liverpool Street Station, 2011, Ravish London

The greenness of London

On Fitzalan Road, Barnet, beyond the North Circular, London is half-moo half-pavement. City cows go crazy for carrots. The scene reminds us that London is not just grey.

Half-moo half-pavement, Fitzalan Road, Barnet, 2010, Ravish London

The ebullience and joie de vivre of such greenery, in a city which gets as much rain as London, requires gallons of poison to contain. The greenery is never destroyed, only dormant, rising through the cracks of paving stones of neglected states whenever the enemy is weak.

Rising through the cracks of the paving stones in Regents Park Estate, 2008, Ravish London

Fly over London on a plane and the city can seem an oasis. In fact, one half of London's land mass is green space, making it one of the greenest cities in the world.

The vast expanse of green, surprising many a visitor, is given by acres of parkland, back gardens and the imposition of rarefied woods. But in the main the greenness of London is given by parks. Of the huge expanses of park, the biggest and most astonishing is Richmond's, which seen from above causes you to doubt all the stuff the air pilot said about flying over the Big Smoke. In fact it's not just in Richmond, rangy and extensive parklands are ubiquitous across London. We have, as one website proudly boasts, "Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath, Wandsworth and Clapham Commons, Streatham, Tooting, and Kennington Commons, in all, nearly 2,000 acres. Farther afield are Bagshot Heath, Epsom, Leatherhead, Ashtead, Weybridge, Epping Forest, and other open spots. These areas, easily accessible by train provide much needed quiet and peaceful rural scenery and act as the lungs of the great city."

The ubiquity of parklands is a blessed relief for many. American Londoner, Pete Zelewski, resident of Belsize Park, notes, "It is probably my age talking but I really appreciate having the wide open spaces of Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill on my doorstep which is a great haven when things get too chaotic in the city".

For some it's the vividness of the greenery, rather than its quantity, that takes the breath away. In 2012, an American man in his sixties, travelling from Canary Wharf to Bank on the Docklands Light Railway, visiting London for business and talking to an English colleague who is keen to find out what he thinks of London, immediately turns to the parks. 'They're really something else' he says, remarking of the grandiosity and lushness of St James' in particular.

The vivid green of St James Park, 2011, sadmafioso

The green green grass of Stratford's Queen Elizabeth Park, 2014, Ravish London

Talking of greenery and London brings to mind the Green Belt, an area of undeveloped land, defended by law, which surrounds London. In the part called Mill Hill a flaneur can drift into the most idyllic meadows of farmer green, and brush up against festivals of crickety batting, old English style. In places such as this London becomes village like, harking back to quieter ancient times. In 2014 John Rogers setting off from Hainault tube station, on the borders of Essexian London, pulled across a wide green field and came across the 'beguiling and uncanny sight of London Transport bus stops isolated amongst fields'. Heading towards Hainault on the Hainault branch of the Central Line, the so-called underground train takes you along a ridge from which vast expanses of forest and green fields can be seen, as if the train, after making some hot-headed decision to leave the city for good, is about to take off for the countryside.

Crickety batting green of Mill Hill, 2011, Ravish London

Idyllic meadows of farmer green, Mill Hill, 2011, Ravish London

And then there's the "Trees, those stupid trees, which produce the air that we are breathing". There is one tree per inhabitant in London, seven million all told. Their presence makes a significant contribution to the air quality and a lower temperature. Amidst the traffic, litter, dowdy shop fronts, rusting bike frames, and ramshackle people the trees stand silent. Although practically invisible to Londoners, in unison, like a second layer of cloud, thick and dominant, they sing out to air passengers as the plane makes its descent into Heathrow. Seen from a certain angle, the many trees, which tend to reach over the tops of surrounding buildings, form a canopy, which gives the illusion of a forest. This effect is seen best looking onto the hilly suburbs of south London. Crystal Palace is a forest on a hill, in which people live. Crystal Palace is Sydenham Hill.

Sydenham Hill, 2013, Ravish London

The combination of greyness and greenness confers a combination of vitality and gentleness, which writer Melvin J. Lasky, writing in 1966, claimed separated London out from the other European metropoli. Grey and green are peaceful colours, not ambitious, static it seems, just happy to be. Lasky's comments about 'gentleness' and 'humanity' remind us that the combination of green and grey can, rather surprisingly, mean London is experienced as pacific, a place where one can connect with nature.

The greenness and grey of grass and brutalistic architecture off Euston Station, 2008, Ravish London

Even without the green, when the weather is temperate the dimness and greyness of London can induce a sense of stoicism, of calm. The drifting bulges of white and grey, passing behind crystal clear glass buildings, can appear an imperious cleansing force, reminding you of renewal. They encourage you to stay at home, to wait for all the shit of this place, and its unneeded frenzy, to be washed away.

Bulges of white and grey give the impression of an imperious cleansing force, 2012, Ravish London

Days of Azure Blue

City of grey and green and yet at times a city with skies of azure blue. A clear sky in winter produces the richest blue, park days of bright green bright blue. To walk out into London with a blue sky, even if striated, is to feel a sense of renewal, as if one has made up with a lover. It is an amazing feeling. On a cold Spring afternoon, with a clear sky, the sun dowses the sky in white light, turning the blue sky silver.

A clear blue sky on Primrose Hill, 2008, Ravish London

The sun sets on a clear blue sky above the City of London, 2013, Ravish London


Bright red of course is the colour of London's lifeblood, of buses, Docklands Light Railway, underground trains, post boxes, telephone boxes and the royals. That royal red colour gives a sense of purpose, of movement, identity and pride. It contrasts so vividly with the grey monotony of the London landscape.

A telephone box in a royal red that signifies the blood that has to be spilled to attain power, 2007, Ravish London

Red the colour of blood and the colour of the DLR and London Underground, the lifeblood of the City, 2014, Ravish London

The yellow and orange of Autumn

For a short while, for a few weeks or a month, the fire of London comes pit-pattering downwards, and lays itself silently and flatly on the ground. Hyde Park lights up in yellows and browns. There's a tree in Ropemaker's Fields in Limehouse, which bursts into reddy-brown flames.

Autumn casts its long arm over the Thames, 2013, Ravish London

Light in London

The Poor Light of London

London's poor light, more than its cold and rain, is the thing that people from sunnier climbs find hard to deal with. The light, which might shine on London, invariably has its most life affirming elements filtered by the supercontinent of clouds, gossamer mists, water and pollutants, that hang at various levels in the London sky. The poor light means all colour in the city looses its vitality, merges into greyness. One squints to see, as if life in London was being lived through a TV set from the 1950s.

Canary Wharf barely visible in the distance, 2014, Ravish London

Pollution greatly influences the weather and light in London. No better example of this than the dusty vistas of London captured in April 2014 when Saharan sands swept over the southern reaches of Britain and combined with exhaust fume and fog, to create an orange tinted haze. The same thing happened in 2015.

Sunny London

Whilst the sun rarely hits London in prolonged and uninterrupted spells, sunny memories are always recent in the mind of a Londoner. There is quite a bit of sun in London, more than the city is given credit for, despite its greyness, despite the weather Britannique. The sun invariably makes a daily appearance, albeit limited to shining through the recrudescent cloud coverage. There is many a London morning where you can wake up to a bright shiny day. The sharpness of the yellow light in Winter, the crispness of the day, the freshness of the light is really something. The most beautiful effect is given on a day with foggy patches, through which the bright morning sun shines, illuminating buildings in the brightest of white lights, which radiate through the gossamer mists and fogs. By Ropemakers Fields, Limehouse, a striking contrast can be seen most usually in the evenings, when the sun, breaking through angry storm clouds, illuminates the white chalky colour of the west facing aspects of the Mediterranean looking flats. The iridescent whites contrast beautifully with the dark grey clouds. From time to time this presentation is topped off by a rainbow, the rainbow colours of London.

The iridescent white of an illuminated building in Ropemarkers Fields, 2014, Ravish London

The Great Fire of London

With the dawning and dusking of the sun, the myth of London as a grey city is put to bed. In the morning purple and pink light illuminates the underside of the thinly spread clouds and reflects off the glass of Canary Wharf. It's worth leaving your flat and senses for. One early morning in a rather manic moment I jumped on to the Docklands Light Railway to photograph this beautiful borealis aurealis londinius from as many angles as possible. However with every station passed, the colours faded. By the time I had reached Woolwich, the end of the line, the skies had turned grey, and I was exhausted, wondering what I was going to do with myself, so far from home in zone 4, without a validated travel card.

A pink dawn over Canary Wharf, 2011, Ravish London

Similarly, every evening on a clear day a fireball rises in the west and scatters flames across the city into the oppositional aspects of the glass towers of Limehouse and Canary Wharf. It causes the usually pale yellow brickwork of Limehouse to resonate a rich and warming orange.

A red firey dusk lights up Canary Wharf, 2012, Ravish London

Darkness descends

Darkness does of course descend, and when it does, the city, and its main thoroughfares, can sometimes feel like a bad dream, a hazy consciousness of indistinct and unwanted items, scattering the streets, litter, broken chicken bones, pools of vomit, roadworks, fly tipping, all of it glinting, faintly glimpsed, in a tunnel of darkness, sometimes inebriated. Illuminated bus stops, roads, and lampposts provide a sense of structure and certainty, in a city otherwise shrouded in darkness. Hampstead appears Dickensian with the streetlight bouncing off the old fashioned and smooth stone paving slabs. Tarmac has yet to find its way into much of the sidestreets of that 'village', that village that so many residents try to protect.

Darkness creates a dystopian blur of bodies, litter and roadwork barriers, 2010, Ravish London

Moonlight flicks off the paving stones in Hampstead, 2011, Ravish London

Weather and Heat in London

If you stand in Trafalgar Square amongst the hubbub of cars, taxis and buses, for long enough, say twelve months, you will begin to benefit from the full range of effects of cold air streams from the Artic clashing with warm air from the Altantic. The effects are what meteorologists refer to as a 'temperate maritime climate', that is mild winters and warm but not excessively hot summers. Whilst standing in Trafalgar Square for such a time, you may also come to despise the mass of sweaty, respiring, heat producing bodies and vehicles that circulate around you, as well as the buildings in which these bodies hide and perspire. But you should also know that all these things help to elevate the temperature of London by 5 degrees. An effect that is mitigated by London's seven million trees.

Four seasons in one day

The frequent clashes between the two weather systems, two evenly sized beasts, produce variable weather conditions, the frequent formation and degradation of large swathes of cloud and the occasional rain. The boundary between the two weather systems moves back and fro, sometimes sitting on London, sometimes moving south and making things colder, sometimes north and making them warmer. The shifting boundary is heavily influenced by the jet stream, a wind which circles northern latitudes. The consequence of these clashes and movement is that whilst four seasons in one day is rare, two or three are frequent. London days are commonly a mixture of sunshine, days clogged with turgid grey cloud, everything inbetween, with a fair chance of a spot of rain at some point.

The variable and changeable weather in London, has been a constant mental torment to many visitors to the city, used to more consistent climates. Daniel Wildenstein in his book Monet or the Triumph of Impressionism explains how the French impressionist Claude Monet was driven to despair by the frequently changing conditions over the River Thames, which he spent a good few months trying to capture towards the end of the nineteenth century. Wildenstein comments on a visit paid to Monet by English artist John Sargent, at The Savoy, from where Monet painted the Thames. Sargent criticized Monet for starting too many canvases. It had been Monet's idea to start as many canvases as there were different weather conditions, but each hour bought a different condition, meaning too many canvases, with none finished. Wildenstein writes, "Sargent... watched Monet struggling, around 80 canvases, searching deseperately for the right one when the effect he was waiting for occurred, and as often as not unable to lay hands on it until the effect had passed." The squat, bald headed, formidably white bearded cantekerous soul was truly tormented. Monet noted his frustrations at being unable to capture the particular London light quickly enough, "Every day my understanding of this strange climate grows... I am a complete imbecile... "This is not a country where you can finish a picture on the spot; the effects never reappear." So obsessed and focused was Monet with overcoming the challenge of the changing conditions in London that after a while he was said to have learned to 'discern the faint premonitory flow of the emerging sun' where others frequently discerned nothing.

Around the year

Cold weather can be guaranteed between December and February, although it can start as early as October and stretch into April and May. However, London rarely experiences really cold weather, the temperature rarely drops below -5, and seldom below zero. Despite this people from warmer climates have altered Londoners' perceptions of cold and heat, and you will here many people complaining about the so-called cold weather.

Spring, and warmer weather can kick in at any time from February onwards, although warm weather is usually only sporadic until mid-June, where the temperature tends to remain at around 20 degrees, through to the end of August. Warm, t-shirt wearing weather can extend into September, October and November, summer weather from September onwards frequently referred to as an Indian Summer, reference to the warm temperatures in India in these months, once an everyday experience for British colonials.

London summers are warm, warmer than the winter anyway, but to many Londoners born in warmer climates, they are not warm at all. Whilst Londoners would think anything above twenty degrees as warm, many from warmer climates would accept nothing below thirty. Maybe once or twice a year London will experience a string of several days above thirty degrees. The last heat wave occurred in 2014, an incredible spell of hot days, with some evenings and late nights. The very nature of London is transformed in such conditions, one Croatian inhabitant of the city, calling it an out of body experience. I remember finding myself hit by a wall of heat as I walked down the steps to the platform for the west bound Central Line train at Bank, at 6.45 one morning. Outside, the morning air was still fresh, as you'd expect, but inside the tunnel had not cooled down from the evening before. Before 2014, one Londoner reckoned that the only real year that London had had a heatwave in the twenty-first century was 2003. He recounts, "It was still 32C at midnight down our way, with 90% humidity. The daytime was relentless, you could fry an egg on the tarmac.. the cicadas were going berserk in the parks, tumbleweed was blowing down the Mall. It was mental."

The curious thing about Londoners and Brits in general, is that whilst they spend most of their lives moaning about the moderate temperatures, once the sun hits London in prolonged spells, they quickly revert to moaning about the heat. London, lacks the bone dry atmosphere of inland Madrid, it is close to a lot of water, on the ground and in the air, and so is a humid city, which makes the heat that little bit more unbearable. But the humidity is not as strong as that of South East Asia, in Taipei, where it takes a week for a pair of trousers, hung out on the line, to dry.

London, like most places in the world, is getting hotter which, in 2007 inspired Tomas Klassnik to envisage how London might one day need to manage super hot weather. He had visions of Floaters, a collection of buoyant island structures that afford cooling river breezes and The Big Melt, a man-made iceberg, floated in the Thames. Reality is getting close to Klassnik's vision with plans in progress for a garden bridge over the Thames in central London.

London is warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than other cities of similar latitude. Why?

London's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean is one of the reasons the city, when compared to cities of similar latitude, is warmer in winter and cooler in summer. During the winter, the Gulf Stream, a circulation of ocean current, which starts in the south Atlantic, moves nothwards bringing warmer air. This raises the temperature of London and northern Europe by five degrees. In the summer, the Atlantic Ocean wafts cool winds over the country.

Cloud in London

When, on March 20th 2015, Edwin Congreave tweeted a photo of the eclipse of the moon, the first such occurrence in London for 15 years, it looked as if he had failed to upload his image. Above his tweet, which read, "The eclipse is really kicking off now in London. Awesome," thre was a grey box. Spring and summer can often be characterized by muggy, cloudy weather, which dims the light and spirits, and can cause people in London to loose conciousness. The cloudy weather can be punctured by the occasional downpour.

Edwin Congreave's tweeted photograph, 2015, Edwin Congreave

Pollution in London and its effects on the weather

Of course rain clouds are not the only kind of cloud that affects the weather in London. The pollution produced by London makes a significant contribution to the weather, principally through creating smog, a combination of low-lying cloud and smoke, which effectively acts as cloud cover. One of the most memorable days of pollution occurred in November 2005, when we were enjoying an Indian summer. I used to have the privilege of playing football with a random assortment of people from in and around Alexandra Palace every Sunday morning, near the old Racecourse. Whilst playing on that fated November day I remember seeing these rather odd streaks of thing straggly black cloud high overhead, on what was an otherwise crystal clear day. Later that afternoon I developed a terrible sore throat. I thought nothing of the whole thing. However later that afternoon I developed a terrible sore throat. It was only a week or so later that I began to realize the link. The night before our football match, early in the morning, there had been an extraordinary explosion at a factory, on the northern edges of London. It occurred to me, a week later, that the explosion must have sent these sinister black spirits wriggling towards central London, and some invisible effluent form such spirits must have descended to tickle my throat on what had seemed like a beautiful Sunday morning.

Rain in London

Despite the ever presence of cloud and the ever present threat of rain, London is a relatively dry city. For any one moving down from the north of England, despite all the cloud, after three months, you scratch your head and think, "tickle me, I can't remember the last time it rained". A sense of jubilation begins to take hold as you realise you have been released from the quotidian soakings you experience traipsing up and down the seven peaks.

Snow in London

It tends to snow a little, usually once or twice a year in London. However the city gets less affected than its surrounds, the concentration of people in London raises the temperature by 5 degrees Celsius, turning snow into slush and water. The last memorable day of snow came on February 3rd 2009. I remember this day well, because I moved house on that day, I remember the morning and afternoon being one of beautiful crisp sunshine. By the evening the skies had turned grey and it had started to snow a little. Another Londoner reminisces about the romance of the snow on that very evening, "There was something about this snowfall. As it started to come down on Sunday night, we wrapped up warm and went out to watch the flurries around Tower Bridge... Watching it really come down late on Sunday night made me feel about 6, when the mere sight of three snowflakes would send you into a frenzy, wellies prepared by the door and gloves warming on the electric fire so you could get out there and be in amongst the snow." The following morning, I remember waking up late, and finding that the city had been wrapped in a couple of inches of the stuff. Nevertheless this rather insubstantial blanket was enough to bring most of London's public transport to a standstill, isolating people in their homes and suburbs. A sense of calm and tranquillity descended on the city, people stopped moving, stopped working, and everyone had stopped trying. Working mums, took a day off, and dragged sleighs down Peverton Road, in Highbury, with their children. I remember being determined to get into work, and being amazed at how long it took me to walk from Canonbury to Highbury and Islington, usually just a couple of minutes on the train. That day London really felt like a big place, a huge untraversable contiguous lumping of villages.

Snow hits Brick Lane in London, thought not much, 2013, Ravish London

Thunder and lightening in and around London

In July 2014, during one of the most extraordinary heatwaves to hit the UK, a lightening strike put out the signaling in and around Reading, a key railway junction connecting the north and south west to London. What this meant for commuters at Bristol Temple Meads, who at 4.30 pm were crammed on to a London bound First Great Western, was that their train was not going anywhere soon. Bristol, unlike Reading, which had already felt the cooling effects of a thunderstorm, was continuing to swelter. Commuters fanned themselves with train tickets, unbuttoned their shirts and those that weren't crammed into the aisle, who had the luxury of seats, tried to get some sleep. The train manager regularly reminded passengers of the nature of the problem, and the uncertainty over when it was going to be resolved. As he neared the end of each announcement his words evolved into a very large sigh, the heat, the wait as sapping for him as anyone else. Finally the train set off. After half an hour or so the train arrived in Swindon, and it was there that it met the thunderstorm. It all happens so quickly a summer rainstorm. Looking out the window, as the train came to a stop at Swindon train station, one could see a string of grimaces, written on to the faces of people, varying in height and physiognomy, but all united by being regaled in summer clothes of one type of another, each item sodden. As this forlorn and frankly unwanted population of traumatised and dripping train passengers squeezed on to the already humid and stultifying train, seated passengers felt a secondary rain from their overalls and persons. One such secondary raindrop fell on to my knee, and slid down my leg, weaving its way through the dense jungle of hairs, which has grown up over the years.

Stoicism: the British way to handle the British weather

Indifference to the British weather is, arguably, what separates out a true Londoner, and maybe a true Brit, from everyone else in London. A foreigner, who has yet to nail his colors to the mast of his London ship, will frequently criticize the lack of sunshine and warmth, the poor light and cloud cover, the rain and the 'terribly' cold winters, in conference with other foreigners so predisposed. "I don't mind a bit of rain" they will say and then add, with a genuine sense of grievance, "but where I come from if it rains, it rains. Where I come from, summer means it will be sunny, if its sunny in the morning, it will be sunny all day long." The transition from foreigner to Londoner takes at least ten years. Acceptance of the London weather comes in three forms, a grizzly cynicism that weather like life, is shit; an overly optimistic and neurotic delusion that the variable weather adds to the spice of life! But the most common response is stoicism, accompanied by a detachment from any kind of conscious interest in the weather. This detachment however is momentarily broken, however, when one tries to squeeze a bit of rapport out of a relationship with a stranger in London, with whom one has nothing more in common than the you know what.

London on a cold day

Although London does not experience extraordinarily cold weather, it can sometimes be sufficiently cold to contract your musculature. If you are not dressed appropriately and this can often happen if you naively assume that a sunny morning foretells a warm afternoon, you will experience spasms around your neck and stiffness in your shoulders and back. I remember exploring Canary Wharf in 2004 with a couple of friends one evening, insufficiently dressed for the cold snap, such that I was driven to perform press-ups by the docksides, press-ups being Ready Brek for those without Ready Brek. It was at the very moment that I was straining body and sinew to squeeze out an eighth press-up, that two shadowy figures, clad in Arsenal shell-suits, walked by. As I desperately pushed up to avoid the ignominy of a head-butt from the pavement, I looked up to scrutinize the two figures, who to my astonishment were none other than Arsene Wenger and his assistant Pat Rice, who that very evening were preparing their team for a game against Manchester United at Highbury. I later read or heard that Wenger liked to take his players for a meal in Canary Wharf the evening before a match, Canary Wharf offering a discrete dining environment. Disappointingly, the impressive pace with which I attempted my first and only set of ten press-ups was not enough to get me a surprise inclusion in the starting eleven or even a place on the bench. A real shame for this was a side, which would go on to be called The Invincibles, they lost not a single league game in the season 2003-04. So the cold weather creates pain, and the pain can drive you to extremes. It can also seep into your soul, and bring your emotions and energies to a shuddering halt. In the middle of a weekday, the cold bite of the weather, the crosswinds and rains whipping your face, brings the full hostility, isolation, meanness and loneliness of London life into relief. You notice the struggle inscribed on the brow of old ladies with baskets on wheels, the vacancy and fear of gaunt looking geezers wearing caps, sporting scruffy beards, mooching around in oversized shoes.

London on a warm day

Between April and September, even when there is substantial cloud cover the temperate London weather becomes bearable, one no longer has to fight to maintain one's temperature. Neck and back muscles relax, becoming liquid. Strolling through London in the first week of clement weather can feel euphoric, and for those insensitive to the effect of warmer weather, it can feel that an emotional burden has been inexplicably lifted from one's shoulders and spirit.

London in summer

In the cycle of the earth's movement around the sun, when the north pole starts pointing at rather than away from the sun, then London, its denizens, flora and fauna are all bought that little bit closer to the Alpha Mater, and the effect is dramatic. Trees, bushes and grasses find verdant and colourful expression in parks, marshes and the nooks and crannies of the city. Dragon flies, beautiful silvery blue and green, dart around ponds; the Regents Canal clogs up with a glorious blanket of green algae.

When the sunshine hits London

Sunshine can hit London any time of year. When warm sunshine hits for the first time, the effect is dramatic. During the winter, autumn, and for much of the spring, so long as spring is overcast, the growth of the shrubs, bushes and grasses in Tottenham marshes, a beautiful wilderness in what is otherwise a rather grimy and reasonably dangerous part of London, is imperceptible. However, with just one or two days of unadulterated sunshine, the grasses, which having been no higher than your knee, double or triple their size, transforming themselves into a verdant cornucopia, a veritable jungle. You feel like you can see the plants growing. You can almost see the plants growing, the effect being a glorious celebration of summer, like Land of Hope and Glory at The Last Night of the Proms.

In the suburbs bordering the parks, the onset of Spring sunshine calls forth the sweetest aromas, which hang in the air, lacing the omnipresent pollution. During late night beery walks home the aromas curl into your lungs, like an extension of a honeysuckle's stamen, tickling and tantalizing, whilst the cool night air soothes your sun beaten face, now crisp and buzzing with radiation, and your mind runs over the evening's fun, frolics and drunken insights. Reflecting on the contrast between your lonesome state and the conviviality of hours before, you are thankful that London offers you its barmy perfumed presence, and you begin to understand what Anthony Kedis was on about when he penned his ode to LA.

walks home the aromas curl into your lungs, like an extension of a honeysuckle's stamen, tickling and tantalizing, whilst the cool night air soothes your sun beaten face, now crisp and buzzing with radiation, and your mind runs over the evening's fun, frolics and drunken insights. Reflecting on the contrast between your lonesome state and the conviviality of hours before, you are thankful that London offers you its barmy perfumed presence, and you begin to understand what Anthony Kedis was on about when he penned his ode to LA.

The first days of sunshine in London can inspire people to a better world, albeit transiently. One adorable weekday morning in April 2014, in a week during which the papers were boasting of how the weather in London was better than that of Madrid, a father pushed his two-year-old daughter to nursery through the petite and idyllic park of Ropemaker's Fields in Limehouse. In the distance he caught sight of the unlikely situation of a young man, dressed like a 'grime' artist, slender, cool looking and muscular, sat on a bench and smoking a cigarette, with legs and arms spread out across the bench, as relaxed as a man could be. Dressed in blue jeans, a leisure sports top dappled yellow and orange, gold chain and glasses, he was lapping up the rays. As people walked past him he'd attempt conversation. The man attempted conversation with one of the many bankers who, hunched over, and brow furrowed by the anticipation of the day's confrontations, was scurrying on his way towards Canary Wharf. This particular banker had his ears corked with headphones, which as he approached the grime star, laid the grounds for a polite affectation of ignorance of what was going to be a likely appeal for his attention. The man with the pushchair, witnessing this deft moment of social show jumping, knew his turn was coming. However, as he walked past the grime star, and just after having assumed his rather gormless appearance had discouraged his conversational suitor, he was encouraged in geezereze, "You have a lovely day brother". As the grime star uttered these words he gave an appreciative, almost seductive look, to the cigarette he was holding in his right hand, his right arm bent at the elbow and held slightly away from the body to provide a better view of the quality and look of said smoke. His lips formed a pursed circle, and having spoken to the passer-by, he exhaled slowly, the effluent mingling with the summer air. Whilst this was going on, the man with the pushchair, with an economy of language, resulting from a lack of experience of public speaking said, "You too", and flashed a warm but brief smile. The grime star, shocked because he was not used to being reciprocated by the train of corporate paper shufflers, but too stoned to really show it, nodded his head with incredulity, "Solid", he said whilst choking on the delight of reciprocation and the noxious molecules rolling out of his airways. He gasped for air, to ensure a quick follow up, "that was powerful brother" he exhaled, continuing to nod his head, whilst raising a cigarette toast in appreciation.

Seven years prior to that, on Hornsey High Street a carpenter, an Irishman, was sitting on a chair outside his place of work at approximately the same time in the morning as the grime star, and, strangely for any Londoner, greeted that same man with the pushchair, now without pushchair, as he made his way to Hornsey train station. A conversation ensued. The joiner asked if he could ask the man a question, to which the man responded 'yes', and the joiner asked the man what he knew of Jesus Christ. The man knew a little. Expecting that he was about to be subject to an unrequited on the spot conversion, the man, to his pleasant surprise found himself the recipient of the joiner's recent musings on the character of Jesus, which the joiner said, was a subject he previously never really paid much attention to. Like Jesus, the joiner explained, he realised he wanted to do some good in the world, be a source of warmth, help and happiness. He didn't know what he was going to do, he just wanted to talk about it. "I don't normally do this" said the joiner, gesturing to the fact that he was sat on the street, outside his place of work, on a chair that he had probably made himself, talking to a stranger about feelings, "Its just that I thought there's got to be more to life than just working all day".

So when the sun appears, so does life suddenly explode on the street and in peoples' hearts. People want to live. London street life and London park life blossom. People flood on to the terraces of cafˇ bars and restaurants, doubling if not tripling the custom and turnover of local busineses. Restaurateurs praise God, the sun, the jet stream or whatever moving force belies such change. Waiters and waitresses work with furrowed sweaty brows, thrice as fast as normal, their usual nonchalance challenged. Women quickly show folds of flesh and wear figger-hugging dresses. Men, geezers, take their tops off, revealing sculptured torsos, broad shoulders, wafer thin wastes, from which jeans hang, slightly lower than their elasticated boxer shorts. The threshold over which the temperature needs to reach to provoke such stripping, drops the jaws of visitors and newbies not used to the British way of life.

The presence of the sun marks the beginning of the mating season, not the sex season, for the latter evidently runs all year round. Exposure to exposure hypersensitizes us to sexual potential, awakens desires hitherto dormant, makes us horny. London's great diversity means that, especially in the parks, you can find almost every body form, from the ordinary to the exotic to the faintly ridiculous. Spending a summer's day in a London park can be truly invigorating. In 2008, one man, a genuine Cockney, walking down Camden High Road, spots out of the corner of his eye, a woman of exquisite shape, who excites him so he decides to change his plans, and from a discreet distance follows her on to a bus, from where several seats away, he quietly observes. In the dusty heat of London, with sexual desire heightened, most Londoners do not loose their cool, they maintain a miaou like nonchalance, wear caps with shirts slung over their thin torsos and walk casually. They give cursory glances to those who come into view, whilst their minds race to record every last detail in super HD. Mind you, not everyone is so cool. In reality nakedness and the consequences of it can be exhausting. A couple, one woman, one man, strip off to a bikini and white underpants respectively. The woman, preening and stretching fondles, kisses and rubs her guy whenever a potential love rival looks his way. "It does strange things to you, the summer sun" reflected an onlooker.

The first sight of the sun also presages the first waft of barbecue. Visibility in London Fields is reduced to ten feet by three o'clock on a hot Sunday afternoon. The great London tradition of the barbecue, a chance to stuff your belly with charcoal, tasteless white bread, sausages and burgers burned on the outside and raw inside. There are beers a plenty, which will be pissed out as early as five in the evening.

Barbecues create smoky vista in Victoria Park, 2010, David Fisher

Barbecue at the Duke of Wellington, London, 2007, Tom Malloney

Meanwhile Muslim women in Shadwell, true to their particular interpretation of Islamic dictat, remain daubed in black robes and linens, maintaining their cool on the Docklands Light Railway, inspiring incredulity, admiration and disbelief, from those struggling in t-shirts and shorts.

This amazing felinomorphism of London, this transformation into a cat reclining by the hearth, is a condition that the city takes once or twice a year, and is therefore a state that Londoners are allowed to visit once or twice a year. For some to experience the rarity of a heatwave is to have an outer body experience. When you get to visit sunny London, its like you're going on holiday to some far off place, that you have vivid memories of, but which you feel you don't see enough of. "No doubt this city would be a totally different place if it could at least double its average sunshine rate," reflects one Londoner, "Would London turn into Kingston, Jamaica? Or at least Barcelona on the Thames? And if so, would its voracious appetite for pleasure collide with its cold-hearted working ethics?" Its almost like going on holiday. London in the summer is the best.

The Festival Seasons

London is a magical place in the summer; and with Londoners keen to make the most of the sun's fleeting appearances, the summer is the best time to see the full spectrum of East London's colours. And no better place to see the full rainbow than at one of London's community festivals, the jewels in the crown of London living, fantastic to experience, but rarely celebrated in art and literature. Unique events occur during the festivals, unique mixtures of people, gaunt looking rastafarians stand next to huge base speakers, slowly dipping their hips to Dub hits of the 1970s and 1980s. The smell of ganga, weed and what have you drifts through the air providing a beautiful herbal aroma. Beers are consumed from floppy plastic pint glasses, or from four packs, bought from the local Turkish convenience store.

Surprisingly London's free festivals are rarely represented in film, literature and art. One exception is Ray Walker's Dalston Lane Mural, which captures something of the essence of East London's festivals, and in particular, the 1983 Hackney Peace Carnival. There is nothing like Hackney in the summer time. Scruffy fashionistas idling in parks and outside pubs, taking lethargic strides down the streets alongside their commodofied bicycles. The men are dressed in low slung trousers, turn-ups, checkered woodmen's shirts, and women dressed up in big glasses, retro clothes, talking calmly and wittily, displaying their intelligentsia incredibilitia. No great plans, no great schemes, just happy to be in each others' company, singletons, all happy to find company in a singletons heaven, odd balls, all mixing it up together, talking, chatting, all with a vague sense of relief that they've found someone for today, all with a vague concern of the social incertitude of tomorrow.

Sadly, the number of free festivals began to decline after the great western bank robbery of 2007, when the cabal of political and banking elites, robbed the working classes of their wealth and used it to impose sadistic austerity policies. Such nastiness, two weeks of sunshine cannot bleach it away.

Reveller at Clissold Park summer festival, 2008, Ravish London

Ray Walker's Dalston Lane Mural depicting the Hackney Peace Carnival, 2010, Ravish London

Sadistic Sun

Eulogising about London in a heat wave is fine, but the reality is that the warm British sunshine is invariably punctured by cold spells, rainy weather and overcast skies. The British sun is a sadistic sun, or perhaps its those relentless clouds that are to blame. The appearance of the sun in the morning can suggest a beautifully hot day, but by midday without realising it you have fallen into a semi-concious state reflecting the muggy cloud covered atmosphere you reside in, which results in torrents of rain in the afternoon, which makes way for a cool evening, with irridesecent cloud cover. "One moment it's blistering heat with not a cloud in the sky; the next it's oppressive darkness with the threat of rain and yet still a temperature high enough to keep your cotton T-shirt sticking just slightly to your skin and your underwear clamped firmly to your arse" remarked one city blogger.

The variability in weather can find you feeling inappropriately clothed, duped by the early signs of the sun. Said Lost in London Blogger, "I'm being continually caught out by mini-downpours and sudden bursts of blazing sunshine. I took my jacket on and off so many times last Saturday that I feel now fully prepared to take up a scholarship at poledancing school." If your dressing habit response has a 24 to 48 hour lag, like mine, you can often find yourself inappropriately clothed for the weather conditions. I often find that it takes two whole days of sunshine to get into the mood for wearing shorts, and then once I'm into the habit, another two to three days to get out. Given the variability of the weather and my sluggish response I'll find myself wearing trousers and jumpers in sweltering heat, and then shorts and flip flops, in overcast weather peppered with rain, returning home with a bleeding cold. Said Lost in London Blogger, "What grates about this time of year is not knowing what to wear... by the end of the week I'll probably have been both soaked to the skin in just a T-shirt and roasted alive in long sleeves and a jacket."

The tendency of the sun to entice people out into the open air with little clothing, and then leaving them shivering for the rest of the day, has led Londoners to adopt a bloody-minded approach to enjoying the sun. Londoners are willing to put on shows of mass delusion in order to appear undefeated. Such shows often occur on Sundays or bank holiday Mondays, days during which British people feel a desperate need to enjoy themselves. A morning sun on such days can inspire half the population into a back-gardernly assembled afternoon barbecue. Of course, come the afternoon, the sun has disappeared, performing its encore just as your guests begin arriving at the front door. With a grill full of sizzling chipolatas, and a can of Carling to hand, the clouds move in and a few specks of rain gatecrash the party. In such situations Londoners, determined to enjoy the sun that isn't there any more, will stay outside and continue their barbecue, even if it means putting on their coats and huddling around the barbecue. As the afternoon deteriorates, a chill wind begins to blow, some will nevertheless battle on in sleeveless t-shirts and shorts. Everyone enjoys themselves, until it gets dark, by which time, now sniffling the first infected drops of viral nose water, they start to disperse and return home, where the morning after, they wake up for work feeling like shit, stinking of smoke and with a bleeding cold. This determination is also seen in Londoners when they make the mistake of thinking that a nice sunny day in London, at around twenty degrees, means they're shoe-in for a great day on the east coast. Bounding with gay abandon for the nearest train station, two hours later they find themselves cowering under one of the ramparts on Whistable beach, to avoid the bitterly cold costal winds, using their picnic blanket as a tepee to bring their temperature up to something above distressing.

Determination to enjoy the sun, even when its not there, is socially programmed into young minds from a very young age. In 2005, a seaside outing of primary school children from Edith Neville School in Somers Town took shelter from the rain in a covered pub-garden in Broadstairs, Kent. Wendy Wallace describes the experience of one child, Jojo, in a scene from her book Oranges and Lemons, "Crowded into the dark concrete space, Jojo eats part of his jam sandwich... A short break in the rain gets the school out of the shelter and onto Broadstair's horsehoe-shaped bay.... The rain falls again, sudden and heavy, soaking the trays of chips in paper bags, the children's hair, the spread picnic rugs. Jojo shivers uncontrollably. His spare clothes were used on the coach on the way down, after the boy in the next seat was sick on him. The strap on his rucksack has broken, his socks and trousers are soaked."


References on Stephen Walter's Map

[1] Rooms heated by hot water, warmed by Russian supplies of gas.