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November 2008
THE WEATHER ACCORDING TO DEUTERONOMY

David Cole-Powney
London sizzled. If you listened carefully, in between the low chug of rusty exhausts and the chatter of pedestrians, you could actually hear the city bubble and pop.

It was as if someone had accidentally leant against the capital’s thermostat and jammed it at maximum.

I walked slowly down Greek Street; the asphalt was tacky under my tread. You only have to watch a suited Sevillano creep past La Giralda at the speed of the advancing shadows to know that a slow pace is essential at these elevated temperatures.

I passed an Italian restaurant. Two bloated city types were sat at a wonky pavement table, red-faced and sweating heavily into their bowls of pasta. I continued and a whiff of rotting rubbish from the alleyway adjacent to the eatery mingled with the rising bitumen fumes and for a second I was spirited away to an Asian backstreet. Isn’t it funny how odours can evoke memories so powerfully?

The other secret to dealing with the glare of the celestial magnifying glass is to drink plenty of liquids, and it was for precisely this reason that I was heading to my club. I required the restorative properties of a well-made gin martini.

I know the very notion of the gentlemen’s club is back-breakingly backward in this day and age. Misogynistic? I don’t deny it, but Reed’s is conveniently located, and besides, there’s plenty of sport to be had there. The club was founded in 1840 by a dozen or so rakish gents and a couple of dukes looking for place to drink, gamble and occasionally raise hell. However, looking at the decrepit members today, I sometimes wonder if those original founders aren’t still slumped under their newspapers in the reading room, slowly decaying in the high-backed Chesterfields. Only an occasional snore or snuffle from below the inky blankets of the broadsheets persuades me that the occupants are still alive — just.

As I slunk into the cool interior of the building, my eyes struggled with gloomy light. Gradually the oak panelling took on its rich hue and the brass fittings began to glow dimly. The lazy-eyed doorman materialised from the darkness.

‘Good afternoon, sir.’

‘Afternoon, Gerald — it’s a scorcher today, wouldn’t you say?’

‘Absolutely, sir,’ he droned.

I took the steps down to the bar. A shaft of sunlight slanted into the room from a high window. It appeared almost solid as the illuminated dust particles danced within its three dimensions. A ceiling fan stirred the musty air and hummed gently. Colin, the barman — a masterful mixer of drinks — had begun to polish a cocktail glass as I entered, and by the time I had comfortably plonked myself on the barstool, two olives were sinking through the pale yellow liquid. I sucked at the cool drink.

‘Just what the doctor ordered, Colin. Thank you.’

At the other end of the bar a couple of pin-striped patrons were finishing their G&Ts and mumbling conspiratorially.

‘Can I get you gentlemen another?’

I indicated the forlorn slices of lemon bobbing in the last inch of fizz in their glasses. They frowned at me, then at each other, torn between a free drink and the unwelcome conversation that would come with it. Eventually one of them relented.

‘Well, why not? Jolly decent of you.’

I approached them, hand outstretched. ‘My name’s Deut. Short for Deuteronomy.’

‘Deuteronomy, hey? What a peculiar name! I’m Banks, St. John Banks and this is James Nugent-Burroughs.’

‘You new here?’ asked Nugent-Burroughs. ‘Only I haven’t seen your face about.’

‘Oh, I pop in now and again,’ I said with a faint smile.

There was a moment of silence which seemed to hang in the heavy atmosphere. Banks leant on the conversational crutch universally used at such times.

‘Beastly weather we’re having at the moment.’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I’m quite fond of the heat.’

‘Yes, but this just isn’t normal,’ Nugent-Burroughs said, leaping to Banks’ defence. ‘And it’s not just here either.’ He jabbed a stubby finger at the Telegraph lying on the bar. ‘Floods in Indonesia, forest fires in Portugal — if that’s not beastly then I don’t know what is.’

‘Oh, don’t mention Portugal.’ Banks implored, pulling his hands through his thinning hair. ‘Muriel is in an absolute lather about the villa.’

‘How awful for you,’ I said.

Banks ignored the comment. ‘If only one could somehow control the weather. I mean, send all that rain from Jakarta over to the Algarve.’

We all sipped at our drinks. I had the impression that the two old boys were ready to return to their hushed discussion, the drinks paid for with a moment’s idle chat, but I wasn’t finished with them.

‘But of course, the weather can be controlled,’ I said, keeping my eyes on the swirling shimmer of the alcohol in my glass. ‘By those with the proper know-how.’

‘What do you mean?’ demanded Banks. ‘Seeding clouds — that sort of thing? No, no, no — that’s all been tried before. Expensive and, well, I don’t believe it ever worked.’

‘Not seeding clouds,’ I said firmly. ‘Something more sophisticated than that.’

‘Ah, you’re talking about chaos theory, mathematics and what-not,’ Nugent-Burroughs suggested.

‘No, not chaos theory either. Have you ever heard of the Moa-Moa tribe from the mountainous area of northern Burma, just on the Chinese border?’

They shook their heads.

‘I spent two years living there, studying their language, beliefs, rituals. I became very close to the shaman of the tribe and before I left he imparted onto me a spell to manipulate the weather.’

‘What rot!’ snorted Banks.

‘You’re pulling our leg, and I don’t think it’s funny,’ Nugent-Burroughs added.

‘I am deadly serious, gentlemen.’

‘You’re a loony,’ Banks countered.

‘What would you have me do?’ I asked. ‘I’ll happily demonstrate.’

‘Are you willing to put money on this codswallop?’ Nugent-Burroughs asked with interest.

‘Gladly.’

‘A thousand pounds, shall we say?’

‘Why not make it interesting?’

‘A thousand isn’t interesting?’

‘Not as interesting as five thousand…each.’

‘You’re a witness to this, Colin.’

Nugent-Burroughs pointed at the barman who had been pretending not to listen to our escalating exchanges.

‘Five thousand pounds, from me and from St. John here, says you can’t…you can’t…’

‘… Make it snow in London,’ Banks finished excitedly.

‘Done,’ I said.

I’m rather keen on a little theatrics, so here I indulged myself. I tore the front page from the newspaper, screwed it up and dropped it in an ashtray. Then I leant over the bar and snatched a bottle of Cognac. Taking a generous swig, I readied myself with a lighted match. The VSOP whooshed through the flame and ignited spectacularly. I then shouted and yelled and danced maniacally as my audience sat goggle-eyed.

They must have known, as well as I did, that this performance was just hogwash, a flimflam affair. What they didn’t know, however, was that I would perform the magic later. The real spell would be cast that evening.

I left the bar with the ashtray still smouldering behind me.

‘I’ll be back to claim my winnings tomorrow at three o’clock,’ I said over my shoulder. ‘Right now I have an appointment with a charming young lady whom I cannot keep waiting. Goodbye.’

The following day was as hot and as stifling as ever. The sun bore down through the haze and the whole metropolis hissed quietly. I ambled along Greek Street. The portly Italian proprietor stood in the doorway of his restaurant with arms folded, watching another pair of suits perspire into their dishes. The pungent smell of refuse refused to wane, and lingered at nose height. I arrived at the club a few minutes before three.

‘Good afternoon, sir,’ Gerald said predictably in his reassuring monotone.

‘Afternoon, Gerald – another scorcher.’

‘Yes, sir.’

In the bar I found Banks and Nugent-Burroughs eagerly awaiting my arrival. Colin looked up and began to prepare my drink.

‘Made any snowmen today, Deuteronomy?’ chortled Banks.

‘No, I must admit today is another particularly warm day.’

‘We’re holding you to that bet,’ said Nugent-Burroughs venomously. ‘There’ll be no welching, or your membership will be rescinded. We’ll see to that.’

‘Gentlemen, if you will allow me to first refresh myself with this excellent gin martini. Thank you, Colin.’

I took a sip and then continued.

‘I confess the temperatures are very high, yet again today, and I personally have not seen a snowflake, but London is a large city, wouldn’t you agree? Isn’t it feasibly possible that it may have snowed in another part of London?’

‘You’re blithering, man!’ Nugent-Burroughs shouted. ‘You’ll honour the bet, that’s what you’ll do.’

‘I’ll gladly settle the bet, once it’s been proven categorically that it hasn’t snowed in any part of London.’

‘And how do you propose to do that?’ asked Banks.

‘Why don’t we consult the weather forecast?’ I suggested. ‘Colin, would you mind turning the television on? If I’m right, the weather follows the three o’clock headlines.’

Sally Yardley kept her lovely round rump just to the south-west of Kerry, so as not to obscure the map of the British Isles. Her right arm bridged the Irish Sea and she gestured over the Pennines. But it was all rather pointless; every inch of green was covered in bright yellow sunshine symbols. It resembled a field of sunflowers. Then the map changed colour. Reds and oranges swam across the islands, proclaiming temperatures in excess of forty degrees in the London area.

‘Satisfied, Deuteronomy?’

‘Well, it looks as if—’ I stopped mid-sentence. Sally was saying something else, something important.

‘… had some reports of some very strange weather for the inhabitants of London — London in Ontario, Canada, that is. Whilst most of the country is enjoying temperatures in the high twenties and thirties a freak snowstorm has engulfed the southern city, closing schools and disrupting power supplies. Experts are at a loss for…’

‘A snowstorm in London — imagine that.’

‘B-b-but this is preposterous,’ stammered Banks. ‘I meant this London, in England.’

‘You’re blithering man!’ I aped. ‘I hope there’ll be no welching on our bet. I could have your membership rescinded.’

Nugent-Burroughs stared blankly at the flickering screen. I drained my drink and thanked Colin.

‘Gerald on the door should be able to give you details of how the debt can be settled. Good day.’

I hurried out of the bar. I had to go. I had an appointment with a charming young lady — a charming young lady called Sally, with a lovely round rump.




© David Cole-Powney 2006
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