OPINION - This washout summer is Britain's worst since Mount Tambora ruined 1816 — who do we sue?

The Met Office has issued weather warnings for rain this week across parts of the UK (Jeff Moore/PA) (PA Wire)
The Met Office has issued weather warnings for rain this week across parts of the UK (Jeff Moore/PA) (PA Wire)

“Stop,” said my husband, as I was exiting in tennis gear, trying to make my 8am doubles up the road in Notting Hill and grab an indoor court as the outdoor ones have seen little action since… well… around October last year.

He stood in the doorway and handed me a pale blue envelope containing a card. “R Johnson” it said on it. What was it? A subpoena? It did look like his writing, but I couldn’t think.

“Open it!” he said. Inside was a card celebrating our wedding anniversary, which he had remembered and I… hadn’t. Clean forgot.

We got married in mid-summer of 1992, Chelsea Registry Office, family lunch afterwards, I wore a suit from Next (something old) and a hat from Lock & Co in St James (something new) and a silk scarf of my mother’s (something borrowed).

Since she died, there’s been nobody to ring and remind me it’s my wedding anniversary and also, m’lud, it just didn’t feel like July 10. This is the year without summer.

It’s not quite as bleak as 1816, when the eruption of Mount Tambora in the then Dutch East Indies the previous year pumped so much sulphur and ash into the atmosphere that it blotted out the sun leading to crop failures, famine and general despair across the Northern Hemisphere, but almost.

It’s not quite as bleak as 1816 and the eruption of Mount Tambora ... but almost

In our case, in the UK, we’ve had an election too. The combination of weather gods and political masters have conspired against us and so far, let’s face it, the summer’s been a washout. To my mind it was inexplicable that Rishi Sunak should call the election for July 4, in the middle of the Euros, the grass court season, garden parties, summer parties (the Spectator’s famous annual Pol Roger summer bash like so many others was cancelled that night and moved to this Tuesday, where it was more like a dribbly wake for the Tory party), and so on.

July 4? I remember thinking. That’s Independence Day — in the middle of summer party season! No wonder he had to sneak off to the Palace and tell the King behind everyone’s backs because any sensible person would have told him this was nuts. Never in the field of human conflict has any prime minister called a general election in July. May, yes, June, yes, but July? Seriously?

We British have our priorities, and these do not include a six-week pointless campaign (the conclusion was foregone) and a plebiscite when there are far more important things to do, like Pimms and picnics.

No wonder Kemi Badenoch called the decision “borderline unconstitutional” this week. Consternation and outrage about the date seemed to be the one factor that united the nation, along with despair at the downpour that seemingly hasn’t ceased since Rishi’s “Drowning Street” moment in May.

It’s easy to blame the former PM for ruining summer with his snap election, of course. It’s harder to find who to rail at for the bulging grey skies and clammy conditions. In 1816, the world could at least blame a volcanic eruption for months of Stygian chill that Byron immortalised in his poem, Darkness (I had a dream, which was not all a dream/The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars/Did wander darkling in the eternal space).

I can’t think who to blame for this summer. Who to sue. I was watching Wimbledon yesterday and someone — maybe my favourite commentator, Andrew Castle — said, “It’s rained for eight days solid here.”

A little birdie tells me the roof at Centre Court has started leaking so they’ve had to move people into different seats as spectators complain it’s like sitting underneath a shower. They’ve had to play junior matches indoors. I’ve got tix to Kylie for British Summer Time in Hyde Park on Saturday and I can’t imagine twirling to Padam in the traditional downpour. I’m sitting writing this in a fisherman’s jersey (Paul James, since you ask) and wondering whether to put the central heating on (and no, I haven’t turned the Aga off yet – I usually do in May. Not this year).

People on X are posting photos of their fireplaces blazing brightly in July and a friend has just installed a sauna in his house and I’m quite tempted to go. What’s to be done? Over-tourism means we can’t flee abroad like the Durrells for our beakers full of the warm south as the natives are no longer friendly (in Spain anyway).

Oh yes, and my something blue? Easy. The summer of 2024. Almost unplayable, so far.

Rachel Johnson is a contributing editor of the Evening Standard