Wednesday noon the weather in London today is 5 degrees celcius and 83% humidity with a chance of rain at 10%, cloudy skies. According to the Met office, the weather in February 1905 was about the same, in a winter that was sunnier than average, had less rainfall than usual, and had a temperature range of 3.8 degrees, with the highest at 12.7 degrees. In the parks in 2015, the main seasonal difference to the grass is that in winter it is littered with brown leaves and in summer with wrappers from picnics. And winter is short. As of this week, winter is over. In our foyer, the dark runner to absorb the wet has been taken up. Today I saw two little robins twittering on fence posts. Roses, crocuses, shoots of daffodils add specks of colour to the mud. Fat glossy tree buds catch the eye.
Before I leave Cousin Cinderella, I want to quote you two passages that are relevant today. The first is on winter, about which Mary discourses when she and Graham go to stay at the Lippington’s country house in Croshire, near Little Gorse station.
London stands for London, but the country stands for England; that is what one feels. Or perhaps one sacrifices to London with the head, and to the country with the heart. There is no comedy in the country, but there are primroses in February. … I believe we had expected to find something more like winter in the country; but it wasn’t there, any more than in London, which it had been possible to imagine kept warm by its houses. The country for that purpose has its hedges and the cuddling lines of its landscape; and the sheep help a good deal, so over-provided as they are. … The air had a pure, still, peaceful chill in it, but there was no look of winter anywhere, only the rain and the rolling ploughed fields, and the grass too ridiculously green; it was a mere withdrawal of summer. (Cousin Cinderella 221-223)
Mary’s dry humour — “a mere withdrawal of summer” — over winter’s absence makes me feel much better about missing the seasons.
Mary wants to know why Peter contemplates joining the Foreign Office to work in India. His answer could be any young person’s answer of today who did not have the good fortune to get a degree that would land them in the financial sector, or who did not indebt themselves for a degree and so serve in the tourism sector. Peter admits he intends India because “there’s a day’s work to be found in India that asks a fellow for all he’s got,” but that England is “a good place to come back to.” (CC 140)
“But it’s a bad place to find work in, if you want anything better than a secretaryship to a charitable organisation. You suffer so from the competition of cleverer chaps. It’s full of infernally clever chaps. Unless you’re one of them I don’t think it’s much of a place to spend a lifetime in. And the air’s thick with money. To me it would be a kind of penal servitude.” (CC 141)
Is this sour grapes or simply setting Peter up for emigration to Canada after his marriage to Mary? Well, unemployment was so bad in Leicester that 400-500 men marched to Trafalgar Square to protest (to petition the king but he wouldn’t see them); their demonstration led to the Unemployed Workmen Act (see City of Leicester site). Not that Peter would have been looking for that kind of work; he was interested only in running things.
This BBC piece on London and a London Councils fact sheet contradict my impression of London: apparently it is booming, with a population of 8.6 million, the highest since 1939. It has an employment rate of 68% and young people from all over the UK flocking to work here (but living in suburbs), both well educated and not. From BBC’s “London’s Population High”: “According to the Office for National Statistics, 60% of the working-age population in inner London has a degree.” Crowded with cleverer chaps, then. And contrary to my idea that wealth arose only from the financial sector and multinationals, small businesses make up approximately 97% of businesses in the capital and provide about half of all jobs (London Councils London Facts). Peter just needs a little of the Trents’s entrepreneurial spirit, then. And cash. And a degree. And a certain je ne sais quoi.