Temps in London have been off the charts for weeks, and that’s reminded me of a six-week stay there when the unexpected heat felt like my nemesis.
I was teaching creative writing in a summer program where I had amazingly productive and fun students, as well as superb guest speakers like authors Miranda Seymour and Val McDermid. I was subbing for someone and the flat he had arranged for was in Pimlico, which was away from the crazier parts of the city, quiet, scenic, and filled with terrific restaurants and pubs.
But the heat that summer was fiendish, sometimes passing 90 degrees. My flat was on the top floor of a small building and hotter than that because it had no air conditioning and heat rises. It got so hot there that I had to point a small fan at my iPhone which kept overheating. Opening windows for cross ventilation was not a good idea because for some bizarre reason the gusts were so strong they blew everything off the table I worked at, and the wind was so strong it even unrolled the paper towels in the kitchen from their rack. The room looked like some poltergeist had paid me a visit.
I had arrived in London with a knee injury and had to stay off public transport, but I found car service drivers reluctant to turn on their AC or turn it up. I explained over and over that I was prone to migraines and that usually did it, but stepping into a black car at midday was highly unpleasant anyway. They’d comply and leave their driver side windows open or cracked, evidently afraid of getting a chill.
And then there was Regents University where I taught, which was un-airconditioned. My afternoon classes got way too much sun and sometimes my students looked on the verge of passing out. When I appealed to the powers-that-be for a fan, we got one. For just a day. And I was made to feel that I had overstepped some invisible boundary by even asking for it.
People kept telling me everywhere I went that “It never gets this hot,” but that wasn’t very comforting. What kept me cool was grocery shopping at a deliciously cool Sainsbury’s, dining out, attending a concert in a Victorian church, and visiting fantastic museums like the Tate Modern where I saw epic Matisse and Malevich exhibitions. People were remarkably friendly wherever I want, and honestly, I fell in love with Pimlico.
Eventually the AC-phobic drivers and everything else making me fry started to seem almost funny. Why? Because on my first-ever summer trip to London years before, I was so cold I had to buy a woolen sweater. So by the end of my six week stint in 2014, I was calling it my deluxe and safe Caribbean vacation. No fear of sunburn, no sharks, no sand in my clothes. And terrific Gin and Tonics.
Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in many genres, including the guide for writers, Writer’s Block is Bunk. You can take creative writing workshops with him online at writewithoutborders.com.“Studying creative writing with Lev Raphael was like seeing Blade Runner for the first time: simply incredible.”
—Kyle Roberts, MSU Class of 2016