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London sweats as heat wave takes hold

July 2, 2015 6:31 pm

As temperatures in the UK soar to record highs, a travelling Kiwi reports from the sweaty London Underground and sweltering shops.

_"Today was the first day I heard the automated voices on the tube, which ordinarily just tell me to mind the gap, warn me I should be carrying bottled water with me at all times, and that if I felt unwell, to alight at the next station and speak to a member of staff.

London is in the middle of a heat wave, and it’s not exactly coping.

Today temperatures soared above 36° and, as I stood on the swaying tube at rush hour with my face uncomfortably close to the armpit of a well-dressed but very sweaty man, I did not want to consider what heights the mercury was reaching on my Jubilee line train carriage.

To people who live in Australia, or the Islands, or many other countries, 36° is barely a blip on the temperature gauge.

But those countries are set up to deal with heat. My flat only has options for heating, not cooling.

Air-conditioning is not the norm here – you can’t rely on stores to be chilled to a crisp temperature, just the right side of icy.

Parts of the London Underground – which carries millions of people every day – still follow the medieval streets of London. On days like today I wonder if their cooling system dates from the same period.

I stepped into the office this morning and straight into a heated conversation (pun regrettably intended) about how everyone was getting home at the end of the day – it was 9am and the tube lines were already uncomfortably hot.

My colleagues had all decided to avoid the Central Line at all costs – it’s one of the underground’s deepest lines and the trains are squeezed tight into the tunnels. There’s nowhere for the heat to go; It just follows you home.

Tourists looked startled, their discarded sweatshirts tied limply around their waists. Even the usually enthusiastic rickshaw drivers who try to pick up passengers around Covent Garden were unexpectedly lethargic. Those lucky enough to have a spot in the shade were unwilling to leave it.

Policemen in full uniform – stab proof vests and all – looked uncomfortable. In my blazer and stockings, a uniform of a different kind, I’m sure I looked much the same.

Wimbledon is becoming a strange kind of Ascot, with spectators fashioning hats out of whatever comes to hand (towels, queuing guides) and there are rumours circulating that officials are letting fewer people onto hill to watch matches in order to give spectators a couple more inches of breathing room.

Pubs, meanwhile, are doing a roaring trade. The cool, dark indoors is English sunscreen for some, while others spill onto the pavement and the road, turning the streets into makeshift garden bars. Those pubs lucky enough to have an actual garden bar fill hours earlier than their competitors.

It was hot yesterday too. We sat outside at our local pub, bare-armed and nursing pints until after 11pm. The humidity broke into showers just before midnight, big fat raindrops telling us to go home and sleep while we could.

This evening, my English flatmate came home and asked if I was feeling more at home here now that it was hot. I tried to point out that 36° is pretty much unheard of in Wellington, and wondered if the Capital would do any better trying to cope in these conditions. It’s possible, my flatmate might just still think I am Australian.

Of course, there’s nothing Brits and Kiwis like quite so much as complaining about the weather, so this heat wave will sustain us through months of a small talk. There’s always an up side._"