Bubble Rap: Susie Lau on life in the time of heatwaves

·3-min read
 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

What sort of Londoner slash weatherplagued British person would I be if I didn’t pass some comment on the hottest day ever — even though a week on, we can finally feel a breeze on our face that isn’t like a hairdryer on the hottest setting. The bizarre novelty of it yielded all the lolz. Did we fry eggs on the pavement? Did we sit in a wheely bin filled with cold water and drink cocktails? Did we walk around Croydon in a puffer jacket for the TikTok flex? Why, yes!

Upon reflection though, the strangeness of that mercury rising two-day spell was compounded by the fact I happened to set myself a list of non-negotiable errands. This involved a lot of walking (20,000 steps) when most people opted to sit still in front of a desk fan and a bowl of ice in their houses, with their curtains closed while watching ice bath challenge videos as a cooling respite. There was this strange compulsion to set myself a weird reality show heatwave task and say, ‘Hey SUN! You can’t STOP me!’ (Can we also take a moment to laugh at Sky News opting to have a split-screen video image of the sun as part of its coverage, as if the changes of a hot ball of plasma are at all discernible to the human eye.)

In town, I darted from one area of shaded pavement to another, making my way from Piccadilly to Oxford Circus to Covent Garden to Holborn to Clerkenwell, taking the bus only when necessary because the fabric seats sticking to my recycled polyester swim skirt were creating heat static. Commuters were nowhere to be seen, most probably taking advantage of their WFH benefits, but a sizeable number of tourists soldiered on around me. You could still hear queries of ‘Is that Lai-chester square?’ They weren’t going to be deterred from their London tour plans and neither was I from my day of hot tasks. People walked around with full water bottles and USB fans, taking time to sit down on shaded stoops and park benches as well as wandering into stores that were essentially sanctuaries of full-blast aircon. Of course nobody was going to be peeling off sweaty layers in changing rooms. I thank the practically empty H&M, Muji and Vision Express stores for allowing me to breathe my way through two minutes of stopping time.

As I lumbered about, very visibly six and a bit months pregnant, people looked at me with a mixture of curiosity, bemusement and self-satisfaction. As though they were thinking, ‘If I’m suffering, she must be in agony.’ The Korean shopkeepers in the two Asian supermarkets I stopped by to restock on cold oolong tea peered at me and wrinkled their eyebrows like my dad would. ‘What are you doing out like that? Not good to be walking around.’ I shrugged and said, ‘Gotta keep moving…’ Earlier my parents had left a WhatsApp message cautioning on moving around in the heat. I’m banking on the fact that they don’t read this column on a regular basis.

With every perspiring step through the sweltering city I took, the feeling that this wasn’t some personal Bear Grylls challenge mounted. Anything above 35 degrees in this part of the world shouldn’t be regarded as a new normal. Putting pillowcases and towels in the freezer and buying up fans on Amazon isn’t the solution. Of course many of us can physically push through these heatwaves (many, however, cannot), but should we be looking on at fry-ups on car bonnets and topless red-hued men jumping illegally into public fountains and think that’s an okay sight? No, we should not.


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