'Wasn't it lovely on Thursday' said my sister in law at the weekend on my regular Friday stay over in Harlow.
'No!' I replied vehemently. Thursday had been advertised in some quarters as being sunny and a balmy eighteen degrees. On the back of this information I had forborne to put my washing in the dryer at the launderette on Wednesday afternoon, postponing it to put on the line for the next day.
But when Thursday dawned it was grey, misty and drizzly – much like any other day at Charwood Farm, in fact. I comforted myself that the sun would burn it off, but grey, misty and drizzly it remained while Essex and much of the south east basked in unseasonal warmth.
This put me in mind of a conversation I had overheard when I mentioned in a fit of optimism in the launderette that it was going to be glorious weather the next day. 'Eighteen degrees,' a lady had said mouth open and eyebrows raised. 'In February! That's never right.'
'That's why I do my conservation work,' said another, primly folding towels adding, a trifle sanctimoniously, 'And that's why the south east is beginning to regret being so wasteful.'
As I pointed out to the lady, the east and south east aren't experiencing drought because of profligacy but because they don't get as much rain as the west country – especially our particular bit of it. This is good for, say, drying washing or taking the kids out, but obviously very bad for households and people who want to grow things – such as the huge arable farms in East Anglia, which produce more than a quarter of England's cereals.
Last week, the situation had come to such a pretty pass that a special drought summit was convened to tackle the crisis of disappearing water levels. And disappearing they surely are; flows in the river Lee, which runs through Hertfordshire and north east London, are 24% lower than the long-term average, while the Kennet in Wiltshire is running at less than 31% of average levels and has dried up altogether west of Marlborough.
Ahead of the summit, Thames Water said the Thames Valley and London had received below-average rainfall for 18 months of the last 23. In our village, rainfall figures (kept by the redoubtable Chrissie) reveal that in October 4.21inches (107mm) of rain fell. Correspondingly, in the same month Cardinham (on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall) recorded 67.2mm on a single day, whereas Wallingford, in Oxfordshire, received less than 2mm for the entire first two weeks of the month (see UK hydrological survey). Meanwhile, Aberdeen received twice as much rainfall as normal in October, contributing greatly to the floods the region experienced in November.
All of which neatly illustrates the point – raised excellently in the Guardian last week by John Mason – that it is easy for one's views on the environment to be based on perception. In other words, and in fairness to launderette lady, it is difficult to conceive of a rainfall crisis when you live in well-drenched Tiverton.
Or in my case, feeling hard done by that I couldn't dry my washing in May temperatures in February instead of being joyful that the prevailing conditions were grey, misty and drizzly – as they should be.