Instead of Basil Fawlty’s famous “don’t mention the war”, perhaps we should all try not to mention the weather.
My bet is that if we all tried to do that there would be silence throughout the country because no matter what else is weighing on our mind, thoughts of the weather are never far below the surface.
Three consecutive almost-dry days over the weekend were greeted as remarkable. A forecast of rain and even lower temperatures for the rest of this week was seen as inevitable. The forecast for the rest of July and August is little better.
The weather experts point out that we’ve seen worse. That is possibly true, but, mercifully, we’ve forgotten most of it.
One example I saw given was 1956 which, at the impressionable age I was then, I remember for Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann playing the last 20 minutes of a cup final with what turned out to be a broken neck, Jim Laker taking 19 wickets out of 20 against Australia, a world record for a match that still stands, and a family caravan holiday at Oban that seemed a bit grey and damp.
In fact, the 1956 summer is described as “wet, cold and stormy when some days struggled to reach 10C. Late July was battered by gales that left 11 people dead. It was followed by the second coldest August of the century”.
So now, in a way, we’re living through history in the shape of a summer at least as poor, if not worse, than 1956 and 1909. But it doesn’t make us any happier, does it?
Nor is it the slightest consolation that the weather blocks giving us grief have helped cause drought in the USA. Where we have crops rotting and stunted because of waterlogging and persistent rain, US farmers are watching maize die off because of heat.
Estimated US maize yield at harvest has been reduced by more than 12 per cent and the futures price has shot up. Russia has also reduced its harvest estimate. That is likely to mean, if and when the British harvest starts and if and when it is completed, grain prices are likely to be higher than originally forecast.
Prices of other crops, such as vegetables and potatoes – hardest hit so far by the rain and mud – are also rising. That’s better news for farmers trying to salvage crops now and wondering what conditions will be like for harvesting maincrop potatoes this autumn, bad news for shoppers facing higher prices.
That’s why the weather is never far from the thoughts of farmers dealing with the problems it causes day by day to the millions of shoppers looking at prices rising.
It could be, and is, argued by farmers that most food is still relatively cheap and that the average British family spends only 10 per cent, or less, of their income on food compared with about 30 per cent a generation or so ago.
Whether it seems like that to the average shopper looking for lowest prices and best bargains is another matter. Milk is the most high profile farm product at present as processors plan to reduce prices by almost 2p a litre from August 1, following a reduction of about the same amount at the beginning of May.
But if that means lower prices on the supermarket shelf will shoppers say they would rather pay more to give farmers a fair return? Nor will they be impressed by any attempts made by Farmers For Action, or any other groups, to disrupt milk supplies in the next few weeks.
I don’t mean to be negative or suggest that farmers should never protest about the treatment they get from supermarkets, either directly or via middlemen such as milk and meat processors. But David Handley and Farmers for Action have been around for more than a decade now, occasionally making a lot of fuss without, as far as I can see, affecting what has happened during that time.
The ex-farm price of milk relative to cost of production is no better, probably worse, than in 2000, and the number of dairy farmers has shrunk dramatically as those staying in business have increased the number of cows they milk and average yields per cow to satisfy demand from processors and supermarkets.
Protesting by pouring milk down the drain to cut off supplies for a day or two is not an option. Disruption of supplies by picketing processing factories or allowing a tanker on to a farm to collect milk then refusing to allow it to leave don’t look much more promising.
I can understand the frustration of dairy farmers. That feeling took more than 300 of them to a meeting at Lanark 10 days ago and an estimated 2,500 to London last Wednesday. But they still face a supermarkets’ response that is, effectively: “Take the reduced price or quit. We won’t run short of supplies, at our price.”
That is not a happy position for farmers to be in. But it’s not new and it won’t change. It’s a gloomy outlook – exactly like the weather.