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About A Week: Sunshine - At A Price

Days flooded with sunshine are all very well, says Peter Hinchliffe, but there are snags.

My theory is that the British Empire came about because Francis Drake and Capt James Cook finally gave up on British summers. They didn't go exploring for fun. They were fed up with having their picnics ruined.

Time after time, they'd handed round the ham sandwiches. Poured the light ale. Then had to make a dash for it as the rain suddenly came down in buckets.

Old Francis and Capt Jimmy put up with disappointments for year after year. But summer rain came down once too often. They rushed to their ships, then went voyaging round the globe in search of a land of permanent sunshine.

Before you could say Queen Victoria, half the atlas was coloured pink.

They found sunshine all right. Lots of it, blazing down on far-distant lands. Trouble was, they were now so busy running an empire that they no longer had the time to enjoy it properly.

Now, to everyone's relief, the Empire is gone. And here we are in our damp, cramped little islands, watching rainy spring follow rainy winter, and rainy summer follow rainy spring.

To invent an old country saying: When in Britain, you can depend on rain in every month that doesn't contain the letter Z.

The deck-chairs come out of my garage so infrequently that each time I have to learn anew how to put them up.

We all dream of long hot summers, and forget that humans are not the only creatures addicted to sunbathing. So are snakes, spiders, and a host of buzzing, biting things. The hotter the climate, the greater the risk that the creepy-crawlies will be poisonous.

There's sunshine galore in Texas, and all manner of sun-worshipping varmints capable of making life a torture for unwary humans. Such as Black Widow spiders. Black Widows have been known to loiter at the bottom of my sister-in-law's garden near the Red River Valley. Not a big spider, the Black Widow, but it can give you a bite you will never forget.

There are also Tarantulas, horror-film jack-in-the-boxes whose movements are so unpredictable you don't know which way to run to get away from them.

There are more than 100 different varieties of snake in Texas. The good news is that only six of these are poisonous. The bad news is that rattle snakes are waiting to shake their tails at you, wherever you tread.
The sound a rattler makes is infinitely more chilling than the voice of Dr Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter. Its message is unmistakable. "One more step, pal, and you're dead!"

If Texas's snakes and spiders don't get you, the mosquitoes most certainly will. Once, when I was camping by a lake, mosquitoes swooped in at dawn,while I slept, and ate my face for breakfast.

Sunshine? When they departed, my visage was glowing brighter than any sun.

Texas heat can leave you wondering whether Hell wouldn't be more comfortable. When mid-summer glare is bouncing from concrete pavement to concrete building, you long to be an Eskimo.

A flashing temperature sign on a bank at the end of the street where I worked sometimes registered 120F! If you leave your car parked outside all day, the steering wheel becomes so hot you have to wrap dusters round it before grabbing hold.

Kenya is another country with an abundance of sunshine, and an even greater abundance of slithering, skipping, buzzing, biting creatures that either regard humans as "the enemy" or a walking lunch box.

Creatures like the jigger.

An enterprising little character, the jigger. It lies in wait for all those foolhardy enough to go barefoot. When a victim chances by it drills its way into the sole of the foot, seeking a warm secure place in which to lay eggs.

Itch? You don't know what itching is until you make the acquaintance of a jigger.

Then there's Bilharzia, a parasite which lurks in lakes, rivers and streams. Should you plunge in to cool off, Bilharzia worms its way into your blood stream. The results are dire.

Kenya also has its share of snakes. Cobras, Mambas, and all such things of nightmare.

A colleague of mine on a Nairobi newspaper found his three-year-old son trying to pat a Spitting Cobra in their back garden. When the sun does condescend to shine on Britain, we do at least get usable sunshine. We can sprawl out in the back garden, totally relaxed in the knowledge there will be no attacks from snake or scorpion.

The very worst that could happen is that a wasp might mistake you for a pot of jam, then become annoyed when it discovers its mistake.

And could it be that we Britons are in the last decade of being fustrated sun-worshippers? Are we about to become rain devotees?

An American research group has sent letters to the world's weathermen urging them to stop being apologetic and negative about rain.

"Rain must not be seen as a problem, but as something which is good," says Mr Kenneth Small, planning director of the Global Water Summit Initiative, a United Nations-backed organisation which hopes to fend off regional conflicts over water shortages.

"In every continent we see emerging water shortages," warns Mr Small. "In the next 10 to 15 years water will be viewed in some parts of the world as a resource which is as valuable as petrol. That is why it is so important to heighten sensitivity to the matter."

All right, so one day we will be cheering our good luck when the forecast is for rain.

But not just yet.


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