Tropical heat and Japanese seaweed bewilder Britons
''What dreadful hot weather we have,'' wrote Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra. ''It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.'' She was writing almost 190 years ago, in an unusually warm September in 1796. She would have been just as accurate had she written in July 1983: Britain has been fighting inelegance with a vengeance in recent days.Skip to next paragraph
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In April and May it hardly stopped raining. Now the sun has been pouring down and temperatures have been 90 degrees F. or more. For a country famous for rain and fog, it is a welcome change - despite the surfaces of some major roads starting to melt (one section near Guildford in Surrey actually caught fire), some forest fires, and the watering of some gardens being banned.
* Meanwhile, even while newspapers, radio, and television were dominated by the debate on whether to bring back the gallows to punish the crime of murder, the summer has produced a varied crop of other conversations in these suddenly baking days and long soft twilights.
There have been the Scots, for instance - or rather, the Scots talking about themselves. Are you aware that Lloyd George is said to have remarked that ''the Scots have got only one bad fault - there are too few of them''?
Or that Voltaire once said, ''It is from Scotland that we receive rules of taste in all the arts''?
Such quotations (and many more) have been revived in a burst of activity by the Scottish Development Agency in Glasgow. Intent on attracting new industry to a part of Britain suffering badly from economic recession, the agency is running television advertisements listing Scottish inventions, from asphalt to the sextant.
The agency has also compiled a formidable list of information under the heading ''the great Scots.'' Scotland, for instance, provided 25,000 settlers to the American colonies in the decade before the Revolution. The earliest Scots settlement was in Georgia, the largest in North Carolina.
Did you also happen to know that at least 11 presidents were of Scottish ancestry (and that Ulysses Grant has a street named after him in Tayport, Fife)? That Thomas Jefferson traced one line of his maternal ancestry to the Scottish king, Robert the Bruce? That the original ''Uncle Sam'' was one Samuel Wilson whose parents emigrated from Greenock?
I thought not. You may be similarly unmoved to learn that Scottish dancing is ''increasingly popular'' with the Japanese, and that a Scottish firm called Watkins was the first to use watermarks in banknotes.
Oh well. Some Scots take it all very seriously indeed. . . .
* The readers of the London Times have also been mulling over a report that Latin simply isn't what it was.
Once a gentleman (and a lady) studied Latin as a matter of course. But a new survey of ''independent'' schools (a title invented by upper-crust private schools to try to convey a more egalitarian public image) is about to show that science has taken over Latin's traditional place as a compulsory subject.