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Last Updated: Monday, 30 August, 2004, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Farewell my summer
The season formerly known as summer is all but over. Can anything be salvaged from the deluge?

With the arrival of the last bank holiday of summer, there's little point in pretending that this has been a season to cherish.

It's been a time of seemingly endless rain, with the long hot days, evenings in the garden and impromptu barbecues Britons so enjoy, strikingly few and far between.

Officially at least there may be three more weeks before summer finally ends, but to all intents and purposes it is quite literally dead in the water - with shorter, colder days just around the corner.

Is there any reason at all to remember summer 2004?

WEIRD WEATHER

Weather-wise, the enduring image must be of cars floating down the streets of Boscastle. Footage of the Cornish town's rivers destroying walls and homes somehow seemed horribly apt in such a wet summer.

Elsewhere, shoppers and commuters were spectacularly drenched as modest temperatures produced the kind of downpours more usually associated with the tropics.

Wrecked cars in Boscastle
The devastation at Boscastle will take months to clear

In fact, the past month has been so rain-sodden that meteorologists are cheerfully preparing to announce it was the wettest August on record, comfortably beating the 127.7mm of water that fell from the sky in 1992.

In a country where the weather is so closely linked to the national character, it is not clear how Britons will cope without spectacular highs such as 2003's record 38C to buoy them through the winter.

But it has also been a distinctly odd few months. Perhaps phenomena such as fish raining on Powys in Wales, or a typhoon tearing through a circus tent as the troop rehearsed in Southwold, Suffolk, can provide an alternative source of memories.

WATER POLLUTION

Unfortunately it has not just been the cars of embattled Cornish folk that have ended up in British waters.

Dead fish, eye and ear infections and gastroenteritis are just some of the delightful side effects of huge quantities of sewage being washed into rivers and the sea.

Dead fish
Oxygen-starved fish were washed up on the banks of the Thames

When 600,000 tonnes of untreated sewage spilled into the Thames following sudden downpours in London, thousands of the fish whose presence is often hailed as proof of the river's cleanliness suffocated.

Elsewhere, the Marine Conservation Society called for signs to be put on beaches to warn swimmers of the dangers posed to their health.

Many UK beaches have sewer overflows on or near them it said, adding: "We would ask swimmers to avoid going in the sea for a day or two after heavy rain."

The warnings were not warmly received by the Environment Agency - which said UK beaches were "cleaner than ever".

MUSIC FESTIVALS

Reading festival reveller
Before the first of the 50,000 music fans even arrived, organisers of the Reading Festival had warned them to prepare for the worst.

In the event, things were drier than anticipated. Glastonbury-goers weren't so lucky.

ICE CREAM

Things are not going well for the good citizens of Britain's ice cream community.

The vans chiming their way round suburban streets have been filling noticeably fewer cones than in previous years.

Children eat ice cream
Ice cream sales have been melting away

People just don't think of an ice cream, or ice lolly, with the same fervour on a drizzly day stuck indoors as they do at the end of a long, hot afternoon in the park.

As for those vans purveying their wares at the traditional tourist destinations there is the small matter that, compared to previous years, few people are actually there.

"The beach people have been hit particularly badly as we've not seen two consecutive days of good weather in the past four to six weeks," Ice Cream Alliance president Colin Marsden told the Times.

Even the big players are suffering. Nestle says low temperatures have hit sales. Rival firm Unilever, which owns Magnum, has also been frustrated by the lack of sunshine.

DOWN ON THE FARM

Farmers are steeling themselves for a lean winter, after the rain first destroyed large areas of crops and then prevented them from getting on with the harvest.

Farmer stands amid flattened crops
Rains have flattened crops in some areas

Cereal growers could suffer as badly as livestock farmers did during the foot and mouth crisis did, the government's rural adviser Lord Haskins said.

Only about half the wheat in the country has been harvested, with entire fields of crops left to rot.

Farmers expect to lose about 100 for each acre of land, Lord Haskins said, with no prospect of government compensation.

ENGLISH WINE

While the farming rank and file warns that flood damage to crops may cause great hardship, wine growers are looking forward to a bumper harvest.

Despite conditions which bear little resemblance to the sun-drenched climate of southern France and other better-established wine producing areas, English viticulturists are anticipating a vintage year.

Grapes on vine
British grapes have had a good few months

It is often said that Julius Caesar first brought vines to England and there are now about 400 vineyards as far north as Leeds, although the bulk of the industry remains firmly in the south.

Next weekend, the 30th Wine and Regional Food Festival is being held in East Sussex, with a full range of red, white, rose and sparkling wines expected to be on offer.

WASPS AND HOVER FLIES

Among the big winners were wasps and hover flies, whose strength in numbers made their yellow and black stripes the colours of the summer.

So great has been the spread of the insects that it has been suggested the population is at a 20-year high.

Wasp
Pest control experts have been dealing with large numbers of wasps

Unnerved by these uninvited guests, thousands of entomophobics - insect haters - resorted to calling out pest control experts. And hover flies don't even sting - they're just a bit annoying.

Dr Michael Archer, a retired lecturer in animal behaviour, suggested the sudden increase in wasp numbers was down to the spread of eco-friendly farming.

"Wasps have a bad reputation," says Dr Archer. "But it's not a bad thing having more insects, because they are essential for birds."

A QUESTION OF SPORTS

The British summer was never really going to provide the clear blue skies or heat of Athens.

But while those sportsmen and women who wound up in the UK instead of at the Olympics may not have been basking in endless Mediterranean heat, the sporting calendar proceeded smoothly.

Maria Sharapova
Wimbledon champion at 17, Maria Sharapova

Yes, Euro 2004 was also held in sunnier climes, but fans unable to follow the team to Portugal were able to watch the games on outdoor screens across the country.

Wimbledon saw rain and indeed Sunday play to make up for lost time. But it produced memorable champions, with Roger Federer and 17-year-old Maria Sharapova winning fans over.

And then there was the cricket, England's unanimous victory over the West Indies reinforced the belief that this summer was truly unlike any other.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

So much for global warming, having to turn the heating on in our house before the end of August.
Rosa Gillibrand, Belgium

People do have short memories: between the intense showers, earlier in August and in late May/June we had a lot of very warm weather, at least in the South-East or was I the only one finding it uncomfortably humid and difficult to sleep?
Adam Clinton, London UK

Our summer weather has not been that bad - it's only for the last two/three weeks that the wind and rain have been so heavy. Here in Devon, we have had a lovely summer since June.
chris edmonds, britain

Wet, dark, damp and miserable... say no more. I can't wait for winter. Surely it can't get any worse.
Neil Bailey, UK

Sorry to be smug, but I moved with my family to live and work in northern Spain at the beginning of summer. It looks like my timing was very good. The weather here has been hot and sometimes sticky, and I have been able to plan weekend activities many days in advance without disruption from the weather.
Neil Bryan, Spain

Much depends on what your expectations are. If you live up here in Scotland then expectations will be low. Apart from perhaps a bit more rain than we'd hoped for it's not been too bad a summer so far.
Dick , Scotland

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