S.A.D or Just Sad?: The Legacy of the Dutch Summer

I have bemoaned the non-arrival of the Dutch summer for well, the whole of the summer.

Much was promised in the warm, soft days of spring when we could venture outdoors sans sweaters and coats, absorb the warming sunlight through our exposed winter-swaddled skin, soak up all those vitamins our bodies had been starved of since last year. It was glorious. Perhaps this would be it, a repeat of the summer of 2006.

That’s when we arrived here, on 22 July, direct from the searing heat, drenching humidity and brutal sunlight of the sub-tropics.

The weather here in the Netherlands was incredible. Hot with low humidity, long, long days and a northern blue summer sky. Day after day was a photocopy of the one before, as a system of high pressure sat over us.

I was thrilled. My memories of childhood in England, although sprinkled with fleeting remembrances of long sunny, summer days, and one hot holiday in Cornwall where I got sunburned, they are equally balanced by rainy days, cold beaches and drenched coastal towns.

Except the summer of 1976 which was the first long, hot, drought-inducing summer I remember in England. It was also the first time I vacationed abroad to somewhere with guaranteed heat; the Mediterranean. Four of us headed to Ibiza (before it became party central for Europe) and I fell in love with the sky, the water and the bone soothing warmth.

The day before we returned home I sat alone on the beach, not a living thing in sight and watched the blinding sunlight dancing and dazzling on the crystal clear aquamarine sea. Warm sea; you could dive in and feel wonderful, free, unfettered, apart from life. The sky was a blue I’d never seen except in photographs or books.

My soul had fallen in love, my spirit soared.

Years later I experienced a different heat, one so drenched with moisture every breath you took felt like you were inhaling water. It took some adjusting to, but the light was spectacular, the sky a depth and hue that sometimes looked violet in its density. Big sky you could read like a book; colours so intense it was like van Gogh had let loose with his palette.

Blacks and greys and greens and purples, each hinting at a violent change in weather, but my favourites were always the blues and violets; they saturated the sky when it was hot, heat that made your head and skin throb and sweat slide slowly over your eyeballs and down your spine.

The beaches of the Florida panhandle were a four-hour drive from home, where the sea is incredible and sand the stuff of television advertising. Palm trees, soft breezes and stunning, vibrant, bright light. We visited often.

The summer of 2006 promised much for our new life back in Europe; if this was the result of global warming bring it on.

Nights were spent with windows thrown open, a light cotton sheet the only bed covering. It was wonderful. The fact our neighbours were constantly complaining about the heat should have been a clue this was not an entirely normal state of affairs.

I chose to be blind and wandered long afternoons through leafy cool woods in flip-flops and clothes I wore in more southerly climes. Evenings were long, warm, comfortable to sit outside. I was smitten.

For a while.

We have not experienced another summer like it in five years. It was an unprecedented summer, for all the right reasons. The summer of 2011 has been particularly abysmal. My family have been rolling their eyes at my constant complaints and, I must admit, there have been times when I wondered if it was me and merely reflective of my mood.

Those of you who are regular readers will remember our summer vacation to the warmth of a Canadian summer were hit by a double whammy; Canada was experiencing unseasonal low temperatures (perfect weather was reported as soon as we left) and the Captain was injured necessitating an early return, resulting in us spending much of the summer at home.

The weather has been rather wet, and last week, during a particularly untypical storm, you could have been forgiven for thinking it was November. That day I received an email from my spouse forwarding another from the American School website.

The website is rather like a cyber car boot sale, and totally ingenious.

With the high turnover of expats there are always people desperate to get rid of ‘stuff’ and the website offers a place to advertise and sell pretty much everything. Electrical transformers, vacuum cleaners, kitchen equipment, TV’s, washers, dryers, bikes, cars, furniture, garden furniture, anything and everything.

The Captain, obviously concerned about my mental state over the coming winter following the dismal summer, had spotted a S.A.D. lamp for sale, only used twice (in Holland?). Bought for €250 in the UK (much-needed there too) it was being sold for €40. I guess he figured it would be cheaper than therapy.

I phoned immediately and dropped everything to rush round to buy it from a delightful lady called Beth, who, it turned out, lived down the road. She’d purchased the lamp for a previous move to Moscow, unaware that the chilling cold of a Russian winter is often accompanied by a cloudless sky and sunshine from horizon to horizon. Her lamp was redundant.

I feel a bit of a wimp buying this lamp, but as all bright light bulbs are being banned by the EU, plus the news this week that it’s been the wettest (so in my book, worst) summer here since 1906, maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all.

I have to admit to feeling rather smug I was right about it being a bad summer, and that I’m now equipped to deal with the dark, gloomy days of fall and winter.

Will let you know how it goes –  although an Indian summer first would be rather nice . . .

About wordgeyser

Our anglo/american family used to live in four countries (USA, Canada, UK and the Netherlands) on two continents, separated by distance, time zones, circumstance and cultures. It has been a scary, enriching, challenging place to be. The only things guaranteed to get us through were a sense of humour and the amazing people met along the way. . . This year everything changed with a move for us from the Netherlands, – and a move along with us for our son and his wife from the UK – to Houston, Texas, the same city as our daughter. With our youngest in Vancouver, Canada, we are now all living on the same continent. How this happened, and more importantly why, will be the subject of this ongoing blog...
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10 Responses to S.A.D or Just Sad?: The Legacy of the Dutch Summer

  1. yarnsongyoga says:

    I bought a full-spectrum light box about 25 years ago, from an American, when they were first in NL. It’s large and cumbersome, not like the ones produced today.. but it does the trick and helps. However, one of my very best buys in the last few years was a dawn-simulation alarm/light for the dark mornings. I wake up with sunlight in my eyes and I have to smile…. starts the day so much better and has helped (possibly more than the S.A.D. lamp) so much. I feel less tired as I begin the day well. And the fun of it is that you can chose an alarm sound – mine is the dawn chorus! All those twittering birds is a joy as well.

    • wordgeyser says:

      The dawn simulation light could be on the cards, I’ve heard very good reports. Thanks for your input as i know many people wonder whether they should invest in them.

  2. You had me ready to run off to New Orleans, Florida, Ibiza… I’ll have to look into getting such a lamp. In the meantime, I’m keeping fingers crossed for a lovely Indian summer, too.

  3. Jane says:

    Let us know if you feel the difference!

  4. We had a feel nice days in the spring but this summer, well I don’t know what to say about it. We were free 2 weeks and stayed here, it just seemed to rain solidly. I think I am starting to understand why the Dutch get their BBQs out as soon as a sunny day arrives, you never know when the next one will show up. Today might be our last sunny day this summer. Enjoy it, soak in the sunshine.

  5. I cannot cope here without my lamp. Bought it the first year we arrived, same as you, thought the summer was amazing and looked forward to blue skies over the winter. HA! By January I could scarcely get out of bed in the morning to get family off to school/work. Misery. My husband read about the “lamps”, bought one and I recovered to my usual self after two weeks. Now I start using it just after fall break, pretty much through February. I don’t wait for the mood to strike, I just start using it. I always recommend it to new families, especially if they are used to blue skies. So easy to use and it takes no time at all.

    • wordgeyser says:

      Wow, sounds like it works then! I’ve used it a couple of times already on those days when it’s been gloomy the whole day, and am looking forward to a bright winter. At least it’ll make doing the ironing a more fun experience!

  6. Sheila says:

    Will be interested to hear the results of the lamp!
    In Nottingham, England we seem to have missed much of this rain. My husband is deparate to have some rain for the parched garden and limp trees. This year has broken many records – including coldest.

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