As anyone who spends time exploring St Andrews will attest, the town plays host to an alluring array of scenery. A sunset sit on West Sands, a midday hike along the Fife Coastal Path, a wander around the castle and a late afternoon stroll through the botanic gardens each acts as a method of escape from the ongoing study session that is student life. That said, I feel like I am one of the only ones who are particularly antagonised by a certain unwelcome guest that permeates each of these supposedly ‘calm’ and ‘peaceful’ settings … the wind.
I’m from California and have always insisted that I hate the heat. Many of us self-proclaimed sun-shunners will gladly share that there’s nothing worse than not being able to get cold; the impossibility of shedding layers beyond shorts and a T-shirt yet having to live life under the sapping sun is our definition of a nightmare. Like many St Andreans, I have for a long time insisted that the rain is my best friend. Cold weather? Love her. Fog? Bring it on. Wind? Perfect. In 4th grade, I even had a teacher who celebrated when it rained by taking our class out on rain walks to splash in puddles and breathe fresh air for 15 minutes. Donned in waterproofs and wellingtons, she insisted “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes.” I even believed her then, but if Scotland has shown me one thing, it’s that we’ve all told ourselves this lie. I didn’t know then that she was referencing none other than Scottish comedy legend Billy Connolly who famously stated “I hate all those weathermen too, who tell you rain is bad weather. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, so get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little.” As he was born only a 1.5-or-so-hour drive southwest of the East Neuk in Glasgow, I ignorantly assumed Mr Connolly’s statement would travel the distance and hold up in our coastal town. In fact, it wasn’t Connolly from whom this sentiment originated, as per popular belief, but another UK native and avid hiker Alfred Wainwright from Blackburn in Northern England who initially wrote the immortal words “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” Let me just say: the man must not have spent much time in eastern Scotland.
As students of St Andrews, I can't imagine any of us chose to attend the university without some knowledge and acceptance of the cooler, damper climate, but I was one of the ones who were invigorated by the thought of rainy study sessions, wintery scarves and blustery walks complete with earmuffs and thick socks. Almost 4 semesters later, I can say with confidence that my romantic imagination of the weather was majorly misguided. And, it’s not that I haven’t tried to overcome this constant struggle. Walking from DRA to town, exposed to the elements, one will inevitably halt in shock upon seeing a runner in shorts, a person casually and comfortably swaggering in no more than a tank top, and I’ve even come across some flip-flop-clad feet. Such superheroes defy logic. If you’re lucky though, you might also see a figure layered in multiple jackets, a trench coat 2 sizes too big to make room for the puff of puffy jackets underneath, a scarf or two, always a hat and a concerning number of socks on…yes, that’s me. Resembling the michelin man, I’ve experimented with multiple pairs of pants, battery powered ski socks, fleece, wool, uggs, windbreakers, sub-zero qualified coats, mufflers galore: you name it. And yet … I am always cold. We aren't often bombarded by snow as residents of Aberdeen can be, but there’s something about the perpetual inbetween of St Andrews’ weather that grinds many of our gears … the cloudy, cold, windiness - without ever being truly freezing — and never ever so warm and sunny during term time that we can comfortably sunbathe or rely on the skies to allow us to forget a coat. Or 3 coats, if you’re like me. For those of us who live in seasonal locations, my family and I having moved from San Francisco to Connecticut when I started uni, the ‘milder’ weather in Scotland might be expected to be a welcome change, but a quick Quora search has confirmed my doubts. In response to my question “is Scotland colder than Canada,” the location of my poorly-chosen (in terms of weather) study abroad year for 2022-23, the response read: “Scotland feels by far colder. The thermostat may say otherwise, but Scotland almost always feels much colder. I have lived in Vancouver, Eastern Scotland, and the Rockies.” So, I’ve come to the conclusion that it has to be the icy wind that makes our corner feel like a scene from the revenant.
Don’t get me wrong … I would still take cooler weather over feeling like I’m being baked like a potato every day, but I like to hear the rain tap on a window or film flurries of snow through a glass shield … I like to be inside in ‘bad’ weather. I don’t, however, want to be seen carrying approximately 100 kg of groceries through what I can only say feels like knives cutting my cheeks, squinting ahead while pushing through an invisible wall of force that equates to walking through mud. I’ve now even taken to wearing sunglasses — no, not because spring is on the horizon, but as armor from the eye-fluid drying, desert-style gusts. I’ve even gone to battle with a weapon in hand in the form of an umbrella, only to be brutally rebuffed. While it might not count as clothing, St Andrews veterans know better than to bother with such irrelevancies. Those of us delusional enough to once pretend that a flimsy metal and fabric prop from H&M would be any kind of match for a particularly forceful wind fight learned our lessons the hard way when that thing was turned inside out 3 minutes after leaving the flat, leaving us embarrassingly trying not to pull a full-on Mary Poppins and take flight. So, the experienced students wear waterproof coats instead, but this mere shell alone is not enough to shield us from the icy temperatures of winter. Alas, I find myself in public wearing a couple long sleeves underneath a pile of clothes that takes at least 20 minutes to both intricately put on and remove. And, I’m still colder than a Sphynx cat in the Arctic.
Connolly now lives in a sun magnet: Quay West, Florida … slightly suspicious of our bad-weather-welcoming friend, if you ask me. I will give him this though: I’ll agree that the climate I have bashed still isn’t what we have for so long called “bad” weather. I even find it comical that we’ve labeled something so changeable, diverse and global as the weather in terms of a binary “good/bad” scale and absolutely do condemn those who refuse to ever go out in the fog or cancel perfectly good plans citing “rain check.” Sure, one can be woefully underdressed in a storm, improperly suited up for a scorching beach day or lacking in the layers department, but such people have no right to complain. If I can still make it to class with my whole closet on display and get fresh air no matter the forecast, you can too, no matter how miserable we may be.
I stand by that St Andrews has still proven Billy and old Al wrong though. I surely am not alone in saying we can be wearing all the clothes in the world, be responsibly prepared for a weather event or positively excited to “live a little,” but for some of us, no amount of cloth will resist the power of that 50 km/h wind on a 2 degree day. So, Mrs. H.S. from 4th grade, I’ll give it to you: Connolly’s “sexy raincoat” might be a worthy opponent for the (now very occasional) rain that scatters northern California, but tried and tested, it is no match for Eastern Scotland’s antagonising wind and horizontal precipitation, to say the least.
Illustration: Lauren McAndrew