I don’t think I had a single conversation about air conditioning until 2005, when a burst of August weather that we would now consider a respite felt like the mouth of hell.
Sitting in a pub living some Smiths lyrics (gasping, dying, but somehow still alive), a lugubrious friend who took delight only from grim irony said: “If this carries on – which it will, because it’s not a freak event – everyone will want air conditioning, which will only make climate change worse.” I said: “Don’t be ridiculous; this is freak weather, not British weather. Nobody will want air conditioning, because it’s an Americanism, culturally anathema, like Halloween.” Fifteen years later, air con is all anyone talks about. I may also have been wrong about Halloween.
We were so hot last week that we got into full, five-way family combat about whether we would rather have air con or still have a coastline by 2100. This culminated in my 12-year-old insisting that he definitely would not be alive by then and me yelling: “You’ll be 92! That’ll be a spring chicken in 2100.”
It is so far south of moot, this point, because it is over my dead body. I don’t even believe in fans. I believe, implacably, that you should be able to tell exactly how hot it is outside from how hot you are inside. Install air con and you might as well be living in a shopping mall. Why not brick over your windows and put in a brow bar while you are at it?
But it was this conversation – or, more specifically, having a cross-generational argument about it – that rammed home how different things are. Generations have been separated before by epochal change, by wars and whatnot, but, emigres aside, we have always had a few constants – what good weather looks like, what hot means, whether April is indeed the cruellest month, whether or not to cast a clout before May is out. My kids are growing up in what is already a completely changed climate.
They can still whistle for air conditioning, though. Even when they have left home, it is on my disinherited list, right up there with motorbikes.
Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist