Britain has been branded as a country of four seasons in one day. Whatever the truth, I do remember that we had four set seasons in a year. Each was distinct from the other and you could predict what to expect each month. When I was a boy, we painted pictures to mark the start of each season and in autumn we would collect leaves and conkers to decorate our classroom. The times they are a-changin, as the bard famously sang.
No season suits all. Each has its ups and downs, and should be cherished for what it shares. Spring and autumn are my favourites. I feel they have more character, more colour, than the seasons they book-end. Of course, I enjoy the t.shirt joys of summer but I find it quite one-dimensional. While I like the idealised image of crisp white snow and frosty mornings, I hate grey slush on city streets and the inconvenience of bad weather.
Sadly, Serbia seems to have mislaid a season. One of the most beautiful ones, too: autumn. Summer has rolled straight into winter, with the baggage of chills, ills and depression that it so often brings. Not yet being treated to the deep and crisp snows so fondly associated with winter, we have to suffer the doldrums of a grey and dreary transition.
I was in Belgrade and Novi Sad in earyl-mid October. The weather was pretty good, even allowing me to venture out in t.shirts on more than one occasion. I enjoyed a late summer stroll along the riverbank, met friends for coffee on terraces in Republic Square, walked in Topcider park, and even sat outside for dinner on more than one occasion. People were happy and enjoying themselves. There was a relaxed vibe in the air. I accepted that this was quite unseasonably fine weather for so late in the year so I made the most of every minute.
Last week I returned to a very different Serbia. This time business meetings and events restricted my travels to Belgrade but, in just seven weeks, the place and people had changed quite visibly. For starters, the all-enveloping mist and fog gripped was a bit of a shocker. Yes, I have seen the rivers cloaked in mist in the depths of winter but this was quite strange to me, to see the city that way. The worst, though, was the biting cold winds that lurked around every corner. Cruelly, they always seemed to be blowing directly into my face and never coaxing me from behind. Going straight from the deep heat of summer to the brutalities of winter can be quite a jolt to the system.
One other thing that I could not get over was just how hot Serbian cafés and restaurants are in winter. As soon as the outside temperature plummets, the heating inside is turned up to maximum. Not only does this play havoc with my glasses, which mist up totally the moment I step foot in an over-warm café, it also means that I am obliged to carry out my own little striptease. People who are sat at tables still wrapped in coats and even scarves look at me in horror as I peel off various layers of coat, scarf, gloves and jumper to sit there in just a t.shirt. And I’m still warm enough, thank you very much. Quite comfy, actually. I won’t even start talking about what this change in temperature (and the unavoidable cloud of smoke that pervades every café) does to my sinuses.
We are becoming used to the topsy-turvy world of weather, with hotter summers and colder winters replacing our childhood memories of more agreeable variations. There is probably some element of seeing the past through rose-tinted glasses but there is definitely more to it than that, and the science backs this up.
On my last night in Belgrade two good friends, Miloš and Nikola, took me to dinner. In conversation, I asked when the first snows usually arrive in Belgrade. Their answer was that there is no way of telling, unlike earlier years when the seasons were more predictable. These guys are in their mid twenties and already the changes have been seen by them.
Since returning, I have heard from friends in Serbia and Republika Srpska that the first signs of snow have already arrived for some of you there. Let us hope that winter is kind to us all this year. For now, it seems like the perfect excuse to snuggle up and stay warm.
Marcus Agar has been commissioned by Wannabe Magazine to write a series of reports. Click to read in Serbian of for an interview in English or Serbian.