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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Summertime and the living is not so easy

Jessica Elkin weighs up the options of studying in both hot and cold weather

© Phil Wrigglesworth

As I write this, the weather is warm and sunny, there’s a light breeze, and a nice blue sky. Perfect for outdoor activities.

Perhaps it is nice right now, as you read this. You might be sitting on a piazza with a coffee, beret and a copy of The Actuary; somewhere fancy like Paris, or maybe even Hackney; or perhaps you are lounging under a tree in a meadow somewhere chewing on a piece of straw with an apple and a stray donkey to hand. Life is good.

The problem is that, whatever the weather, exams still loom stubbornly and inconveniently at the end of September, a frown on their grey face. No matter how long and lazy the days, the night must come. And there’s the rub.

… and the livin’ is easy?

I suppose there are upsides and downsides to the British summer. The upsides are that sometimes it is sunny, and you can sup on a glass of Pimm’s. Long evenings and brighter mornings certainly improve the spirits when compared with the dreary and dismal winters. The beer gardens are suddenly inviting and invigorating, rather than dank, dark places where outcast smokers huddle and shiver miserably, cigarettes in hand.

The downsides are mostly connected to the fact that the weather is not actually very reliable, and, frankly, you can drink Pimm’s at any time. 

However, rain is at least conducive to getting things done. The columnist Caitlin Moran once wrote that the only reason the British ever achieved anything was because the weather has always been so grim, so people had to find ways to pass the time indoors inventing things and building an empire rather than basking in sunshine and happiness. I can see a lot of truth in that. The empire probably collapsed the day someone invented cheap foreign holidays.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Of course, the winter sitting is longer than the summer one, despite Christmas falling smack bang in the middle with all its parties, gift shopping and other festive frivolities. While I don’t think that makes a huge difference – surely it’s the dreary winter evenings that make for good study time. Imagine being curled up by the fire while the wind howls outside the window with a cup of cocoa, a blanket and some study notes. However you play studying in the winter, it certainly feels easier to avoid distraction. Summer invites the weak-willed student away from unappetising ‘thinking’ and towards barbecues, and beaches, and general sunning.

Now, now. There’s always the option of studying outside. And why not? You can have your cake and eat it. The bloke who invented the wheel was probably sitting on a grassy hillock or similar, so we know it is possible. There are plenty of parks about if you are not fortunate enough to have a garden, and notes are more portable than ever thanks to e-books.


There always is an ‘unfortunately’, with a wind just strong enough to blow papers away, and a shifty wasp who has other ideas, and too much direct sunlight for you to be able to read (particularly from a screen). Not to mention that reclining in the sunshine is more enjoyable with your eyes closed, and that the ActEd folders are just the right size and height to use as a pillow. On one memorable occasion during my A levels, I fell asleep reading a textbook on the lawn and woke up with my face stuck to it. The textbook, not the lawn.

So what’s the solution to this grave injustice? Is summer to be relegated, like Easter, to something we cannot enjoy until qualification? The important thing must be to take full advantage of the rainy days to study – and thankfully there are plenty of those. As someone who knows what it is to fail, it seems clear that we must all sacrifice a little bit of sun for the greater good. You could still have a glass of Pimm’s though.