The Editor’s Desk: An early start to the silly season

It looks as if we’re headed for a long August, as the silly season got going early this year

August is traditionally known by journalists as the “silly season”. As the summer holidays drag on, reporters often find themselves having to dig around for stories, which often means reporting on things that in the normal course of events would not rate a mention.

One of the staples of silly season reporting is the “On ice: health officials shut down lemonade stand” story, wherein local kids selling cold beverages are told by a health inspector they have to close down because of licensing and/or health and safety issues. This year the story came out of New York state late in July, which makes me think it’s going to be a looong August, but also enabled me to tick that story off early on my silly season bingo card (if you spot the “Dog left behind at campsite reunited with owners” story somewhere, drop me a line.).

If done right, the lemonade stand story is a boon to beleaguered reporters looking to fill space. There’s the initial story, of course, complete with a picture of cute kids, as well as an op-ed piece about over-regulation and the need for officialdom to chill out. There will (hopefully) be letters to the editor from readers who are outraged by this example of bureaucratic overreach, and further op-eds: one about simple childhood pleasures being steamrolled in the “nanny state” era, and one about the kids’ entrepreneurship being an example of how the younger generation is not, in fact, going to Hell in a handbasket.

Nine times out of 10 there is then a follow-up article about officialdom relenting and giving the young business people its blessing; bonus points if you can get a picture of a representative of officialdom posing with the kids in front of the stand, beverage in hand. A final op-ed can take the “David vs. Goliath” tack (the phrase “a victory for common sense” must be included).

Many people in Europe could probably do with a cold glass of lemonade right about now, as much of that continent has been sweltering under a heatwave of epic proportions. Last week Paris recorded its highest-ever temperature (108.6° F), and Cambridge, England hit a temperature of 100.5° F; only the second time that a temperature in the triple-digits has been recorded in the United Kingdom.

Those temperatures might seem like no big deal to some people in this region: uncomfortable, yes, but nothing spectacular. Having lived in Britain, I can tell you that temperatures of 100° F are a huge deal there, where it’s the exception rather than the rule for homes and businesses to have any kind of air conditioning (or even fans). I think of my mother-in-law’s former home in Stourbridge in the West Midlands—just 120 miles from Cambridge—which was a typical Victorian brick semi-detached home (two rooms and a kitchen downstairs, two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs), and shudder to think what it would be like with the outside temperature hovering around the 100° F mark.

As a new report from BC Hydro notes, however, it’s easy—and all-too-frequent—to go overboard with the air conditioning when the mercury rises. This can (and does) cause issues in many offices, where aggressive use of the AC system often crosses the line between “pleasantly cool” and “Siberia”.

According to research, this dates back to the 1960s, when air conditioning began to be prevalent in offices that were largely populated by men wearing suits and ties. Women—who are generally smaller than men and have a different metabolic rate—feel the cold more keenly, particularly when they dress for the real world (“It’s like an oven out there!”) rather than the office (“Why is this place like a meat locker?”).

The website CollegeHumor neatly and funnily sent-up the situation with a short video called “Why Summer is the Women’s Winter”, in which female office workers are huddled in winter coats trying to keep warm while their male colleagues, dressed in shorts and T-shirts, tell them there’s ice cream on the fourth floor (“’Cause it’s so hot!”). Watch it at; if you’re a woman, make sure you have a cup of hot coffee—not ice-cold lemonade—on hand.

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