We do go on about it a lot 'tis true, but living on an island, and living to the south west of that island and within close-enough proximity to Dartmoor to experience the effects of "nine months' winter and three months' bad weather" (as the local saying goes according to Melissa Harrison) well what else do we have to talk about here in the Shire apart from Brexit and The Archers...oh yes and the day in 2013 when the Tavy roared down...
Rain - Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison is another read from the Wainwright Prize long list. This has to be my favourite prize list of the year and I have enjoyed this little book hugely. I think it's about the way each book can relate to my life; book as personal experience and making me question how observant (or not) I might be and how to look more closely.
Living in the Tamar Valley you quickly have to accept that if you never go out in the rain you would never set foot outside the door and when you do it will be horrendously muddy, so it is all about the right gear. We have a boot room and a storm porch and hooks and places for wet things to drip and a hose to wash the boots off and please don't ask me how they coped living here in 1850, I dread to think.
I scored my latest outfit after doing that 'modelling' assignment for a local company for one of the Kayaker's photography degree projects (well actually I just sort of stood there). And Melissa Harrison agrees with me, seal yourself in some waterproof clothing and get out there in the rain and enjoy it. I've lived in this through the winter and through some hefty rain too.
Melissa Harrison togs up and take a tramp through Wicken Fen in January, Shropshire in April, Darent Valley in August and Dartmoor in October, observing along the way how rain need not be an inconvenience to be avoided but another day to be enjoyed.
Thinking back I feel sure the 'avoidance' is partly a throw-back to a 1950's childhood where we didn't play out in the rain mainly because there was no way of getting everything dry again in less than a week and also the dreaded spectre of 'chills'. I had pneumonia as a child, scaring everyone witless, and I think that sort of fear lingers in parents, but I was shocked to read that the average child's radius of play from home has diminished by 90% in recent years. It's a decline that I doubt can be remedied now.
Rain however, is a book that might somehow persuade the fair-weather reader of what else they are missing apart from a good soaking...
'And there's something else that rain gives us; something deeper and more mysterious, to do with memory and nostalgia, and a pleasurable kind of melancholy.'
I'd add a sense of self-congratulation on tipping back in the door too...as if I now deserve whatever treats I can think of, hot chocolate, the sofa, a good book. Melissa Harrison's close and detailed observations about the sights and sounds and smells, so much that perhaps I take for granted, or didn't know in the first place, has made for a really enjoyable read.
'Studies have shown that aerial plankton, the tiny flies and spiders that float on air currents and which birds like swifts and swallows eat, are pushed along before a weather front, quickly 'scrubbed' from the air by precipitation and then begin to ascend again as soon as thermals return after a shower...'
Low flies the swallow,
Rain to follow;
But when swallows fly high
The weather will be dry.
The old adage explained perhaps.
I do think a dog helps the decision to go out or not no end.
Melissa has Scout we have Rusty and Nell. Rain or water of any variety is lifeblood to spaniels, whilst our old border collie Ben used to hate it. He'd go to the door and change his mind if it was lashing down and would never ever step in a puddle if he could skirt around it. The sight of a moorland stream would have him high-tailing in the opposite direction, unlike Nell...
But there is nothing like a dog to force the issue and I doubt either of us would be quite so keen to venture out on a sopping wet day were it not for the watchful eyes from the kennel... which is in view of the storm porch... which is outside the boot room... and they know and set off on the circle dance of anticipation the very second we start the robing ceremony. Writing a book was Melissa Harrison's motivation and I get the impression she quite enjoyed herself.
Rain - Four Walks in English Weather is published by Faber in conjunction with the National Trust (I think...the logo is there) in a really delightful little hardback edition and we are now busy wondering if this little adage shared by Melissa Harrison will ring true this year...
If the oak's before the ash
The you'll only get a splash.
If the ash is before the oak
Then you may expect a soak.
The oaks have been in leaf for weeks, the ash trees are barely green, are we in for a dry summer?
And how do the trees know anyway...
So any rain-lovers out there...
And what about the oak and the ash trees over you way..