I love the rain. The fresh smell of damp soil particles, loosened out of the ground by aerial bombardment, pervading my nostrils with their earthy aroma as I walk through the park in my rain jacket. The pitter-patter on the roof and windows as I sit inside, sipping a cup of tea, watching the drops slide slowly down the pane. That feeling when running for cover in a downpour, hair and clothes not just wet, but so saturated it feels strangely refreshing.
“But what about all the grief it causes. Being stuck indoors because you can’t go out. Never being sure if you can organise a BBQ or an outdoor wedding. Having to dry wet-hair and saturated clothes” you say. Yes, it makes things challenging, but rain doesn’t cancel your plans, your lack of convictions do. He is the guy who says “I bet you can’t”. And you need someone challenging your ideas, weeding out the good from the bad. Just how badly do you want to go to that music festival? Think you are good a football? Well can you pass it when the ball is wet? If your new hairdo doesn’t snap back into shape after the rain dries out of it, how would you know if it the hair dresser did a good job?
He cleans the windows you can’t reach, rinses down the old banger that doesn’t warrant a trip to the car-wash. Yes, sometimes we go to war with him. Sometimes he goes for the slow kill, those sneaky light drizzles he uses to coax us out of shelter, only to find after twenty minutes the damp patches have growth like fungus and now covered our entire jeans, soaking them through. Other times, he waits like a sniper until we are out in the dry open, and then fires a few heavy rounds, leaving us sodden and stranded. But you need an adversary. We wouldn’t have flown to the moon without the Russians threatening. Likewise, just think of the ingenuity rain has soaked out of our heads – Gor-tex, windscreen wipers, umbrellas and drain-pipes.
Ask an Irishman what he hates most about the weather on this little island, and he will eventually say the rain. Not having to scrape a layer of ice, gloveless, off the car windshield in February with a credit card, or never seeing daylight outside of work in the dark days of December, or having to watching the anaemic sun struggle to push up the thermometer at the height of August. No, he will put up with all that, but looking out the window on a Friday afternoon responding to a discussion about weekend plans, he will say “Not bleedin’ much, it’s supposed to lash all weekend!”
Rain is painted an unpredictable, unstable bully here. We are never sure when he will strike, but he is always lurking, waiting until we organise the hike in the mountains, an outdoor wedding, or a football game. Then he opens up a volley of carefully orchestrated showers. He goes ahead and ruins the outdoor photography session, keeps the kids indoors to drive their parents demented, give drainpipe jeans a new meaning, and destroys mobile phones. And if anyone is bold enough to go out and reason with him, they catch a cold or get pneumonia from him.
But this personification is not prevalent elsewhere. In Africa, rain is strictly a positive thing, and its arrival can bring more joy than Christmas. It’s a symbol of rejuvenation and growth. Having lived in Southern California for several years in the arid flat cityscape of south central Los Angeles, I experienced the joy of the rains coming. About February they would turn up. And they wouldn’t roll into town as a stuttering set of random showers. It was more like a juggernaut that would pour down for 24 hours straight and then promptly leave, not to be seen again for eleven arid months. But that day of downpour was glorious. I would watch it from inside, mesmerised at the intensity, the street drains overflowing and the hardened patches of earth and scraps of brown grass getting drunk on water. But that sort of rain always seemed more to me like a one-night-stand than a long term affair. It was great but you always somehow longed for something more meaningful. And yes, those 11 arid months in between were deliciously warm and sunny. But watching 7 cartoon suns line up of the local TV weather report as the weatherman sweeps his had through the week proclaiming perfectly uniformity takes away the suspense. It’s like the weatherman has already told you who did it before you read the first page of the detective novel.
Maybe it is this unpredictability that gets to Irish people and wears them down. A month full of monsoon downpour would be fine, but the sort of Chinese water torture type rain unique to Ireland is what wears people out. But not knowing things is what makes life interesting. Is we knew for sure there was or wasn’t a God or why exactly we were here, life would be incredibly dull. It’s the unknown world in between that has driven art, philosophy and science in man for decades. On an admittedly letter scale, that wonder of the unknown applies to Irish showers. Their uncertainty fills pauses in struggling conversations with predictions of precipitation for next Tuesday. They are the constantly changing chaotic background wallpaper we try to make sense of – the clear sky, the drizzle, the downpour, the clearing and then the drizzle again.
The weatherman will also sweep his hand across a row of 7 cartoon suns on RTE, although now most are obscured by clouds of varying shades of grey. We never give the picture much attention though, because we don’t believe it and neither does he. Instead we go on talking about it for hours, when it’s coming, when it will be over, whether it will be heavy or light. Will it be fierce rain, only a shower, buckets, lashing, or cats and dogs? Will I bring the clothes in from the line?
So, do you know if it’s going to rain tomorrow?