I must be honest and say that I was expecting this show to be as dreary as it’s subject matter, but it was in fact a very enjoyable look at one aspect of the nation’s obsession with weather; rain. In fact, I’m surprised it was ‘relagated’ to BBC4… I personally think it was deserving of a place on BBC1 or at least BBC2!
It was not only a wry and tongue in cheek affair but there was actual science stuff that was – again, surprisingly – not a bit dull but the forecast for the future isn’t too good vis-à-vis rain in that we should expect a goodly deal more of it apparently. I was rather hoping that if global warming had to happen, it could at least do us the favour of providing longer and better summers in Britain, but of course, the second we get into drought territory, it’s no longer a laughing matter…
Apropos of which, the show brought back some great memories of the summer of 1976 when for me as a kid, it was very much a laughing matter. I remember it well; the excitement of having big water tankers arriving at the end of the road and everyone rushing out to fill every receptacle they had from the tanks… pans, buckets, cups, vases, washing up bowls and even a commode pan – it was great fun for us kids at the time for whom that summer was seemingly an endless pleasurefest, but of course, it wreaked havoc on the nation.
There were some great clips in the show too, such as mighty downpours at Wimbledon which demonstrated how hardy and doggedly determined to carry-on-regardless of the rain that we Brits are. Folks who’d paid for tickets stoically sat under a sea of umbrellas for hours on end, covered head to foot in plastic macs, still eating their strawberries and cream and optimistically waiting for play to begin again.
We heard too how rain has its own phraseology in various parts of the country; in England, it rains ‘cats and dogs’ while in Wales apparently that saying’s counterpart is ‘old women and sticks’ neither of which make any sense whatsoever. Why can’t we just come in, shake off our anoraks and say, ‘It’s raining absolute water out there…”
But anyway, the ‘lighter side’ of rain was depicted certainly but so too was the more powerful and potentially deadly aspect of it, and footage from the floods in Gloucestershire and many other areas of the country ably demonstrated that weather – and in this case, rain – is not a force to be messed with or taken with any sort of blasé attitude.
As to the science bits, there was input from meteorologists who went into great detail about cloud formation and how that whole malarkey works vis-à-vis the wet stuff and we heard too how the pioneering work of the much undervalued and totally uncelebrated George Symons – a Victorian meteorologist – led to the first recordings of weather statistics. When we hear the phrase, “Since records began” it was Mr Symons who was the man to whom that phrase refers but the poor chap lies in an unmarked grave and his contribution to weather forecasting has been greatly overlooked. Well, I’ll now think of him next time I hear that infamous phrase…
We heard too about the shape of raindrops, James Glaisher’s seven-mile hot air balloon ascent in 1862 to investigate the watery stuff and how Charles Macintosh invented the waterproof coat upon which we’ve come to rely as part of our daily lives for about 340 odd days a year, and how the Victorians believed they could “master” the rain and “push it aside”. Oddly enough, they found they couldn’t actually.
All in all this was a fun look at one of the nation’s main topics of conversation between taxi drivers and their passengers as well as anyone in a supermarket queue where there’s a pregnant pause and neighbourly chats over the privet hedge.
Next week’s show is all about snow and how it pretty much causes the country to grind to a halt after a couple of flakes.