As residents of these islands, we have a complex relationship with the rain. Most of the year is spent either cowering beneath its constant threat– existing, and barely more, under a dome of oppressive, milky grey, like some dystopian Center Parcs – or battling through it, faces set against the terrible predictability.
Then, in those rare dry periods, we begin to obsess about its absence as if exhibiting the symptoms of some curious form of weather-based Stockholm Syndrome.
For some, myself included, the low pressure that produces those dismal, pregnant clouds, can often be tangible – the pressure bearing down from opaque skies eventually birthing a new, perfectly formed low.
It got so bad one year that I sought help for what I felt sure was a chronic case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (it’s a thing). The nugget of wisdom I took from my weekly sessions was to try to remember that, however bad it got, above our uniquely British canopy of gloom there are always clear, blue skies. Invariably it was raining when I left.
‘It got so bad one year that I sought help for what I felt sure was a chronic case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (it’s a thing)’
It’s nevertheless advice that resonated. I try to fix it in my mind whenever I feel my stocks of vitamin D dwindling (10 months of the year, in other words). And while it might seem odd to be discussing rain during one of those rare summers balmy enough to stir memories – in those of us old enough to have them – of the blazing, drought-hit summer of 1976, if there is one thing you can rely on it is that we are never far away from the next soaking.
London is particularly bad in the rain, of course. Ours is a city that becomes immediately viscous, grimy and hazardous, like some great urban oil slick. Like the transport network, we should be all too familiar with the demands of inclement weather but for some reason we seem incapable of dealing with it.
When the skies open, there are dangers everywhere, not least in the hordes of aimless mobile phone junkies – their senses dulled to all around them as they scroll through their ‘likes’ and Snapchat messages – who become even more of a threat when armed with umbrellas balanced precariously at eye level as their devices are tended to.
It’s not only people that make London perilous in the wet. All it takes to ruin a day is the pairing of a heavy shower and a loose paving slab – the sensation of ‘give’ in what should be a solid surface having only a split second to register before a jet of bilge shoots over your shoes and trouser leg.
‘Ours is a city that becomes immediately viscous, grimy and hazardous, like some great urban oil slick’
The rain also seems to bring out a misanthropy among drivers of larger vehicles. For those at the wheel of Transit vans, the temptation of surface water seems impossible to resist, especially when there is an unfortunate pedestrian available to coat in a bow wave of filthy liquid.
And what is it about London bus drivers that makes them meet your pleading gaze as they pull away without you, having first watched you sprint through the deluge?
Even at its infrequent best, rain is frequently spiteful, reserving its appearances for weekends. Being stuck inside can be just as bad as being caught in a sudden monsoon, especially if you have small children (I have three under seven). Infants need to be run and parents need to escape the tyranny of kids’ TV, and whatever is said about London offering a multitude of things to do with children, you can guarantee that every other family in the city will have the same idea when it’s bucketing down.
So let’s make merry while the sun shines – enjoy a post- work pint outside the pub, revel in the novelty of wearing sunglasses, embrace the opportunity to walk – because all too soon this good weather will seem like a distant dream. And, trust me, those blue skies will feel a long, long, long way above the featureless murk.
Wet outside? Head underground for a hidden London
1. For foodies: wine tasting at Berry Bros & Rudd
Berry Bros & Rudd has been at No. 3 St James’s since 1698. On August 1, it will open its Pickering Cellar, one storey down, for a one-off , two-hour wine-tasting experience, covering sparkling wine, and a further eight bottles, including examples from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Barolo. An opportunity to advance your oenophile credentials.
2. For history buffs: Clapham South Subterranean Shelter
London has eight deep-level shelters – Clapham South’s opened in July 1944 and has over a mile of subterranean passageways. It was used to house Caribbean migrants arriving on the Windrush in the late 1940s and locals during The Blitz. Discover these and many other stories, 180 steps underground, on official tours starting from August 11.
3. For performance lovers: Fantasia at The Vaults
Nestled underneath Waterloo station, The Vaults immersive theatre is hosting its own take on Walt Disney’s Fantasia, a sort of experiential silent disco- cum-concert. Armed with headphones, you’ll be invited to dance with a hippo, walk in a prehistoric wasteland and stick your head into a Sorcerer’s lair. Evening sessions for adults, or take the family at the weekend.
From £30, thevaults.london