King of the Streets

A man with an umbrella.

I like rain and always have, as far as I can remember.

I started thinking about this late last night as I drowsily browsed Alexandra Harris’s 2015 book Weatherland. In her survey of how English writers and artists have looked at the weather she says this of Dorothy and William Wordsworth:

Cumbria is now officially the rainiest county in England, dripping with twice as much rain as some other parts of the country. This didn’t bother the Wordsworths. They were both phenomenally tough, able to walk for hours in steady rain, their woollen coats heavy with the wet, and still consider the experience pleasant.

When I was a kid growing up on a council estate in Somerset I would feel absolute elation if I woke up to low contrast grey light and the tip-tap of rain outside. Not only did I find the cool, subtle atmosphere pleasing in its own right but I also knew that, for a few hours at least, the streets were mine.

Three tourists in the rain.

I wasn’t a tough kid but wandering the avenues, alleyways and closes during a downpour I felt harder than all those wimps cowering indoors.

I could walk from one end of the estate to the other — further than I usually roamed — without seeing anyone, except the occasional face behind a fogged car windscreen.

The shortcuts I usually avoided because they were the territory of rough kids — like mad-eyed Chantel who would have given the Pope a Chinese burn if he’d been reckless enough to wander into her park — were suddenly open. Even if I did bump into someone scary they wouldn’t be inclined to bother me, not with the rain soaking into their trainers.

An anorak-wearing walker on the prom.

When I was small I liked to pretend I was a soldier enduring harsh conditions on patrol. In adolescence the daydream changed. First, I was a private eye going down these mean streets, neither tarnished nor afraid, imagining my very unsexy anorak a trench-coat. Then, becoming a serious student, I did indeed start to think of myself as a Coleredgeian Romantic, reading poetry under trees, partly sincerely, but also because I hoped a girl might see me and be impressed. (Girls, I for some reason imagined, craved damp boys reading wet paperbacks next to the dogshit bins in Cranleigh Gardens.)

I’m still thrilled by the rain, even as I’ve learned to appreciate sunshine too, and I still scoff inwardly when I see people running for cover: ‘It’s only a bit of rain! Doesn’t bother me. I am English, after all.’ Yes, apparently in my more pompous moments I imagine enduring wet trousers to be an English national superpower.

The only problem is that, entering middle-age, I find myself wearing glasses, and speckled, misty spectacles are no fun at all. Perhaps my days as king of the rain-slicked streets are over.

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