The fourth instalment of Douglas Adams’ ‘Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ series, entitled ‘So Long And Thanks For All The Fish,’ features a truck driver named Rob McKenna. Poor old Rob is described in the very first sentence as ‘a miserable bastard,’ but he’s a miserable bastard with a serious excuse.
At one point in the novel, he’s hectoring Adams’ main character, Arthur Dent, about how miserable everything is. ‘It-rains-all-the-time,’ he insists. Arthur attempts to reasonably point out that it doesn’t, exciting poor Rob’s fury all the more, and eventually disengages himself to go off and try to meet his girlfriend (it’s the one novel in the series where Adams allows Arthur some space to try and be happy. One trusts something lovely was going on in his own life at the time).
But poor Rob is left behind in the cafe, still miserable. It’s already been explained by this point that Rob is perpetually miserable because Rob is a Rain God. All he knows is that, in the course of his own wretched life, he has evolved hundreds of ways to categorise different types of rain, from mild drizzles to dirty great blatters.
All he knows is that any holiday he’s ever been on was an unmitigated disaster, and no one wants to go on holidays with him ever again. All the clouds know is that they love him and want to be near him, to cherish him and to water him.
I can’t help thinking about Rob McKenna now and again, when I’m out and about in my own country, wondering, as I try and tuck my head still further inside the neck of my coat, whether I and my countrymen aren’t in fact an entire nation of Rain Gods, and just don’t know it yet.
It’s one of the most boring truisms in the language: I come from Ireland, and we get, like, a lot of rain. Lately, it seems to me that this rain is more intense, more violent than it used to be, that this seems to be our particular dividend from global warming, but maybe it’s just that I’m getting older, my bones and blood are no longer thick enough to ignore it the way they used to.
I’ve never been organized enough to group rain into specific numbered categories the way Rob McKenna does (I think I’d just go mad), but what I have evolved, I fancy, is an elaborate set of metaphors to describe the many different moods of Irish rain.
There was the rain burst that assaulted me suddenly last week, for example, erupting all at once out of what seemed as clear a sky as we can get in Ireland.
As my huddled form was gathered up inside its full fury, its behaviour struck me as being akin to that of a thug who’s had a few too many on a Saturday night. His rage is all embracing, but also weirdly non-specific.
He wanders up and down the town’s main street, angrily seeking exchanges with something, anything, and ends up repeatedly headbutting a lamp post which gave him an unfriendly look.
This rain storm was like that. I could tell it didn’t like me, but I didn’t feel singled out. It appeared to have an intense yet unfocused dislike of just about everything.
The lugubrious season which passes for summer in these parts throws up a kind of rain which just seems to hang there, just a foot or two above your head, keeping the humidity simmering at about the level of the average Indochinese jungle.
This rain is like a depressed pub bore whom you can’t quite hate because his life seems so miserable. He gently soaks your clothes with the salted milk of his disappointment: the wife hasn’t given him a friendly look for years, the kids haven’t spoken to him since shortly after they were born, he thinks his boss might be having an affair with his poodle etc.
Even as he’s ruining your clothes and your mood, you can’t help feeling for him slightly, for the creak of his fear. Is this all there is until death? Is this all there is until all that winter shit starts up again?
There used to be a concept called the ‘soft Irish day,’ which doesn’t crop up so much any more. This basically meant a day suffused from dawn to dusk with a kind of drizzle so vague and gentle that it hardly seemed like rain at all.
It resembled nothing so much as a kind yet befuddled neighbour, or perhaps a benign elderly relative, telling you the same stories over and over again, gently and blamelessly wetting your carpet as they did so.
It was a little boring perhaps, but not the worst kind of company. It was familiar and therefore comforting. It even had an oddly positive vibe about it, a kind of almost friendliness. You didn’t need to go running to avoid its gaze the way you would with the globally warmed up psychotics of today.
The soft Irish days are mostly gone now, as indeed are the kind yet befuddled neighbours. I sometimes wonder if there is a connection.
And I can’t help wondering if the waves of national misery which engulf us from time to time are due to our unwonted status as a nation of Rain Gods.
This has always been a far less hospitable land than, say, England. Mark the example of the Romans, they conquered Britannia and named the island to the west of it ‘Hibernia’ – which is Latin for ‘land where it p***es out of the Heavens continually’ – and had the good sense to keep well away. Anyone will tell you that the Romans knew a thing or two about countries.
There’s a British company called ‘Center Parcs’ which specialises in bringing interactive, highly fun forest rambling experiences to its customers. They’re actually setting up a new operation in a big forest a few miles out the road from me, and I do hope the venture doesn’t turn out to be a step too far, like poor old Napoleon’s trip to Moscow.
Unlike many of their English counterparts, Ireland’s forests spend most of the year being foggy, boggy and flea bitten, kind of like rain forests without the warmth or nudity. Let’s hope Center Parcs have figured out a way around this, like maybe enclosing the entire forest under glass.
We try to drown our drowning induced misery with drink, an interesting attempt at literally trying to fight fire with petrol, but we’ve been doing it for millennia, and I don’t know what it says about our nation, but we haven’t come up with a better idea yet.