Stan Hey: Damp? We've caught fish in the mousetraps

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The Independent Online

When it comes to moaning about the rain, we British excel. It is our favourite, if not our only, conversational gambit, and almost guaranteed to turn a stranger into a friend. It is also our specialist subject, upon which we can speak with great erudition for several minutes without hesitation.

When it comes to moaning about the rain, we British excel. It is our favourite, if not our only, conversational gambit, and almost guaranteed to turn a stranger into a friend. It is also our specialist subject, upon which we can speak with great erudition for several minutes without hesitation.

It therefore follows that over the past 12 months, millions of us will have made new friends, and many of those same millions will feel that they are qualified to PhD level to pontificate not just on the rain, but also on its causes and long-term effects.

In the first instance, the nation's weather forecasters have had to admit what we amateur meteorologists have known for some time, that the year from last April has been the wettest on record. It is hardly surprising, then, that the forecasters have suddenly restyled themselves as "climate statisticians".

Or that they had to come up with new ways of stating the "bleedin' obvious" each night to stop themselves sounding as repetitive as Caroline Aherne's weather girl "Paola Fish" on The Fast Show ­ not that they were in the position to say "scorchio!". Instead, we've had "occluded fronts", "severe Atlantic lows" and "record precipitation" thrown at us, and now these phrases are being absorbed into the English lexicon of meteorological misery.

Very soon, you can expect to hear characters in EastEnders, arriving dripping wet in the Queen Vic, say something like: "That El Niño, eh? If he's only a little un, I'd hate to go five rounds wiv his big bruvver!" No more "cats and dogs" or "stair-rods" around Albert Square, mate. Meanwhile, up north in Coronation Street, they will have to disinter some jokes from the time when Ena Sharples was still a bit of a looker. Something along the lines of "I wouldn't say our house were damp, but we catch fish in the mousetraps. We haven't got a telly, just a rainbow in the corner of the room."

Of course, in the light of the misery that many thousands have suffered over the last year, with flooded homes, floating caravans, and sodden crops, it wouldn't do to get too light-hearted about it. Nevertheless, we should all acknowledge that there is a humorously masochistic streak in the British when it comes to bad weather. We enjoy it and wallow in it ­ often literally so. How many of us actually couldn't stop giggling over the winter at the unspoken fight going on between various news reporters for the title "King of the Waders"? In my opinion, the BBC's Robert Hall won by a flooded street, giving the impression that he must go to bed in his wellies just in case he gets a call to duty.

This seems a healthy perspective when genuine, life-taking disasters happen in Mozambique and Nicaragua. We have property insurance, rescue services, solidly built houses ­ apart from the odd million or so that we now know to stand on flood plains. These properties will present a real challenge to the estate agents trying to sell them. "Reminiscent of Venice", "ideal for water-sports enthusiasts", "enchanting water-meadow views" or, in some severe cases, "indoor swimming pool", are phrases that will start to feature in their usual bumph.

To try and be serious for one moment, it could well be that the past year's rainfall will prove to be a watershed (oops!) in our attitude to climate control. The river in our small town burst its banks for the first time in decades, cutting off the only bridge across it. Car journeys across Wiltshire became a matter of reading contours on Ordnance Survey maps so that higher ground could be found. Supplies of milk and bread dried up, giving a foretaste of what life might be like if global warming does become a permanent feature of our climate.

So don't just moan about the rain, write to George Bush ­ on soggy paper.

stanhey@aol.com

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