Leading article: Same old story: game, set and match to the weather

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Typical. Just typical. You vote for these politicians. They promise you balmy days and a long hot summer, and what happens? It rains. If you can remember what your wellington boots look like, and where you put them in 1987, then put them on and wallow in the national obsession with the weather. It is your patriotic duty, because we are clearly facing a foreign conspiracy.

Just as six British men make it to the second round of Wimbledon, the heavens open. In the old days we used to blame the weather on Russian atom-bomb tests. Now we know it is mainly the Americans' fault, as Tony Blair and John Gummer unite to accuse Bill Clinton of betraying the world by presiding over an economy built on global warming.

Except that this particular deluge is nothing to do with global warming. It is just the British Isles' weather doing what it does. Without an external enemy against whom we can unite, what can we do to keep our spirits up? Hurl abuse at fat-cat water company bosses? Well, yes, that is always good for a few minutes' idle entertainment. Especially when spokespeople for the water companies come on the radio in the middle of a downpour to explain that it may be raining now but we are still in the middle of one of the driest periods since velociraptors thundered across our dusty plains. But hardly enough really to lift the gloom. Hardly enough to stop us exercising our peculiar national talent for letting precipitation get us down. Perhaps Tessa Jowell, the minister for public health, will be so struck with remorse at Labour's broken manifesto pledge of permanent sunshine that she will order a review of SAD, seasonal affective disorder, and announce that government scientists are working night and day to isolate the gene that causes it.

Or we could fall back on that alternative national stereotype, of jollity in adversity. Of Lord Cliff-Richard (as he will no doubt soon be) singing in the rain with the never-say-die, Dunkirk-spirit, salt-of-the-earth Wimbledon-goers last year. We could remark, brightly, that at least it is rather warm. (Yes, but it is wet, reply the depressives.) That there is something rather exotic about a monsoon. (In India, perhaps.)

But there are many good things about rain. For one thing, for the bargain price of pounds 75, anyone going to the Glastonbury pop festival will get a live re-enactment of Woodstock thrown in for free (only this time round the girls leave their clothes on while frolicking in the mud, which only goes to show that humanity is capable of reverse progress.) For another, it was the rain which probably saved the English cricket team last weekend and forced a draw at Lord's. It may yet be in England's national interest that the third Test is taking place in Manchester, a famously moist location. Also, Surrey's dreadful mid-week cricket innovation was rained off, so we were spared that ghastly spectacle. Some people may have welcomed the prospect of large crowds drawn to 40-over floodlit games at the Oval, starting after work at 5pm. Laudable enough, but the price is too high - in this case, the introduction of the players to the accompaniment of American-football-style pop fanfares.

A good wet spell provides gainful employment to industrious citizens who would otherwise be out drinking or risking skin cancer. Roofers can charge what the waterlogged market will bear, after years of financial drought. Journalists have something other than the Prime Minister's pounds 3,500 Swedish bed to write about. The downside of this, of course, is an endless stream of smart-Alec features on the etymology of the word "umbrella" and its origins as a Chinese sun-shade.

And there is one other vital function served by the area of low pressure trapped off our south-western shores. It makes the Millennium Dome look like a good idea. As Peter Mandelson did not say at this week's news conference, we do not want to get wet at the great millennium exhibition - sorry, "Experience" (as in, presumably, The Jimi Hendrix ..."). Whatever it turns out to be.

It must greatly comfort our Prime Minister as he contemplates the new millennium, and his place in history, that Britain's history has been shaped by the weather. The nation would not be what it is, if it were not for the vagaries of lows sweeping in from the Atlantic. If it had not been for the stormy spell in 1066, Harold would not have had to nip up north to deal with the Danes, letting William of Normandy land unopposed at Hastings. In 1415, the field at Agincourt was turned into a Glastonbury- like mudbath by torrential rain, in which the French cavalry were stuck, making them fine targets for archers. In 1588, the Spanish Armada was driven off course by storms. In 1815, Napoleon fatally delayed his attack at Waterloo, waiting for the equivalent of the covers to come off No 1 Court.

If our present dampness proves one thing, it is this. That there are basically two different kinds of people, the jollies and the gloomies. This weekend the jollies can put their boots on and squelch around the countryside to celebrate yesterday's affirmation by Chris Smith, National Heritage Secretary, of the Government's commitment to the "right to roam" policy for ramblers and walkers. The rest of us will delight in staying inside to complain about rising house prices.

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