Do raindrops have big bottoms?
All the kids think so. The miserable cold torrential rains have returned home to their resident islands, unpacked their little soggy suitcases and switched on the telly. Their feet are under the table.
It is a return to normality for us all. Umbrellas, wet playtime, stout waterproof shoes. Our millions of junior rain artists have moved into gear, chronicling wet playtimes and Sundays stuck inside with rain pictures full of your classic raindrops.
And this is how they draw them: with tiny pointy heads and Beyonce behinds. How glorious that would be, the raindrops doing The Hump from high altitudes, shimmying from two thousand feet to collide with the burgeoning club-puddles on England’s surface.
We all collude in this picture of raindrops: it’s a conspiracy. While children sit at tables colouring their well-behaved drops in with azure felt tip pens, teachers like me teach the water cycle using the same asinine symbol. Look children, we say, the water evaporates and rises in the warm air to become clouds. Then, the cold air causes the raindrops to condense and fall, bottom-first, tiny princess tips above, to meet the earth once more and converge into rivers and seas.
We even draw the drops on the whiteboard.
Your average raindrop falls to earth at about 20 miles per hour, or nine metres per second. Its journey begins in a cloud where it hangs, stationary, at peace with the drops around it, kept there by air resistance. It may be anything between one millimetre and nine millimetres in diameter and it is perfectly spherical, a small buddha suspended with all the others in this great silver metropolis of stasis.
If I were a raindrop I would never want it to end.
But all good things must cease and it is the same for our little spherical raindrop as for a middle-aged mother. Life can have an impact on the most perfect form. Get used to it.
The catalyst for change is turbulence.
And when this disruption to routine arrives the droplets do the most sensible thing I can imagine. They coalesce.
For the rain drop is about to meet its nemesis: the force of the air coming the other way.
So as the droplets coalesce they become bigger and they’re falling, and the air is pushing the other way: and so the bottom of the drop flattens out to meet it – like a hamburger bun.
The really big ones get so flat that they turn over on themselves and become tiny parachute-shaped water formations, ten-metre-a-second droplets which kick a hole in the soil when they get to it.
But even torrential rain doesn’t hurt, what with these little parachutes doing their job and all. The bigger a raindrop is, the more likely it is to break apart. When it gets to a centimetre it will separate into smaller droplets.
And down here on the surface of the islands we wait for the cloud to pass and then put on our wellies and hitch the dogs to leads, to sample the sogginess the day has brought.
You have to be fast. The brilliant sunny spells are usually about half an hour long, and they lull you into a false sense of security. But me and four-year-old Big Al, we’re getting canny.We watch the torrential downpour philosophically, elbows on the windowsill. And when the sun comes out we’re in the car, speeding towards the bit of the forest where I can handle three feisty dogs and a toddler unaided.
In the sun, the forest glitters. The water is everywhere, felling into step in tiny rivulets which delight the boy in red wellies. He complained bitterly at having to put them on, but they have distinct advantages. He can go in most puddles.
I was on the phone to my sister sorting out hospital business when I glanced round to find Al heading for black mud, squelching around the border of a dark and lowering puddle. “No, Al, ” I said, “we’re not going in there.”
He was not convinced.
My sister offered some helpful advice down the phone. “Tell him it’s the Swamp of Stinkiness. He won’t go in then.”
“Al,” I parroted obediently: “that is the Swamp of Stinkiness.”
Immediately a new respect dawned in his eyes. He eyed the black mass warily. “That’s the Swamp of Stinkiness?” he confirmed.
“It is. The Swamp Of Stinkiness.”
He backed away. the moment had passed. And all the way back down the path as the dogs cavorted in very smelly water indeed, he was inquiring:”Aunie Kate – is that the Swamp of Stinkiness?”
Each time I would say: yes, Al, that’s the Swamp of Stinkiness.
Poor raindrops. From buddha-like stasis to the Swamp of Stinkiness, all in a matter of minutes.
Let us hope for some warm evaporation weather very soon.