The Fooles in the Rain


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Back when Elizabeth I sat on the throne, there was a saying which was quintessentially British.

It is linked to precipitation; the downpour; to drizzle, and drenching, incapacitating rain. For even then, as Shakespeare was heard to note, it raineth every day.

The Penguin Dictionary of Historical Slang ( a perfect accompaniment to a glass of full-bodied red) has tracked the saying down to a cookery book, Dyets Dry Dinner,  published in 1599 by Henry Buttes, the great-grandson of Henry VIII’s physician and a well-connected soul. His cookbook is an insight into Elizabethan food and well worth a read in its own right. But Mr Buttes uses that rainy saying there, for the first time in print.

“Fooles,” he comments, “have the wit to keep themselves out of the raine.”

It was recorded as being in common use, this saying, and noted once again. American humourist and writer Frances Alexander Durivage – known in his writing persona as ‘Old ‘Un’ – commented that someone “knew sufficient to get out of the rain.”

Why would anyone go out into the rain unless they had to? British rain is cold and persistent and adept at penetrating not just the clothes but one’s very spirit. An unhappy outcome of the meeting of two great natural forces, the Gulf Stream and the East Greenland Current, this is not warm replenishing monsoon rain, nor much-needed sustenance for parched Mediterranean lands; it is the rain which drove Roman soldiers spare, half-mad with longing for the golden hills of Italy; the rain which met all interlopers as they sailed towards our shores.

And we woke today to find it lashing against our windows.

We stayed indoors until a wheedling stealthy sun appeared watery in the sky in mid-afternoon.

A kind of madness took us. Some distant relative of Cabin Fever. Lets take the dog out for a long walk, Phil said to me, and I agreed, nodding vigorously: yes, lets. And we dressed appropriately and I brought an umbrella, and we stepped out into the light which – any fule no – was just fleeting. Temporary. A mirage.

Fooles have the wit to keep out of the rain. But Shrewsdays (grown-up ones, the kids aren’t daft)  enjoyed a few minutes of the mirage before the drops started to fall.

We love our weekend walks. We become absorbed in long wandering conversations as the dog scopes the hedgerows. And so we didn’t notice how the drops began to fall faster, and more corpulent, and – more.

As we walked to one of the great local houses the rain doubled, and trebled, and when we turned for home it looked like monsoon rain and felt like the precipitation of an early English Spring: a merciless deluge.

There comes a time in a rainfall like this when you realise you are just going to have to get wet. The uncomfortable seeping of freezing drops up your arm to the elbow, the feeling of rain penetrating the warm layers and making it to underwear level: these are all facets of the English Spring downpour.

How the dog handled it I don’t know. Surely the rain must have penetrated right to his warm doggy-skin, deep beneath the wiry top layer? Whether it did or not, he clearly held us responsible, for even fooles have the wit to keep out of the raine, and dogges would have stayede on that comfye pillowe at hoome given the choice.

For half an hour, heads into the rain, like Scott of the Antarctic and his frozen team, we battled.

By the time we arrived home not a stitch we wore was suitable for further use. Pyjamas were the only option. The dog had none, so he took it our on our sitting room hearth-rug and then chose an appropriate baleful glare of pure unadulterated reproach. We had bacon and egg sandwiches to calm our shattered nerves and bring us back to the land of the dry.

We shall think twice about steppng out in English Spring rain next time.


34 thoughts on “The Fooles in the Rain

  1. “as any fule no” – I haven’t seen Nigel Molesworth in print for a long, long time. I used to love his patent thankyou letter, in which one deleted the inapplicable. Wonderful description of soaking rain – they say here ” ils tombent en halberdes” or “il pisse comme une vache” – delete the inapplicable:)

    1. There’s an equivalent to ils tombent en halberds here: “it’s raining stair rods”. Ah, stair rods; whatever happened to them? I think I last saw them in general use in the sixties, but I expect a few Great Houses still have them.

      Over here, in Wales, and especially in the Preselis, rain is “Welsh mist”. Your experience, Kate, would have been heavy Welsh mist if you’d been further west.

    1. I think he files these things away quietly for future reference, Lou. Whilst he is being quite cordial, if we ask him out to walk this afternoon I suspect we would have to employ roller skates to get him across the floor to the front door and out into the open world.

  2. I actually like walking in the really heavy rain you describe, Kate, I find it very invigorating and refreshing. The ‘normal’ rain that we have, less so. It’s funny how you realise that you’ve walked too far in the rain, and just know that you’re going to get wet…

    1. Tom, usually I am a heavy rain kinda person. But this rain – there’s something about it. Something half frozen and vaguely equated with unremitting pain and anguish. Something primaeval and predatory, and inhospitable beyond words.

      That said, I shall be out in it again with the dog this afternoon.

  3. I can’t relate at all to the drenching you describe, and I definitely believe it would begin to work on me psychologically. I really believe that one reason I’m able to maintain such an energetic pace is that I am indeed fueled by the sun. But the counter to that is I don’t have much of an “off” button, and the rain would change patterns that might also be very nourishing and provide some physical rest. We can only experience what we’re given, I suppose. i, too, experience the effects of the Gulf Stream, but I haven’t any knowledge of the East Greenland Current! There’s your culprit, huh? Your walk, freezing rain and all, has a magical feel to me because of the forest and the family sharing that takes place. On your next sunny day, I hope you’ll take some photos! 🙂

  4. Fortunately my walk buddy and I can head for cedar canopies when the rain becomes miserable. I salute people who brave the squalls and side pours. Well done, Kate. Also, I have to step right out and state that Mac likely treats that type of walk in the same manner as my women friends remember childbirth. What pain?

  5. Why do our parents and those of past generations always scream and admonish to get out of the rain or we will get sick and to take a hot shower immediately ? I never got sick standing in the rain.

  6. I love a misty rain. But, clearly, that is not what you encountered. Poor Macauley. I’d be with him – snug by a cozy fireplace and watching the deluge from a toasty, warm, comfy couch. 🙂

  7. Venturing out in weather like that has the same benefits as those of sailing a yacht race in a gale – the glorious feeling when you stop. Don’t the ordinary comforts become utterly heavenly after such long exposure?

  8. We’ve cold rain here today as well, Kate, and it was all I could do to be brave and head out to mailbox, let alone a walk in the woods with Mac. I’m sure he will forgive you for this.

  9. There was once a ten-mile walk which encountered rain, hail, thunder and rainbows. Then ended up abruptly halfway round at the bottom of a remote field when the path disappeared from existence, in the dark. Dog wasn’t very forgiving either. Optimism can be dangerous. 😉

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