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.