Rain rain – when you go away…

The wettest holiday ever – well nearly; that was in Biarritz a decade and a bit ago. Still two glorious sunny days in Cornwall fooled us into thinking it was summer… It then rained unremittingly, both there; and then on our French campsite this week. 

Yesterday we called it a day; fighting the family holiday ‘sunk cost fallacy’. This was best captured in an overheard quote, during my own childhood, which became our family standard: 

“We’ve paid for it, so you will enjoy it.”

But we did ok. We all mucked in: cycling in the teeming rain, wedging into a crowded crèperie, feasting on rotisserie chickens, washing pots and pans and squelching through bogs to the bogs. 

But, facing another uninterrupted day of pouring rain, ‘practical reasonableness’ kicked in. Aquinas would have been proud…

We checked out our options, discussed it en famille and concluded, as they say en français: “on se casse” – we’re off. And a mere seventeen hours later: four solid London brick walls, a proper roof and a warm comfy 3am bed…

Family holidays can be memorable for all sorts of reasons. Rain ensured this wasn’t a classic. But sticking together through the soakings, meant, it was a good one all the same.

Sunshine

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After the longest winter I can remember, warmth and sunshine break through the never-ending clouds and cold. What a difference the sunshine makes.

Yesterday, in the driving rain, I debated with my daughter whether this country is just too chilly these days. Her view: “This may be the safest country in the world but it is much to cold and wet – really!”

“Yes” I agreed “but we’d miss the seasons if it were always hot – and we’d be eaten by the bugs and the wildlife.” “Hmmm” she said.

This winter has been hard and has set me thinking about my autumn years. How many more long cold grinding winters like this do I want to endure? And rattling about the house doesn’t help.

Should I quit my job and do something different? Aspects are a ball ache, but a lot of it is perfect. I can’t really imagine a much better job in all honesty. Hmmm.

Should I set about fixing our house. It’s pretty chilly, pretty untidy, most stuff’s not where we want it and there’s a thousand and one things I could mend. Hmmm.

Should I write a book – or wait, it’ll give me something to do in a decade or two. But I might peg it before I’ve even got started. Should I start right away? Hmmm.

Should I, should I… Or should I go and sit in the garden, on a kitchen chair, soak up some sunlight and do nothing at all? Well not much anyway, just tap on an iPhone screen.

That’ll do. Simple is best. Sunshine, it’s a wonderful thing.

Jubilee Camping

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Jubilee camp
Periodically damp
Some sun
Decent fun
Well fed
And some early beds
Good group
A sizeable troupe
The final night
Clear and bright
By the fire side
A beacon spied
And a firework spray
At the end of the day
But this is Devon
And so opened the Heavens
A pouring morning
Puddles forming
Packing up completely wet
Always was a likely bet
Home James
Back to the Thames
Unloading
Unfolding
Hanging
Draping
Of sodden stuff
That’s quite enough
So a glass of red
And an early bed
A good time it’s been
God save the Queen
But let’s not do it again
Until she’s 110.

April Showers

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Rain rain go away
Me and the boy set out to play
Driven back by hoods a dripping
When we should have been a skipping
Two straight weeks of being soaked
Is now getting beyond a joke.

Me and the boy set out for a day trip today. We got as far as the bus stop in a downpour and then couldn’t get on one. The Number 12 was all steamed up and no seats to go.

On the way back up the hill for a consolatory hot chocolate he suggested a step forward – ‘We could make an umbrella out of Lego!’ Necessity is the mother of all invention.

The Eaves

Cycling to work every day I get a regular soaking. Decent waterproofs help. But there are days, when looking out of the kitchen window, I don’t fancy it much. A number of years ago in the book ‘Angry White Pyjamas’ I read a quote from the Hagakure – the Japanese Book of the Samurai. It advised stepping out from the eaves:

There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.

I was reminded of this, in the week, by Montaigne’s similar write-up on the Roman Legions:

Their military discipline was much ruder than ours, and accordingly produced much greater effects. The jeer that was given a Lacedaemonian soldier is marvellously pat to this purpose, who, in an expedition of war, was reproached for having been seen under the roof of a house: they were so inured to hardship that, let the weather be what it would, it was a shame to be seen under any other cover than the roof of heaven. We should not march our people very far at that rate.

I don’t mind being rained on, but I’ve often thought I’d last about five minutes on a proper Roman or Medieval battlefield. Some glum milling about before, and then probably a spirited moment of excessive unavoidable bravery early doors followed by a sharp death. That sounds about my fate. I can only assume my forebears were quick to procreate, as I don’t reckon we’d have lasted long.

But my other pet theory is we were scouts and messengers. Sharp eyed endurance runners with a precise tongue. Who knows. The Hagakure is admirably clear on the matter: ‘Bravery and cowardice are not things which can be conjectured in times of peace. They are in different categories.’

Some Hagakure quotes are positively Aristotelian, take:

‘Intelligence is nothing more than discussing things with others. Limitless wisdom comes of this.’

But like Aristotle, with his theories on biles and humours – and posture, character and beards – not everything in the Hagakure is to modern tastes. As ‘Angry White Pyjamas’ also highlighted:

When one departs for the front, he should carry rice in a bag. His underwear should be made from the skin of a badger. This way he will not have lice. In a long campaign, lice are troublesome.

I’ll step out from the eaves in GoreTex and Lycra, but I draw the line at the skin of a badger.

Shower

20110718-105113.jpgMan – and woman – in the state of nature is not a pretty sight. Obsessed with feeding and drinking, scavenging for firewood, alternately soaked then sweating. Feral children career about, bumping and thumping each other. Sleep snatched fitfully as the elements do their worst. Not much contemplation here.

What, I ask myself, is the purpose of camping? I may never know. Csikszentmihalyi might posit a ‘rude’ form of ‘flow’. But I’m pretty sure Aristotle wouldn’t have rated it. Certainly not in England’s all too green, and, for much of this weekend, not very pleasant lands. Apparently there was a moment where the entire land surface of Great Britain was simultaneously being rained on. Certainly we were.

I found myself short of temper and shorter of humour. Only Dionysius with his warming grapes and a crackling campfire lifted my spirits. An extra thick sleeping bag and two angelic faces snoring next to me helped too. The family unit held together.

The high point was packing the tent. Both for the manly ‘flow’ I achieved as I dismantled, folded and rolled it and the several nods of recognition for getting it into its bag in one go. More though for what it signified – going home to civilisation.