I don’t mind the rain. I never have. Away back in the day when I was on the run it was easier to wander around West Belfast on a wet day when there weren’t a lot of people about and those who ventured out weren’t paying much heed to anything except the need to get back indoors again as soon as possible.
In the rain you could become invisible. A cap, a parka jacket or a duffle coat hood kept out the drizzle and provided much needed cover from passing British army jeeps and other trespassers. So me and the rain are good friends.
When I was a school boy it wasn’t so easy. Not when your shoes were letting in. My shoes used to let in a lot. It was entirely my own fault. There were no brakes on my bike. So in order to stop or slow down the trick was to wedge your foot in between the front fork of the bike and against the front tire. This had a debilitating effect on the sole of the brogues.
My right shoe had a groove which eventually became porous. My Ma was going to kill me when she found out. That was after Joe Magee had the bright idea of making insoles from oil cloth. But that didn’t stop the socks from getting soaked. That’s the socks which survived. My granny used to darn the lesser damaged ones.
Anyway once it was discovered how our shoes were getting destroyed it wasn’t long before we were forbidden from using our feet as brakes. That was when Joe Magee came up with a wooden wedge as a sort of a brake which worked sometimes. That wonderful invention meant that we only had to use our feet in the event of an emergency. The reason our bikes had no brakes was because me and Joe Magee used to make our own bikes from old frames, bits and pieces of rejected cycle parts and wayward wheels rescued from the dump between Westrock and Beechmount.
For a while we used to collect lemonade bottles up at the Dundrod road races to finance our perambulationary adventures. In those days you got a few pence for returning empty bottles. That was when John Surtees was king of the road. All this was great in the summer when it didn’t seem to rain as much as it does these days. So porous footwear wasn’t such a big problem. Especially with the arrival of plastic sandals. But come the Winter and the rainy season the walk back from school was a bit of a squelch.
Walking back from school was a frequent occurrence. The bus fare usually subsided a bag of broken biscuits from Stinker Greenwoods shop. So it was the young dog for the hard road. Skipping the puddles on route and avoiding the overflows along the way.
In time when I graduated to serious hiking and camping. Water boots became de rigeur. And walking boots plastered with Dubbin. Tents were heavy water proofed canvass. Ground sheets were an optional extra. Joe Magee took himself off sailing in drier warmer climes and ended up in Australia.
I stayed. I like a soft day.
Then along came modern wet gear. Gore Tex. Fleeces. Layers. Window wipers on my specs. All this makes it easier.
My uncle Francie, back home from Canada for my mother’s funeral in 1992, put it well.’
‘ Ireland would be a great country to live in if we put a roof on it.’
My Granny used to say the snow in Canada was dry snow. I couldn’t figure it out when she complained about Irish snow being wet.
A friend of mine did a lot of time in prison in France. When he returned home I asked him what was the difference between prison in Ireland and prison in France. He reflected for a long minute before replying.
‘Nobody talked about the weather.’
Au contraire. We Irish seem to be obsessed by the weather. Little wonder.
I’m sitting here drying out, scribbling these few words. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Another friend of mine, a German woman, said one day.’ The Irish weather! A few days of sunshine and you forgive a month of rain.’
That’s what I hope for. A chance to forgive the rain. Before the Summer gives way to the Autumn.