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10 April 2024

The continuous rain is driving me mad

The long wet spell seems to be straight out of a dystopian story – one that I wrote myself.

By Nicholas Lezard

Many years ago, I wrote a story for the science-fiction magazine Interzone about a world in which it rained continuously; in which there was permanent cloud cover, so no one could see the stars at night; in fact, no one could even see the sun. I gave the story the whimsical title “Planet of Shit”, mainly because I had long wanted to use that title. (It was even translated into French – “Planète de merde” – which I think improved it.) Seeing nothing beyond the grey lid of the sky had turned the inhabitants into cretins, absolutely devoid of imagination. The joke behind it all was that I was very deliberately describing the planet I lived on, well OK, the country, and to throw people off the scent I described the chief life form as looking like enormous beetles, a conceit designed to fool no one.

As you might have been able to guess, the country had been through a particularly long rainy spell and I was beginning to go a bit crackers. That we were also entering the bleak endgame of John Major’s Tory administration didn’t help my general mood much either. It was a way of writing out my own insanity (and the narrator is, himself, mad). This is in much the same spirit that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in 1816, “the year without a summer”, which had been caused by the eruption of an Indonesian volcano the year before. The miserable weather in 199-whenever-it-was had been caused by nothing more than heavenly spite, as far as I could see; but it was still miserable.

I think you can work out where I’m going with this. As I write these words, on the third of April in the year of our Lord 2024, the rain might have stopped for the afternoon, but this is only a brief respite from what has been months of continuous downpour. According to the BBC, this has included the wettest February in southern England since 1836, and the culprit is not a malevolent weather god but the jet stream, which is too far south, which means we are getting not nearly enough sunshine, and far too much cold, rain and wind. I have not yet looked into the Lezard DNA but I am pretty confident that I was not made for such a climate – indeed, the French verb “lézarder” means “to bask” and it doesn’t look like anyone’s going to be doing any basking any time soon.

I’m not sure how I’m going to cope. I’m meant to be going on a cycling trip in Lower Silesia in May (it’s a travel piece; I’m not paying for it; then again, I’m not being paid for it either, just expenses, ferociously monitored) and something about the words “Lower Silesia” does not make me think about sipping rum-based cocktails from a coconut half-shell under a straw umbrella. Actually, I have been there before and it was perfectly nice. But I still recall PG Wodehouse’s words when he was being taken on a train to an internment camp during the war and, looking at the sodden turnip fields stretching to the horizon, asked himself: “If this is Upper Silesia, what must Lower Silesia be like?” Well, I shall find out, but I think I’m probably going to have to buy a cagoul.

The more pressing concern is the forthcoming cricket season. The County Championship starts on Friday, or at least that’s when it starts for Sussex CCC, and the good people there have announced that entrance to the first day’s play against Northamptonshire is free, which is an excellent idea, or would be if the forecast weren’t so grim. Even if it doesn’t rain the ground will be sodden and the ambient temperature will make it seem like December. And it is heartbreaking to think that the new gimmicky version of the sport, the Hundred, has been deemed so important that the county game has been pushed to the margins of summer, so that a good deal of it will be lost to rain, or hypothermia among the players.

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Meanwhile I have, ironically enough, an outstanding, and I use the word advisedly, water bill to deal with. I wonder if there is some kind of arrangement I could come to involving water butts, in the same way that people who have solar panels can sell the surplus electricity they generate to the grid. There is no way I have been consuming more water than has fallen from the skies lately, and I am sure Southern Water’s Australian owner, Macquarie Group, can spare a drop, so to speak, from its 2023 profits of A$5.2bn (£2.7bn) to float, ho ho, this idea.

Southern Water’s plans for 2024 had included continuing to dump sewage into the River Test, before a certain lack of enthusiasm from its customers forced a rethink. WC Fields supposedly refused to drink water because “fish f**k in it”, and I don’t think he’d have been any more positive if he’d known that, in time, people would crap in it too. I must say that when I wrote “Planet of Shit” I didn’t imagine that this would include the watery parts as well. But then the water companies had already been privatised for a few years by then; we should have seen this coming. I imagine quite a few people did.

[See also: Never meet your heroes – unless your hero is Jah Wobble]

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This article appears in the 10 Apr 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Trauma Ward