It rained last night. It rained so much it sounded like a deity of infinite size draining an infinite amount of pasta through a colander of infinite holiness in the sky above my Velux window.
We all love that, don’t we? – lying in a warm bed under a non-leaky window listening to it all going on outside and relishing the fact that we’re not in it. What is left of my heart goes out to people whose homes have flooded in the deluge overnight; it’s pretty damn unpleasant when all the comfort-paraphernalia you have accumulated to protect your family from the outside world is invaded by a seeping, stinking version of that very outside you shored yourself up against. It leaves you with nowhere clean and warm to hide, and everyone needs that.
I’m not naturally the sort of person to count my blessings; I’m much too much of a miserable sod for that, so the closest I ever get to Polyannaism (I’m reasonably certain that’s not a word), is when the rain is hitting my skylight. It triggers a rush of anti-nostalgia for long, drab English winters spent on dripping traveller sites with nothing much to do and only just enough money to chip in for one bottle of Merrydown between me and E so we could get drunk and forget that it was not much of a life.
Those long, grey days bleed into each other in my memory. When we were in Yorkshire, parked up on the moors, E and I would sometimes find ourselves in Todmorden at dusk waiting for a lift back up to site and we’d wander the wet pavements of streets lined with terraced houses, curtains still open as it was not quite night, and lights on as it was not quite day either. The glowy orange of electric light is irresistible from outside when you’re damp and aimless and only have candles, paraffin and a cold, unlit fire to go back to. Those windows were magic gateways to fantasy worlds of Waltons-style happy families, comfy sofas, hot water from a tap and all those home comforts we had rejected, yet apparently secretly yearned for. E and I were drawn to them like Victorian orphans. If we hadn’t been too well trained we would have squished our faces up against the glass and whined pitifully, “Ere Missus, can you spare alf a crown for a poor omeless pauper?”
Instead we rode back up to the moors through the convoluted and darkening Yorkshire lanes on the bumpy back of a flatbed truck, holding onto various dogs and becoming saturated with drizzle. We’d arrive back with only just enough light left to go scouting for damp wood to stoke up a hissing fire in the woodburners we had constructed from old fire extinguishers or gas cylinders, but which would soon warm the tiny tin spaces we lived in. Fire is another element that brings out the Polyanna in me. It conquers all kinds of greyness – literal and metaphorical – and makes even the most miserable hovel into a palace in which you can go warmly to whatever it is you have that functions as a bed and listen to the rain hitting the metal of your roof with a feeling of security; however temporary or illusory.
I can’t really remember why we stayed in that life for so long; most of my memories are of bleakness. The other thing we used to do when it was raining – I remember this particularly when we were on some Cornish mining wasteland somewhere, surrounded by nothing but doom grey sky, rocks and browning gorse – was to crowd into my old ambulance (only the girls did this), get off our faces on cider and paint vivid verbal pictures of the places we would rather live. Or rather, place. E and I especially had the same house in our minds. It was big, scruffy, many-roomed and indistinct apart from the garden that E filled with herbs and vegetables and the kitchen which we both saw as clearly as if we were sitting in it. It was large, of course, and furnished as if it had just grown out of history – a bashed wooden floor, a huge old range for cooking on – and the centrepiece of the whole dream was a massive kitchen table with block legs hewn from sleepers, a top several inches fat, and big enough to seat 20 people.
It seems obvious now why we fixated particularly on the table. It’s a symbol, isn’t it, of family living – children and adults all piling in together to produce food for the table. I think we were imagining children even though neither of us at that point had any, or had any conscious wish for them. The table symbolised the dream we had, and I still secretly have, of living in a massive chaotic family home working together as a community to keep out the rain.
E and I never managed the big chaotic house, but we did manage to live in the same village for a few years and to bring up our children together in gardens and on beaches, which was almost as good, until she moved 300 miles away. We both now have dining tables, but our children are nearly gone and it’s time to look again at our lives and what we want from them. But when it pours down on my skylight and I compare that sound to the soundmemory of rain on a caravan or ambulance roof, I do get that Polyanna moment, just briefly. I might even count a blessing or two.