How do you spot a tourist in Belfast? No, this isn’t some riddle you’d find in your cracker after your Christmas dinner. Shall I tell you? When it’s pissing down of a Wednesday afternoon at the Continental Market, the tourists are the only ones who have donned appropriate attire for the weather. The Lonely Planet guide, dutifully clasped in their hand, informs them that since it rains for at least 200 days a year in Ireland, it’s most likely they’re going to be on the receiving end of a downpour. ‘Bring your umbrellas!’ it instructs, and the clever foreigners also bring their rain macks because they’ve read that it can get kinda blustery and they don’t want to be standing like a tube under a battered brolly.
The Norn Iron populace though, exists in a perpetual state of denial about the rain. ‘Sure it’s just a wee shower,’ most of them say. ‘Why would you bother with a raincoat or anything of that nature? Just a quick dash from the bus into work anyway.’ Then lunch time rolls round and they decide they can’t resist a kangaroo burger from the market and eat it standing under a stall, water dripping from their noses onto their chargrilled marsupial.
And it’s the look of them, standing there, soaked, and utterly raging about it. ‘Always lashing in this fucking country,’ I heard a chap remark to his mate, as they stood outside a Centra having a coffee one wet morning last week. Coatless, he was too, or might as well have been, the futtery wee jacket he had on him.
I can’t decide whether people are optimistic or stupid. Hard to say.
We’ve no more wit when abroad, and I’ll use my husband to illustrate the point. I spent the summer of 2008 in Madrid and he joined me for a few days. Save buying some short sleeved shorts for the occasion, he arrived minus sun glasses, sandals or shorts and there was also a lack of sun-cream or protective hat. A quick trip to El Corte Ingles quickly ensued. I’m just after asking him if he owned a waterproof coat or umbrella before he met me. He shook his head. This is man who used to walk everywhere, because of an aversion to buses.
There was a lovely teacher in the last school where I taught, and he was forever traipsing out to bus duty in all weather, wearing a woollen coat, (not known for their waterproof qualities.) He was scant of hair and getting on in years and it used to concern me greatly. I couldn’t help myself one day. ‘You’ll not be well,’ I said, ‘Please, do get a hat, before you get a foundering.’ I don’t think he was overly impressed: I was only in the school 5 minutes and there I was, doling out wardrobe advice, and him a Vice Principal too. He continued to stand out, like King Lear, unbonneted and blasted upon the heath, until he retired.
Of course I can’t talk, having been equally ill-prepared at times. I remember temping once in a prestigious architect’s office on Bedford Street. I was running late, and had left the house in a rush. What had begun as a light mizzle gathered itself into a near monsoon, as I beetled towards the town. I’d only a flimsy suit on me from Next, and was unprepared for the tricks the capricious weather gods had up their sleeves. Head down, I was cantering along amid a sea of sodden folk, when suddenly they parted before me. A bill board had blown down and lay on the footpath. Given my tardiness (and lack of sense) I thought I’d just walk over the top of it. What I didn’t appreciate was that when billboards are wet, they are exceedingly slippery. What a tumble I took. There was a moment when I was airborne entirely, before I came crashing down. It gave me quite a fright, and I wonder if perhaps I didn’t sustain a mild concussion. Certainly my attempts later that day to type were somewhat impaired. I recall the senior partner almost recoiling in shock when I arrived in my bedraggled state at his practice. ‘What in the hell have Grafton sent me this time,’ his eyes said as shook my hand, before I took my little drenched self off to the loos to wring out my trousers.
So do yourselves a favour, Sour Wee Readers, and pop a rain coat and hats and gloves on your Christmas list. What with global warming, our seasons are only going to get more erratic, but with wellies and ponchos at the ready, we’ll be well fit for it.