“The problem,” you told me, as we sat in the pouring rain under bright floral festival ponchos, drinking coffee on opposite benches in the park, “is that the weather doesn’t know that Beautiful Days isn’t happening. I mean think about it - the weather has always loved mocking a festival that basically dares to call itself after a ‘nice summer’s day’ - the logo is even a great big sun with rays beaming out. And now, along with every other festival, it’s cancelled yet we still have to deal with this abhorrent weather,” you stick you upturned palm out from under your poncho as though you might not otherwise have known it was raining, “because no-one’s mentioned the change of plans to the rain clouds.”
“And,” your wife picks up, as she always does, because you both are that particular way with each other that I had almost forgotten what with barely seeing you since March 23rd, “and, what’s more, where will we buy our summer clothes this year? Beautiful Days always has the best stalls and I always get a wraparound skirt. This one is wearing out.” She points…I couldn’t see if I tried, my glasses are filled with water. Through them I can just make out the embryonic stream forming and flowing around my feet, running down this tarmac path, under my bench and beyond until eventually I suppose it will reach the road where I like to imagine it pouring lazily into one of the cavernous monsoon drains of my mother’s country (Malaysia, where drains are so big that motorcycles sometimes come a cropper and are lost in them). Instead, we only have little metal grills in the ground that are unable to cope and I heard this morning that Longbrook Street is flooding.
It is not the first time this week that I have mistakenly thought for a moment that I am in the tropics. Just a few days ago I was looking at the 36 degree reading that my household thermometer showed and the distinct humidity of the afternoon fooled my skin into memories of living on the equator - a trick that frightened it so that it prickled not just with the heat but with the shock of this reality: we have changed our climate - it’s happened - scientists with sad faces tell us so.
That same afternoon I caught my flatmate, mad with heatstroke, pumping up an inflatable bath in our concrete backyard, filling it with the garden hose and shouting “It works! It’s works!” before jumping in with all her clothes on because she couldn’t wait, and then we had to put her mobile phone in a bag of rice in the conservatory to dry it out. I remember that it was in the midst of the scorching weather that you both called and asked to meet and I suggested the park would be lovely today and now we’re sitting as soaked as rats who are each one raincoat away from drowning.
“More coffee?” your wife asks, holding out a large French press, because we may be daft but we DO have our standards, and I reach out gratefully with my Glastonbury souvenir plastic cup.
“Of course,” she continues, “Cynthia is determined to have her 50th anyway rain or shine. She’s up on the moors, if you didn’t know, so we can pitch the tipi, bring out the stage lights and the music can be as loud as the cows can stand! Just a few people. Joint celebration for her son of course because he’s just got his A-Levels results now. I reckon his teacher predicted him better than he mighta done anyways. He says he’ll DJ - they’ve got that solar powered rig. You want to come?”
I smile, take another sip of coffee and say, “Never underestimate the ability of the British public to insist on turning up to a field and turning it into a festival.”
We all laugh then. I take off my glasses and wipe them with the last dry corner of my shirt, and soon the world becomes a little clearer. At the bottom of the path, where the stream beneath my bench is flowing to, mother’s stand socially distanced around a giant puddle, whilst their wellied toddlers take turns jumping in and squealing with delight. PuddleFest I think to myself, coming to a park near you, avoid spreading the virus whilst enjoying the simple pleasures of splashing around, waterproof masks for sale on site, available in many cheerful colours, bring your own candy floss and popcorn, only in 2020.