April 19, 2012

Drought Orders

Filed under: BBC radio addiction,Canal,misc,Oxford — Duchess @ 10:38 pm

It’s raining hard. In fact, it has rained for some part of almost every day since a drought was officially declared last week in most of southern England and Wales. (Scotland is, as usual, drenched.)

The Orders are typically British: complicated, detailed and humane. For example, under Drought Orders you are not allowed to use a hosepipe to fill a garden pond or water feature, unless your water feature features fish.

Do not go out and buy goldfish just to beat the ban! pleaded the water company spokesman, interviewed days before the Orders came into force. The BBC journalist asked more probing questions, and we learned that any living creature you introduce into your pond triggers an exemption, while one that wanders in accidentally — a frog, say — does not.

Everyone knows the Brits are obsessed with weather. Never mind however many words Eskimos have for snow, I reckon Brits could give them a run for their money with rain. An early favourite of mine was “merged showers” but I have more recently been won over by “wetting rain”.

They teach this weather obsession in school, and they start early. When he was two and a bit, I enrolled my first born son in a playgroup run by one of the Oxford colleges. For most of the three hours, five mornings the kids raced around on tricycles. There were a few puzzles and the odd doll, but preschool was mostly about wheels; there was no structure, or even a nod at educational content, except at mid-morning juice and biscuits. Then everyone sat in a circle, and, raising her Dixie cup, the teacher solemnly asked, Now children, what is the weather like?

Later in the curriculum, I guess, the kids learn to be judgmental about weather. The “wrong kind of snow” is a well-rehearsed British Rail excuse for late trains, recently revived to explain water shortages: though apparently any kind of snow is the wrong kind of stuff to prevent a drought. What we want is the right kind of rain.

Rain is divided into “useful” rain and “not useful” rain and the weather forecasters always tell us which we are getting: very heavy rain is not useful (because it runs away too quickly); very light rain (though it might be “wetting”) is also not useful.  Basically, to prevent a drought, it needs to rain three times a fortnight, all year round, not too hard and not too soft.

Otherwise it is every frog for himself.


  1. I laughed at ‘the wrong kind of snow’. I think this shoujjld be introduced into the voacularly of every Canadian.
    The goldfish exemption could only be British, and is a bit of tender punctuation in an otherwise stern world.
    I’ve been wondering about you these last weeks and glad to see you surface again.

    Comment by Deborah — April 20, 2012 @ 10:21 am

  2. Oh dear. That’s what happens when I type standing up. I’m sure you knew what I really mean to say!

    Comment by Deborah — April 20, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

  3. “When he was two and a bit…” I thought they only said stuff like that in Ireland! Love it.

    Comment by Tessa — April 20, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

  4. Ha, I could have written this post, being another non-native who suffers from the Brits’ obsession with weather. There is one good thing about weather though: it always gives a topic of conversation. You can engage even the dullest Brit and make him/her respond, just mention the weather.
    And perfect strangers, when they meet out walking, will greet each other by saying :nice/nasty/whatever day . My husband watches the weather report three times a day and informs me of it each time.

    Comment by friko — April 23, 2012 @ 10:43 pm

  5. All so true! I didn’t know about the goldfish exemption. We’ll have to dig out a small pond right in the centre of the vege garden!

    Comment by Dick — April 26, 2012 @ 11:38 am

  6. Slight change to your last line:
    “It’s the webbed feet that make ME rant.
    There’s plenty more tomorrow, meaning that the village’s Green Man Celebrations next weekend have to be cancelled, due to a waterlogged field.

    Comment by friko — April 28, 2012 @ 8:32 pm

  7. Predictably, I laughed just where Deborah did, at “wrong kind of snow.” Ha!
    Your charming post here and its observance of how strangely obsessed we humans can be with weather has reminded me that I’m glad to live in a very changeable climate, where, in the course of a day, people wearing shorts can find themselves in the midst of a snow shower. There’s no word for that.

    Comment by Jocelyn — April 29, 2012 @ 4:54 am

  8. Hi! Your secret is out. Rain? What rain! Beautiful here on Lummi.

    Comment by Ghislaine — May 6, 2012 @ 5:37 pm

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