Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Stormy Weather

In the last year or so I have been noticing a new sort of cloud over Hampshire. What I keep seeing is a downward-breaking plume, falling away from a horizontal cloud or cloud layer, as if a large object had plummeted through the the cloud, or a strong local suction had been applied to it from below. It sometimes has a bit of a twist, but is quite wispy and is nothing like as dramatic as a tornado funnel cloud, but nonetheless noticeable. This element of verticality in the sky is striking and, to my mind, new.

I saw a particularly fine example this week over Southampton as I drove to Romsey to do a Saturday morning shop. As often happens when driving, my mind went off in two different but related directions. First I thought, "Perhaps these unusual clouds are the precursors of storms, or even tornadoes", and then the words in Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen sprang into the forefront of my consciousness, and repeated themselves like a mantra.

It took me a while to place the words. Is there anything more infuriating than a name or memory that stays just out of reach? Upsetting, too, if it goes on for too long: once you've watched relatives vanish into the hell of dementia all the humour goes out of memory loss. Luckily, I soon remembered that those words are, of course, one of the elocutionary phrases Henry Higgins inflicts on Eliza Doolittle in the musical and film My Fair Lady, and which figure in the song "The Rain in Spain", once a staple of light radio but now, I suspect, unheard from one year to the next.

The memories flooded back. "On the Street Where You Live", "Wouldn't It Be Luverly?", "With a Little Bit of Luck", "I Could Have Danced All Night" ... I know every note, every word of those songs, although I loathe most of them. In 1964 we went on a family expedition to London to see the film, and we owned the soundtrack LP which was played constantly until the soundtrack of West Side Story took its place. Ah, more, better songs! By the time I reached Romsey I was singing "The Jets Song" and feeling very good.
When you’re a Jet,
You’re a Jet all the way,
From your foist cigarette
To your last dyin’ day.

Of course, the inevitable next thought had to be: they don't write them like that any more, do they? And the truth is, of course, they don't. The ability to write popular songs with the sheer variety, melodic inventiveness, fun, wit and narrative cleverness of those classic musicals seems to have vanished from the world.

Not only don't they write them, they don't play them on the radio, either, and it's such a shame. It made me feel sorry for youngsters brought up on an exclusive diet of beat-driven rock and pop. And worried, too: what if you never learn to recognise and appreciate these more sophisticated qualities simply because you have never learned to loathe "I Could Have Danced All Night", or laughed out loud to "America" or "Gee, Officer Krupke"? And perhaps you can't ever really appreciate beat-driven rock and pop unless you have sat through an hour of dross on Two-Way Family Favourites, yearning to hear just three precious minutes of Elvis or the Beatles.

As it happens, when I had finished the shopping in Romsey, the front page of the local paper caught my eye. It seems a mini-hurricane had torn through South Hampshire on Tuesday, leaving a swathe of mild devastation (fallen trees, damaged roofs, blocked roads) from the New Forest to Winchester. And those words popped back into my mind: In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen... Well, maybe things are starting to change. Perhaps I'd better check where the rain in Spain is mainly falling, these days, though -- if my geography is worth anything -- I doubt it ever fell mainly in the plain.

Storm passing over Llandrindod Wells, Wales

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