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Rain, Rain and more Rain.

Rain. Brian Cathcart. Granta Books. [pounds sterling]5.99. 100 pages. ISBN 1-86207-534-4.

This is a small, pocket-sized paperback about a big subject, an extraordinary compendium of facts, figures, and fascinating detail on the most ordinary of topics. In it, Brian Cathcart considers global warming, climate change, and the effect on rain. He concludes that, while we were originally told that the 'greenhouse effect' would lead to an alfresco cafe culture in Britain, now the forecast for the twenty-first century is for rain. This will not be just any rain, but drenching rain leading to regular floods that will bring increasing disruption to all our lives and misery to the millions living on floodplains. This is because higher temperatures not only increase evaporation of the seas, but also alter the kind of rain we can expect.

Mr Cathcart offers two case studies of recent floods to demonstrate his point. The first is that of Farringdon in Hampshire, a kind of English 'every village'; the second is Lewes in Sussex. Both were devastated in 2000, the wettest year on record in England and Wales. Since then, floods appear to have become increasingly regular events, underlying the severity of the crisis.

With such a bleak weather forecast, any considered addition to the 'green' debate has to be welcome. What makes this book particularly fascinating, however, is that Mr Cathcart places his subject into an historical and philosophical context. He argues that, at one level, civilisation can be seen as an attempt to get above the rain. After all, for centuries, life was not only nasty, brutish, and short, but also very damp. This began to change in the nineteenth century with John McAdam's development of 'macadamized' roads, which permitted the movement of traffic come rain or shine, and Charles Macintosh's invention of the first practical waterproof fabric.

As well as struggling to establish a physical authority over rain, however, we were also looking for intellectual mastery through understanding what it is and how it works. This gives the writer some of his most felicitous moments as he considers a series of eccentric individualists who gave their lives to the weather. The English Quaker, Luke Howard, was the first person to classify clouds at the start of the nineteenth century while George James Symons was the originator in Victoria's reign of what is now the longest continuous rainfall record in the world. For its seminal years, this record relied on a scattered army of volunteer vicars, doctors, squires, teachers, aristocrats, and admirals.

Another Quaker, Lewis Fry Richardson, worked out that the best way to forecast the weather was to use maths, this while he was serving with the Friends' Ambulance Unit during the First World War. The Great War also provided one of the most common words used in relation to rain, that of 'front' as in warm or cold front, a term borrowed from the military maps frequently printed in newspapers at the time the phenomenon was discovered.

Like any good writer, Mr Cathcart delights in such detail. One learns, for instance, that an updraught of warm air can on rare occasions pick up small creatures such as fish and frogs, which later come down again with the rain, a fact that gives a whole new meaning to 'raining cats and dogs'? All this is immensely enjoyable. But Mr Cathcart's intention is to do more than to inform and entertain. It is to relate the current climate to the Greek idea of hubris. While at times we may get above ourselves, he concludes, there is no such thing as getting above the rain. An alternative title for the book, then, might be Rain's Revenge.
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Title Annotation:Rain by Brian Cathcart
Author:Karwowski, Michael
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2003
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