When Mr Manchester himself, Tony Wilson, said ‘Jazz was the last refuge of the untalented’, what he really meant to say – to quote Oscar Wilde – was that ‘conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative’.
Tucked away in a precipitous bowl shaped area of land, bordered to the north and east by the Pennines and to the south by the Cheshire plain, here, every day is like Sunday – we are forever destined to be the umbrella capital of the country
But the mercurial nature of Mancunian weather isn’t just an icebreaker. It’s a mood, a memory, a sound, an errant child and a naughty mistress. It’s an atmosphere, an emotion, an expression and era – and in this age of globalisation, it’s the weather that still ties us down to one specific place. It’s who we are and where we come from.
The relentless drizzle of our beloved city has inspired our greatest writers from Thomas de Quincey – who described his mental landscape as a terrifying cloud structure bubbling up beyond control – to our greatest painter L.S Lowry, whose unforgivably bleak, grey and unchanging skies were the expression of a generation of matchstick men destined to toil in this most industrial of cities.
Without the rain, Manchester would never have been the powerhouse of the industrial revolution (the damp air means the cotton is less likely to snap) – there would be no decaying mills and silent chimneys – which haunt, like ghosts, the psyche of our city’s writers, lyricists and artists. Rumour also has it, that the damp air is responsible for our slight nasal diction.
When Morrissey sang – “The rain falls down on this humdrum town, this town has dragged you down” – he owed much to the post-industrial romanticism of the city and the people that roamed its damp wet streets. The lethargic Well I Wonder, another Smiths song, ends with the sounds of falling rain, evoking the sense of a lazy rainy day. The same with Joy Division and their bleak claustrophobic mechanised melodies – both bands could only have come from the manufacturing capital.
But is it all a myth? Does the city really deserve the accolade of the ‘rainy city’?
That beacon of climatic common sense – The Met Office – defines a ‘rain day’ as being a day on which one millimetre or more of rainfall is measured. Manchester has on average 86.7cms of rain every year, compared to Britain’s wettest cities, Cardiff (115cms); Glasgow (112cms); Preston (103.36); it even rains more in Blackpool (88.27cms). In fact, Manchester barely makes the top ten – we do, however, have more rainy days than most with 150 sodden days a year (Glasgow still beats us with 170, as does Preston with its commendable 153).
If it is a myth, then where does it come from? Perhaps a document, dating to 1926, can provide the answer.
Discovered by researchers a few years ago, the 90-year-old record contains a map showing that some parts of what is now Greater Manchester experienced 139cms of rain a year, but only 78cm fell over Manchester. In 1926 the average rainfall in England was 91cms. The map was shaded blue – one of the first of its kind in the North West – to denote annual rainfall. It was printed widely in the press, including the Manchester Guardian, and experts believe it was instrumental in reinforcing the city’s reputation for dismal weather – and of course, once something sticks it’s difficult to shake off.
But then, myths are more potent than history; and if it’s a choice between legend and fact, always go for the legend.
Some rain enthusiasts disagree with the naysayers, pointing out that Manchester has, in fact, been getting wetter over the past 100 years – even going as far to suggest that Tuesdays are the wettest, Saturdays are getting wetter, and Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are the driest.
And besides, if you count any form of wet like: drizzle, sprinkles, mizzles, dew, light showers, intermittent spots, mists, sprays, breezes, splashes, puffs, scuds and even a squelchy ground – it is ‘technically’ always raining in Manchester, even if you don’t necessarily get soaked.
So, there you go: the rain – the tippling, the pelting, and the plothering – luttering from clouds the colour of cigarette ash. It has inspired, amused, dampened our hair and spirits, razed our sense of fashion to the ground, besmirched our weekends, muddied our floors and revolutionised our textile industry. Whether we are the ‘rainy city’ or merely the ‘somewhat rainy city’, the rain still deserves a place in all Mancunian hearts. So, you see, Mr. Wilde, there’s nothing unimaginative in conversation about the weather.
(Published here at ilovemanchester.com)