When I was little, I used to imagine they made rain in factories. Gigantic complexes high up in the clouds, filled with dour men in drab coats, measuring out the shape of raindrops with calipers. On dreich days I liked to think of those men, taking a craftsman's pride in their raindrops rounded just so; all part of some huge, impersonal government concern that set quotas. This percentage of the days of summer must be overcast, this many picnics must be ruined per annum, all calculated exactly. I imagined a small man with a clipboard counting rainbows.

I was never raised to be particularly religious, but I still had a childlike faith that everything happened for a reason; that whatever happened, someone was in charge of it. I didn't much like the sound of God, but if, in winter, I stepped on a frozen leaf and it cracked like a creme brulee, I used to picture some frustrated genius in a lab coat, cracking leaves with a toffee hammer until he found that perfect little zen sound. I invented these benign conspiracies for myself, and the one I held responsible for inclement weather I called British Rainfall.

British Rainfall was like British Rail, or anything else capital-B British - grey, unglamorous, and dependable in the uniquely paradoxical sense that you could always depend on it to inconvenience you as much as possible. A very municipal sort of thing, punctuated with the flashes of unregarded brilliance a bookish child had seen from reading about The War - men in shirt-sleeves, making fighter planes out of plywood in a shed somewhere in the Midlands. More than anything else, though, it carried that stolid sense of just being... there, existing, like old furniture you can't quite bring yourself to get rid of.

Eventually, I grew up - for the most part - and if I've learned one thing it's that you can never really go home. The country I based my daydreams on no longer exists. Maybe it never did in the first place, other than as some collective hallucination. British Rainfall has gone the way of its tangible counterparts - shuttered, bought out and long forgotten. It only exists to me as a half-remembered joke I tell myself on getting caught in a downpour, trying to shake off a wry smile like a sodden overcoat.

In hindsight, I miss it. If ceasing to be a child means putting away childish things, and if in order to be an adult one must be able to deal with reality as it is rather than as it should be, then I can let my nostalgia for an invented world go. After all, cling onto it and I'd be no better than the conservatives who legislate for an England they created for themselves, where district nurses bicycled to church and no-one was ever rude or late or black.

I don't suppose I'll ever eradicate it completely, though - and to be honest, I'm not sure I want to. When I step off a Southeastern train that used to be a British Rail train - that's just as late, just as crowded, just as dirty, just as frustrating and yet somehow ten times as obnoxious - into a torrential downpour that washes off the platform and makes the dull electric lights glisten over the tarmac, I like to look up at the sky, remember my burst of partly-cloudy patriotism, and think that at least British Rainfall is still around.

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