Rain, rain, rain, rain! Beautiful rain!

It is the opening line of a song that we sang in the choir I used to belong to. Made famous by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, it celebrates the long-awaited arrival of the rainy season to restore life to the arid, sun-scorched African savannah after months of torrid heat that turn the soil to dust. And it had been playing on a continuous loop inside my head for the previous week or more.

“Oh, come, never come,” laments the song. We had seen barely drop since the beginning of June, bar a couple of half-hearted showers whose introductory sound and lighting effects promised way more than they delivered. Typically, though, it is the arrival of a crashing thunderstorm that allows the weather magically to reset itself after days of steadily rising temperatures. Instead we have had endless weeks of endless sunshine beating down from a merciless white-hot orb suspended in a sky of dazzlingsolid blue. The heat has been fierce and relentless, with temperatures stuck in the high thirties for several weeks now – exceptionally hot even for August, never mind June or July – and never lower than the upper-twenties during the sultry, sticky nights. Even the thinnest duvet has been out of the question. We have slept, or tried to, beneath an empty duvet cover and the gentle down-draught from the ceiling fan that tried to stir the thick, heavy air into some semblance of a breeze to cool our clammy limbs. For weeks we have lived in a state of perpetual gloom, keeping shutters closed and curtains drawn throughout the day to keep the sun’s insistent rays at bay and maintain at least an impression of ‘less hot’ if not exactly ‘fresh’. But over those weeks, the heat soaked through the brick and stone and started to trickle down the walls, gathering in steamy puddles about the house, and reducing the gap between outside and inside temperatures to just a few precious degrees.

“Oh, come to me, beautiful rain,” pleads the song. Every day we scanned the shimmering horizon for signs of cloud gathering over the Sibillini Mountains where lies the bubbling cauldron of thermals which cast billowing towers of cumulonimbus cloud up into the brilliant blue: the surest sign in these parts that a downpour is on its way. But nothing. Just a milky blanket of heat haze fraying the sky’s furthest edges. And so the mercury remained stubbornly close to forty degrees for another day, and there were more reports in the local newspapers about the exceptional weather, and more programmes on the radio about how to cope with its effects – for it is not just we pasty, cool-blooded Anglo-Saxons who have been suffering; everyone has been feeling the heat.

Finally, it came, though. It was late in the afternoon, when the air was so clogged with heat every movement was an effort. But over the Sibillini’s more northerly peaks the clouds had begun to bubble up. Then to gather into great churning clumps, then to thicken into a boiling mass of grimy grey that soon snuffed out the blazing sun. The immediately cooler air carried the scent of rain, an angry breeze yanked at the tops of the trees, and within minutes big, fat, juicy rain drops began to splat with an almost audible sizzle onto the sun-baked pavements. At last!

But the cloud continued to swirl and swell and darken. Great curtains of rain now flapped wildly in the raging wind, while giant hailstones hammered down on rooves and windows, and sent people scurrying for safety. The thunder roared and the demons of the Sibillini hurled down spears of lightning that flashed blinding white against the now charcoal sky. Day turned to night. We held our breath and awaited the arrival of the four horsemen…

Within an hour it was over, though, and we breathed once more. The wind slackened and the rain abated, flushing the darkness from the pallid sky. The demons fell silent, gathered their weapons and retreated to their mountain lair, leaving havoc in their wake. Power lines were down, café tables upturned, awnings torn and drooping. Roof tiles and plant pots lay shattered on pavements where hailstones had collected in shallow mounds.  Trees were felled, branches ripped off and flung across squares now coated in a sodden mulch of shredded leaves and blossom. Roads turned to rivers, crops were flattened and my beloved sunflowers lolled and flopped like lanky drunks.

For once, luck was on our side, though. Apart from a couple of power cuts and our heavy picnic table being blown halfway down the garden, we suffered no harm.  Others fared less well and the next day’s papers were filled with images of shattered windscreens, broken walls, mangled parasols and mud-slicked terraces. But a surprisingly efficient clearing up operation immediately got under way and barely a day later, fallen trees had been removed, debris swept away, garden furniture righted and repairs effected.  The storm had done the trick, though: the temperature had dropped by more than ten degrees. And at last we flung open the doors and windows and shutters and let the playful breeze blow away the drifts of stale heat that had accumulated in every corner. Normal service had been resumed; the re-set was complete. And even my precious sunflowers stood to attention once more, their beaming faces turned to the cheery sun that now shone amiably from a freshly-laundered cornflower sky.

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