What have they done to the rain?

After the rain: Farnham park
After the rain: Farnham park

It’s late afternoon. It’s the end of January. The rain is streaming down. It’s been the wettest January since … well, since time began. I’m driving from Guildford to Farnham. Far to the west I can see that the charcoal-black clouds are clearing. There’s a blood-red glow on the horizon. It’s firework-red. It’s strontium red.

I’m listening to a famous song on the car stereo player. It’s a song that was first played on the radio in 1962. Then it was called the ‘Rain song’; I heard it again in 1964 but it had a different title: It’s by Malvina Reynolds and the song is: ‘What have they done to the rain?’ It’s a beautiful song – and begins with the words:

Just a little rain falling all around,
The grass lifts its head to the heavenly sound …

I love those lines: I think of the light summer rain that cools the land. I think of grass bathed in the morning dew. I think of the freshet stirred – and the brook – and the river. I think of kingfishers and herons …

The song continues:

Just a little rain, just a little rain,
What have they done to the rain?

So, I remember the idea of the protest song: In the early 60s there were lots of such song: back then Malvina Reynolds was singing about the atmosphere – the air that we breathe – and how it was being poisoned by nuclear fall-out – the radioactive fall-out from testing nuclear bombs. She wanted us to know about the nuclear rain.

The words of the song continue:

Just a little boy standing in the rain,
The gentle rain that falls for years.
And the grass is gone,
The boy disappears,
And rain keeps falling like helpless tears,
And what have they done to the rain?

Her voice is haunting, simple and pure; then she sings the next verse:

Just a little breeze out of the sky,
The leaves pat their hands as the breeze blows by,
Just a little breeze with some smoke in its eye,
What have they done to the rain?

The grass disappears because it is being killed. The boy, too, disappears. He’s died a nuclear death; And, the gentle breeze with some smoke in its eye? The smoke is the deadly strontium-90.

As the song ends the rain about me is still lashing down.

And I’m driving through the rain towards a blood-red strontium sky.


1. Two strontium compounds, strontium carbonate and strontium nitrate burn with a bright, red flame and are used in both fireworks and signal flares.

2. Strontium-90 (90Sr) is a radioactive isotope of strontium produced by nuclear fission. It has a half-life of 28.8 years. Strontium-90 is a ‘radioactivity hazard’.

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