x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Rain can't dampen our spirits

Just as a child has yet to learn of the inconveniences of rain, a stint in Abu Dhabi can prove to an adult that his feelings toward the phenomenon is learned.

My back is pressed up against the inner fabric and rain is hitting the outer fabric like a drum. The beam of light from my head torch spotlights a few words on a label - "2½ man tent". There should be ample room in here, but Astrid is sprawled across the floor with her arms outstretched and her legs akimbo. As this is her first camping trip, she has quickly mastered the art of defensive sleeping.

Outside, the campsite is packed, despite the rain. The field in the foothills of the Welsh mountain of Snowdon - Britain's highest peak outside the Scottish Highlands - is reminiscent of a festival. The worst economic problems since the Great Depression have interrupted the British summer migration. Instead of going abroad, the population has apparently decided to save money and hunker down under canvas for its summer holidays.

In fact, money cannot be the real issue. The field is bristling with shiny, new kit. Most people have spent a lot on being prepared. Huge tents with many compartments and spacious awnings, inflatable king-size mattresses, fluffy down sleeping bags fit for Arctic expeditions and enormous gas barbecues: most people on this campsite are grossly overprepared. Admittedly there is something satisfying about buying outdoor equipment. It is usually so well designed and, at the time of purchase, feels so necessary. Yet this sense of purpose masks the frivolousness of objects which will never fulfil their intention and will probably spend most of their life in an attic or garage gathering dust.

We are oddities for a variety of reasons. Astrid, Lucy and I have flown over 5,500km from Abu Dhabi to arrive at this field in Wales. We have a small tent, so we have do most things outside. And we have a four-month-old baby among our ranks. Children are everywhere on this particular campsite, from ragtag bands of urchins who have made friends on this trip to instructor-led, organised groups fleeing the inner cities. Babies, however, are scarce.

Families with young children are encamped a few miles down the road in one of many caravan parks. They are braving the great indoors. They have settled in row after row of regimented plots which come replete with satellite dishes, wi-fi internet connections, water and electricity. It is "home from home", as a sign at one of the caravan parks proudly announces.   Astrid appears to be enjoying herself without luxuries such as a solid roof or electricity. In this case, running water refers to the river flowing nearby our tent. After months spent cooped up in an apartment, insulated from the baking heat of summer in Abu Dhabi, we are all appreciating the climate and gulping in the fresh air. Whenever the wind blows, Astrid starts to breathe sharply and rapidly, almost as if hyperventilating. At first it was worrying, but she seems fine. She is simply enjoying fresh air in her lungs.

Living in Abu Dhabi has done curious things to our attitude to rain. No longer is rain a menace or an inconvenience. We are even, dare I say it, relishing the sight of black clouds rolling down the mountains. Far from dampening our spirits, we start to perceive rain as the generous, life-giving force it is. For rain tourists like ourselves, big blobs of water falling from the sky are exhilarating. At times they border on sublime.

Ensconced in her pushchair under a clear plastic hood, Astrid looks puzzled as she watches mummy and daddy standing in a field getting soaked and grinning. Perhaps one day she will understand. A recent study has found that baby girls learn to be afraid of spiders before their first birthday, while baby boys of the same age do not. David Rakison, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, showed babies a happy or sad face paired with a picture of a spider, snake, mushroom or flower. He measured the length of time the babies gazed at each combination. If they had learnt to associate spiders with a sad face, they would stare longer, the researcher surmised, at combinations contrary to those expectations.

Baby girls stared longer at happy faces placed with spiders, while baby boys did not stare longer at any of the permutations. From these observations, the researchers concluded that girls are genetically predisposed to fear such creatures. Women are four times more likely to be afraid of spiders than men. At last, there is some evidence about why this might be the case. * Robert Carroll