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The sun, so elusive in a British spring, has been positively beaming down on the London area for so many rainless days that people are in danger of forgetting where they put their umbrellas.

Much of the country is sharing the sunshine bonanza. So far, it is the warmest May since 1964.London was the country's sweltriest spot Tuesday. The 84-degree high made it the capital's hottest day in May since official record-taking began in 1948.

Temperatures of 82 degrees made the south coast towns of Bournemouth and Southampton hotter at the weekend than Athens or Tangier.

It hasn't rained in London since a light shower fell May 13, and the London Weather Center records .032 inches of rain so far - against an average May rainfall of 2.02 inches.

Raincoats hang at the back of the closet, Wellington boots are buried by accumulating debris in the car trunk and eager barbecuers have bought out the lawn furniture stocks in some stores and garden centers.

Opportunities like this do not arise very often for a nation of picnickers. A good drenching is part of everybody's outdoor dining experience, and the ability to hold on to your plate, your glass and your humor while sprinting for shelter is a basic of British sang-froid.

Bookmaker William Hill says it faces a $170,000 payout if temperatures exceed the 96.6-degree mark reached in 1976, and has shortened its odds from 33-to-1 to 16-to-1.

It would lose an additional $85,000 if the century's record high of 98 degrees, set in 1911, is exceeded and has dropped odds against this happening to 50-1, a spokesman said.

Of course there is still a week left for a deluge, but nothing can take away the 224 hours of sunshine so far. Average May sunshine is 198 hours for the entire month, the weather center said.