Part 2 – (continued from previous)
The estate through which I walked had once been open farmland. The livings were probably not very comfortable, probably smallholdings with a few cattle and chickens, maybe a pig or two. The very names of some of them indicating the miserable existence eked out on the land – Hardmeadow and the Moss. These grim places also contained swamps here and there which as children, we believed were bottomless. We did not go near them.
There were also what we called “crofts” which were really only parcels of land that had not yet been built on. Some of these made good shortcuts. They were nearly always wet though, even after periods of dry weather.
As I set off, I cut across the croft. The rough path had been made more stable by the strewing of cinders thereon. I felt the first of this evil rain. I tried to button my blazer and could not. So I held the two sides of it together and started to run. One of the boys from another class laughed in my face and ran on. I held back, fearful of further mischief. (It ought to be explained that I was very much smaller than many of my contemporaries, I stopped growing between the ages of 8 and 13. At the time, it was put down to “not eating enough dinner” but was over forty five years later diagnosed as a serious congenital heart condition).
Somehow, I got home, well over a mile away. I think it was only raining. I now cannot recall thunder and lightning on that walk. I ran and walked alternatively in bursts. As I got nearer our house, I saw some of our older neighbours looking through their front windows at the really strange weather we were experiencing.
At home at last. My grandmother made me a drink and we sat together. I wondered about the weather and I asked my gran if she had ever seen this sort of thing before. “No”, she said “I couuldn’t just think right now”. This was a let down too because normally, my gran would have known. After a while she said “You haven’t to be frightnened of this, you know, it’ll all be over in a while” and reassured, I went to watch the comings and goings in the road from our front room window.
During that evening, we all sat in the front room – another rare occurence. My gran stayed overnight too. The weather was dreadful. Old Testament amounts of rain and hail landed on our house and garden. Grids overflowed on the street and torrents of water made for the main road and we tried to see if there was any traffic in this weather. There was and it made the water ride as high as the sea hitting the prow of a ship in a heavy sea.
The next day, we learned that the rain had washed a bridge away; that the storm contained sand from the Sahara desert; that the cloud had been over five miles deep; that the darkness…Wait! Our daily newspaper would have it all in there; such a great event and happening would be reported, so…I scoured the papers – any paper I could find. There was no reference to the darkness. No reference to the build up of the storm. No reference to the amount of rain. No reference to any flooding. Even now, in the archives of the National Dailies, there is scant reference at this time to this weather event. It simply was not reported.
In the local papers, there were short references to the rain and the sand deposits but nothing that tried to explain the how what why or wherefore. We kind of forgot it. Nobody mentioned it. How strange and yet, fascinating.
Since then of course, I asked people if they remembered the day. Many did not – either they didn’t notice anything or it was not of sufficient moment to have created any impression on them. Maybe they just preferred to forget it. Maybe they were better at concealing their fright than I.
Perhaps the penultimate words should go to a former colleague of mine.Years ago as we whiled away yet another dreary lunch hour, I asked in an idle kind of way if she had remembered July 1968 and the day it went dark. “Oh yes”, she said. “But I have always remembered it as the day it went dark green”.
Many years later, I found confirmation of the date and what was happening at the time. My recollection was not perfectly in accord with that account but it was enough.
So many lenses; so many prisms…