The coming of several Atlantic storms prompts us once again to look at the fragility of our situation. Grievous flooding with attendant severe gales have become a grossly frightening reality for many, not only in the British Isles but also around the world. All any of us can do during these tragic events is to hold on to hope for others and ourselves. We are almost completely powerless when Nature unleashes forces which we still do not comprehend.
Although it may appear that such things are new phenomena, it has become apparent to me that many of these events have occurred in many places in the past. What is odd is that the frequency seems to have become more frequent. Nevertheless, I would respectfully assert that this frequency is more in the reporting of the matters than the actual occurrence. This is because even into the recent past, weather reporting was largely a matter of local and not national interest.
As a child, I witnessed one day – 2nd July 1968 – the locality we inhabited went from day to night during the hours of daylight. It had been a peculiar year anyway…
There we all were in Mrs Dwyer’s Class. Our school was still only three years old and was of modern design, with windows right around the room from child’s chest height to the ceiling. Our classroom faced south. I spent many happy hours there doing the usual things – going back for the umpteenth time to use the pencil sharpener; singing in my head; watching the wonderful clouds in the blue skies roll by and mingle with the smoke and steam from the twin chimneys and three cooling towers of the nearby power station…and the end of June was going well. There had been sunshine and it was warm too. What started out well though, later fell away. The blue skies went away to be replaced by peculiar dark clouds with thunder and lightning. This I seem to remember went on for a few days and always seemed to happen round about lunchtime or at any rate, the early afternoon.
The thunder was odd-sounding too. We didn’t have a lot of storms I seem to remember: most of which I was aware were in the night. Terrifying lightning that “pinged” in the black, followed by deafening crashes. My father attempted to reassure me by teaching me to count seconds, so that I might have an idea where the centre of the storm might be. I counted; I hid under my eiderdown; I cried. Nowadays, I still do all these things, but no longer for thunder and lightning. As I say, odd-sounding thunder. Little peals; tiny rolls that were only lasting a couple of seconds at a time. The sky looked terrible; a sort of grey but with a filthy yellow gleam in there as well.
If – as we had been taught – God was responsible for the weather, then he was sending us something really nasty indeed. (God also doled out punishments to those who did what they ought not to have done; so this might easily have been some of those too).
Rain came and it danced again on our school yard. Puddles formed on the tarmac and sank into the depression made in the ground by an old coal-working that had recently dealt to our new edifice, a reminder of man’s efforts to keep going.
So, in school and on that Tuesday, on went the lights – the sun had long been hidden. And it got darker and darker, until in the end, the street outside was just black. The sky was absolutely looming. We became quiet and after a little while, the street lamps came on. Our revered Headmaster, Mr Fallon – a mathematics genius who always encouraged children and who also wrote enviably neat italic script – came in and had a word with Mrs Dwyer. We were then told that calmly and quietly, we should put our books away and go home; go straight home; do not dawdle; take no short cuts; talk to no strangers; go home. Anybody who could not go home (because there might be nobody in) could wait at school.
I set off. I had a little Troywoolco blazer to wear. It dated to before we had a proper uniform. It was well made and the cloth was so good – it was a kind of Melton cloth – that it kept out the rain. I hoped as I set off, that it would.
And setting off was the thing. I left the school and was fine as long as I could see the school (our school) over my shoulder. The minute the school was out of sight, I felt very alone and cold and frightened and suddenly our house seemed a very long way away and I started to cry. Mercifully, I did like Felix had done… (to be continued)