Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The Great Storm - 20 Years On

The dog knew something was up. She woke me in the small hours, crossing her legs in a blue funk. I got up in my dressing gown to let her out. When I turned on the stairs light there was only a feeble glow from the bulb. The wind was roaring like the sea, and when I stepped outside the sound was deafening. Twigs and leaves struck me in the face like flung gravel. The dog was hunched aerodynamically on the lawn, nose to the wind, multi-tasking as she coped with an upset tummy and trying to keep all four feet on the ground. On the crest of the Downs the woods were in trouble. No lights showed in the valley below, but the horizon was lit up by the lightning flashes of arcing power lines. The dog's gastric explosions seemed a perfectly reasonable response to nature gone insane.

When she eventually came back in the dog had residual troubles. I started to try and clean her up with kitchen towel when the electricity finally failed. I did my best in torch light. Back upstairs, feeling the slight sense of martyrdom that comes from blundering about in the dark wiping a dog's bottom at 4.00 am while the world is being blown apart, I said to my wife, "I think this is hurricane force."

"Mmm" she mumbled, and went back to sleep. I watched the flickering landscape out of the window, debris drumming against the panes. When I placed my hands against the wall I could feel the house shake with each onslaught.

We woke, with awe and sadness, to a changed world. Without water for two days, and electricity for a week, life reverted to a simpler pattern; the soft glow of oil lamps; reading by candle light; enamel jugs of water heating on the aga; travelling across the fields because the roads were impassable with fallen trees.

Twenty years on, it's just an old tale. The scars have healed in the woods - only the lean of a tree here, a broken trunk there, provide an echo of the crash and thunder of the great storm.

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