Wednesday, 7 September 2011

On hurricanes

I've never been to America but I feel a certain kinship with Americans whenever there's hurricanes about. They just had one! Her name was Irene. You probably read about it. Unless you're reading this from America's east coast, when you probably didn't read about it because the power went down and all the newspapers blew away. But you almost certainly had other sources of information, such as a cow going past your bedroom window sideways.

The reason for my feelings of kinship are simple: before I was 10 years old I'd experienced two hurricanes. As far as I knew, this sort of thing happened all the time. Between Autumn 1987 and January 1990 I thought houses didn't necessarily have to have tiles on their roof, that cars parked with their wheels in the air and that owls tied themselves to branches with safety harnesses.

Actually, it's fair to say that, 21 years on, hurricanes are a relatively rare occurrence in the United Kingdom. In fact, the 1987 storm (sadly, the UK doesn't have sufficient hurricanes to give them names) was the first hurricane in the UK since the earth was a flaming ball of molten rock and the land was ruled by fish with legs and delusions of grandeur.

This lack of hurricanes has served to conflate the history of both storms - 16th October 1987 and 25th January 1990 - into one set of memories and hurricane-lore. So, to be clear, 1987 was the one where Michael Fish went on the telly and told everyone there wasn't going to be a hurricane and the one which blew down all the oaks in Sevenoaks. The 1990 one was the one where Gordon Kaye from 'Allo 'Allo almost met his maker when a branch twatted the car he was driving. Because unlike the 1987 storm, which was overnight, the 1990 one took place during the daytime (the morning, mostly). This made it much more deadly, as more people were out in it. It was also much less destructive, however, largely on account of how everything that blew over in 1987 hadn't been put back up yet. Because in Britain, we like to take our time over that sort of shit.

I have very clear memories of the 1987 hurricane. I was 7 and we lived in Woodingdean. Woodingdean is just outside Brighton, but for mail purposes is within it. It's on top of a hill and rather exposed. This was abundantly clear on 17th October 1987, shortly after my mother was forced to apologise to my 4-year old brother and myself for telling us to shut up, it's just a bit of wind. Everything had fallen over. The only stuff that hadn't fallen over was the stuff which was meant to be on the ground, and that was all now in the air. Our house bore up awfully well. We lost a few tiles and our garden fence is probably still in Ringmer. A lot of people were not so lucky. There were a lot of houses in Woodingdean with no roof or windows and an insurance man stood outside with a steaming great big erection. My school was completely destroyed. I had the next month off until someone remembered that there was an old school building next door which we could use until our school was rebuilt. Drat.

When it was rebuilt, it was opened by the Duchess of Gloucester. Just in time for the 1990 storm, in fact. This time, only the roof blew off. I was in the classroom when it did. It was pretty noisy and after that they decided it was probably best to send us home, from a safety point of view. Whichever Little Piggy had rebuilt our school had obviously used bricks this time, though, because we only had one day off this time. I don't know what happened to our classroom roof. When we learned about Gordon Kaye, I hoped it hadn't been our roof that had hit him. Edith would never have forgiven us. Luckily (although not for Gordon Kaye) it wasn't. I suspect our roof is now in Bevendean somewhere where it is proudly guarded by a dairy cow.

The clarity of these memories is pretty remarkable, considering how long ago they were. There's nothing like 120mph winds to really leave a mark on the mind. And everything else, in fact. People like me, who knew Brighton before 1987, can still point out bits and bobs that changed forever. I imagine people from all over the south of England can say the same about wherever it is that they come from. It's nice to be involved in a little part of your nation's history, I suppose. And even nicer if you can sit here over 20 years later being glib about it, rather than being dead.

I would not like there to be any more hurricanes anywhere. They are dangerous.


Al said...

Being pedantic, Britain has never been hit by hurricane. Hurricane force (12 on the Beaufort scale) winds, yes- but a Hurricane? Categorically not.

A hurricane is the fool thing- circular, with a calm eye, violent rain, hailstorms, lightning. They never form or travel as far north as our latitude; there simply isn't the solar energy to power them.

alicestronaut said...

Hooray, shout out for Ringmer!

If Al is correct (and he is, by the sounds of it) then that thing about hurricanes I sent you yesterday is wrong! I'm going to cross out the bit where it says Beaufort scale 12 'is a hurricane' when I'm in work tomorrow. These books are going to be read by impressionable children, we can't have them full of lies.

Chris O said...

I remember chuff all about the '87 storm, strangely. The only thing I can recall is that while everyone had a valid reason for having a day off work, I (in my wisdom) had booked a day of annual leave well in advance. It still rankles with me even now.

Oh yeah, and some trees had been blown over. Other than that, I blissfully slept through it all.

Al said...

It's really quie simple. A hurricane has Hurricane force winds. orce 12 winds are still Hurricane Force if they happen in the UK; however it is exceedingly unlikely that they will be part of a hurricane. Meanwhile, the remains of hurricane Katia that will hit us this weekend are properly termed an "Extratropical cyclone". Even if that manages to produce some Force 12 wind, it wouldn't be a hurricane.

dotmund said...

What about when you fart?

Al said...

Meteorologists tremble


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