Monday, 28 October 2013

The Great Storm of 2013: the Englishwoman's love of preparing for disaster

Old English Sheepdog enjoying The Great Storm of 2013

I can always tell if there’s a touch of extreme weather on the way, or there’s a threat of power cuts or paralysing strikes, because my wife’s eyes start glittering with unnatural excitement at the delightful prospect of having to cope. Yesterday, with the Great Storm apparently heading straight for us, we discussed bringing stuff inside so it wouldn’t be buffeted around the garden overnight by hurricane-force winds.

I went upstairs to mess around on the computer for an hour or so, then went back down at around six to cart everything inside – only to discover our ground floor already jam-packed with bicycles, bins and rubbish bags: outside, garden furniture had been folded and stored out of harm’s way and anything that might fly away (like the lid of the water-butt) had a rock on top to hold it down.

My wife was as happy as Larry (well, as she’s usually pretty cheerful, she was probably happier than Larry).

I’ve seen this phenomenon before: the threat of an evening power cut a couple of years ago saw her whizzing around getting candles and torches ready, making sure we had enough matches, filling thermos flasks with tea, preparing an evening meal that didn’t require heating, wrapping the food in our freezer so it would withstand a few hours above the optimal temperature, digging out extra-warm clothes and making sure our gas fire was functioning. 

The problem with London, of course, is that weather which might lead to wholesale destruction elsewhere tends to – at most – result in a few tiles slipping off roofs and a few fallen branches, so it’s hard to feel that a genuine disaster has been averted.  A father of three died in Watford when a tree fell on his car today, but we live too near the centre of town to get the full brunt of whatever's going round. When I came down this morning, my wife reported that it had got a bit blowy at around 6.30 and that was that. She looked disappointed.

Birmingham, Alabama 1993
What’s so unfair is that the only time we’ve been caught in a genuinely freakish weather event was twenty years ago in,of all places, the American South as we headed for Atlanta airport. Half-way through our holiday we were sweltering in 87ºF heat in New Orleans: by the end we found ourselves sleeping, along with several hundred other travellers stranded by the Great Blizzard of March ’93, on the floor of the National Guard Armoury gymnasium in Leeds, a few miles from Birmingham (where there'd been no room at the Holiday Inn) – and there was nothing my pregnant wife could have done to prepare for the damned thing. The good people of Leeds provided foam-rubber mats for us to sleep on and vast quantities of hot-dogs to keep us going – the only drawbacks were the television blaring at full volume throughout the night in one corner of the vast hall and a bunch of Mexican farm labourers sitting at a table at one end, grinning at us in a disconcerting manner for hours on end. (By taking off at six in the morning, against the advice of the authorities, we just made our flight.)

Anyway, my wife went out in the car this morning slightly deflated - but returned an hour later in a brighter mood, having encountered enough fallen tree branches to convince her that she’d been wise to prepare for the worst.

If you're facing disaster, make sure you have an Englishwoman handy - unless, of course, you're an Englishwoman, in which case you'll be in your element.


  1. Somehow I missed the snow in 93...I think I was up north for some reason (that involved Martha) but, I did make it back from a tour in Germany just in time for the snow in 98. My aunt got married in Atlanta that weekend and we drove back on tailing on every bridge with Martha laid out in the back seat on death's door.

    Every time I see snow I pray it's the last.

    We are usually safe from the Hurricanes...with the 30 year exceptions like Camille and Katrina...we just get tornadoes. No prep time for those. I grew up in Hurricane territory though...when me my sister huddled in the hallway and listened to limbs and pine cones hit the roof all I could think about was how much yard work there'd be in the coming week.

    Who cares if you're off school for a week when you spend it raking and picking up limbs?

    1. The really odd thing about the '93 experience was watching drivers ploughing straight into snow banks in blocked-off highway lanes - as if they simply couldn't believe what they were seeing - the snow simply didn't compute.

      On the subject of snow, we'll have to differ, e.f. - the great thing about global warming appears to be that London now gets snow every year and the summers tend to be mild and wet. For me, this is how it should be.

  2. In military circles it is sometimes said that amateurs talk about strategy whilst professionals talk logistics. Women are the professionals and get on with the practicalities like emergency food and fuel dumps. They don't have the testerone problem. Put them in charge [with certain provisos, of course viz female Labour politicians and activists for a start]. Gott segne Sie!

  3. I'm all for putting women in charge - as long as they do that trick of making us chaps feel as if we're somehow vital to the success of the project.