By Tony Stafford
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a storm of biblical proportions? On Friday afternoon in Hackney Wick, not only did we experience such an episode, it was so weird that only a mile or so to the north, they were almost blissfully unaware that it had happened.
There was a precursor 12 hours or so earlier. As an even more aged neighbour than me reported as we surveyed the evidence of the storm an hour or so further into the afternoon: “I thought it was a bomb!” commenting on the extreme volume of the sudden clap of thunder that awoke us at 3 a.m.
I used to know the formula for the distance away from the centre of thunderstorms. You note the flash of lightning, then count the seconds before the thunder clap. My memory tells me it was four seconds to each mile from the epicentre, the Internet will now inform me more accurately…it’s five, close but no cigar!
Quite impressed by that near miss, but it was one of the elements of my schooling at Central Foundation Grammar School in Central London all those years ago that had stuck with me, as did nutty Johnny Walker’s Latin gem that “Caesar adsum iam forte”, which did not mean that Julius had some jam for tea, which you might infer.
Johnny, dubbed Pankle, for whatever reason, still turned his arm over presentably in the Staff versus School cricket match 1962 – I threw my wicket away after making 46 on debut - despite being well into his 60’s. George Learoyd Hill, 67, ever the putter down of distinctions, will offer perspective as he claims he still bowls his eight or so overs most weekends for Grantchester, usually taking 2-15, he avers.
The Latin has ebbed away from me while much of the Climatology that helped me get a decent GCE A level in Geography has stayed as a semi-interest. I don’t know if I’ve ever said how often I decamp to Hackney public library, but I do every time I run out of novel fodder, collecting four or five volumes at a time for quick consumption. Sorry, <daughter> Amanda, that reader thing you bought me is just too much trouble to keep charged.
I rarely get past the B’s in the crime or novels sections, and thus my last trip yielded the double of two books each by William Boyd and Alex Berenson. I’d already gorged Alex’s The Secret Soldier and The Silent Man in the previous few days, and after awakening early thanks to the sudden natural, nay unnatural onset of the 1812 Overture, had the choice of Boyd’s Solo, and I kid you not, Ordinary Thunderstorms.
Being a person of great indolence, I took them in the order in which they were left on the “reading table” that inhabits the living room. Ordinary Thunderstorms is entitled thus for two reasons. The concept is that a storm can develop from something quite moderate into a major storm of ten times its original intensity. Bit like our one on Friday.
That is what happens to the hero? I add this interrogative because the person to whom the events happen does some pretty rotten things, but you still wish him to come out well from the series of dangerous travails that befall him. He’s actually a professor who’s come back to the UK from a fractured career in the US – and he’s, again I kid you not, a climatologist!
But as ever I digress from the original point. The time-gap between the lightning, which I did record in my subconscious, and the bomb-like sound was almost nothing, so it was right on top of us, help! It was indeed easy to mistake it for a bomb, and the shaking of the building did little to ease any instantaneous fears that may have resulted.
The storm did not carry much rain, and the later much heavier precipitation was so unusual that it will remain in the memory for whatever little portion of time remains for me. I can honestly say, though, that I’ve never seen anything like it. I did drive down from Cinncinnati to Lexington one day and encountered such heavy rain that it appeared to come down as a sheet of water and was above the level of the cars’ hubcaps, and no doubt regular visitors to tropical destinations will have similar stories of a routine nature.
But have they ever witnessed hailstones raining down so hard that the centre of the roads quickly became a swirling white river? Within minutes, the roads all around here had become swollen torrents, and several were impassable. The kids were just about to come out of the school opposite as I started my mercy mission to collect my wife from her Ice Skating lesson across – but slightly north in the Lee Valley Ice Centre in Lea Bridge Road where I found the sun shining accusingly.
Luckily there is a new road back, coming through the Olympic Park which I often use to avoid the traffic chaos on the ancient existing roads. It was with almost a sense of local pride that I saw how efficient the drainage was – drains every few yards on both sides of the road that the boys used for that stage of the Tour de France last July. But getting back, I had to use the car park next door because there was a foot of water outside the school, and some of the children were taking off their shoes to walk to safety!
Funnily enough, although I’d been hearing the hail – Josie the Yorkie was most unimpressed – it was not until the satellite stopped working halfway through a race from Newbury that I bothered to look outside. If you’ve seen more hail than that I’ll buy you a copy of Ordinary Thunderstorms, which I proceeded to read to its rather unsatisfactory conclusion, given its previous compelling excitements, from start to finish in the 24 hours.
It was a joy, therefore, the following morning to find the roads passable, and Newbury was a nice day out, which was followed by Warren Greatrex’s Open Day where he paraded the horses – and some new ones – which had given him such a great last season. If he continues to enjoy as much success – especially if it includes wins for my boss Ray Tooth’s new buy April Dusk - then I’m sure he won’t mind us referring to him as The Great Rex.
You might not have been to Newbury recently. I hadn’t since Jonathan Powell’s lovely lunch there a few months ago and the amount of change meant access through the old short-cuts was challenged. I bumped into Karl Burke who was equally confused having stated he hadn’t been there for years. I suggested his horses were doing well and he replied, “Yes, they’re in form”. Half an hour later his Toocoolforschool won the Mill Reef by seven lengths at 4-1 and at Ayr further into the afternoon, Ticking Katie won the Ayrshire Handicap at 10-1. Unbacked by me and mine!
It was a day for bumping into people. On the concourse as I set off for the newly-sited O and T car park, I encountered Newbury’s big two, Julian Thick – who isn’t at all – and Andy Clifton and remarked that gaining my free, privileged car park space had been something of a chore. Julian replied: “Haven’t you noticed, we’re building some houses?” Touche!