Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cleaning up after the Storm

I wrote a couple of days ago about the major storm that swept over the UK and on into continental Europe on the night of October 27th. This event was far less destructive than the one in 1987 to which it was being compared beforehand. Around beautiful Ruislip a few trees are down, including one crushing a few cars parked on a dealer's forecourt in Eastcote and a couple blocking paths through the Highgrove Woods which I strolled through yesterday. But the tree damage is mostly branches which are strewn around the parks (and one dangling into my front lawn). There was no significant flooding, despite a rainfall peak of nearly 20mm an hour on Monday morning (Thanks to Peter Bartlett's excellent local weather site for this info), although local commuters wishing to keep their feet dry were advised to avoid the streets around South Ruislip station.

There were, sadly, some fatalities. One man was killed in Watford by a falling tree on his car and a couple died in Hounslow in a gas explosion caused by wind damage. Ruislip is pretty well mid way between those places. It seems strange that, when most of the attention to windspeed was centred on the coasts, the most dangerous area to be in was right here in Middlesex.

The immediate response on Twitter was a series of photographs taking the mickey out of the forecasters - dustbins or garden gnomes on their sides with the caption "We will Rebuild" are fairly typical - but compared to 1987 the forecasters did a brilliant job. Several days in advance, they identified the storm, predicted its arrival times and track, and enabled transport operators and local authorities to be properly prepared.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Survivors of the Storm

Younger readers may find this hard to believe but at the time of the last Great Storm over England, in 1987, there was no blogging or social networks; in fact, there was not even an internet in its present form. So my entry for the day after that storm is a fictionalisation based on what I probably would have written had I maintained this blog at that time.

16 October 1987
A refreshing night's sleep. Apparently there was a lot of wind in the night. The trains are disrupted a bit. 

Yes, I have to admit, the first I realised that anything at all untoward had happened on that fateful night was when I arrived for my morning commute at North Harrow station (for I was living in those parts at that time, gentle reader) and the Met was out of service.

Not so last night. With warnings on all sides, Mrs. Commuter and I prepared for the worst. The garden chairs were carefully stacked at the side of the house. I reinforced a loose bit of fence with some carefully chosen bits of old wood. Then to bed in the knowledge we had done all we could. It rained heavily, but not excessively in the late evening. In the early hours we could hear the wind roaring over the rooftops and one or two interior doors creaked. Around 6:30am Mrs. Commuter looked out into the front and saw - well, nothing at all to speak of. No trees were down. No damage to property. Our drive seemed cleaner than usual, as if the wind had removed all the leaves and scoured the surface. Later in the morning I found that one of the fence panels I thought was secure had come loose, and that the wind had been strong enough to lift off the cover from a water butt that had been weighed down by a brick. Exciting stuff, eh?

There must have been more than this going on. Here is a snapshot of the Tube's service status
I haven't seen a screen like this for a long, long time. But is it going to affect my morning commute this time? No. I'm not going in to work today.  I shall monitor the situation with keen interest, of course, but I regret that no first hand account of today's London Underground experience will be forthcoming from this quarter.

As I pen these words [I love these colourful archaisms: Ed] there is a strong breeze providing a reminder of what have been. The skies are full of grey-white cloud in huge fluffy sheets. It is not raining. And that completes the weather report from beautiful Ruislip so let me leave you with the outlook - probably more of the same, I should think. Move over, Michael Fish - there's a new sheriff in town.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rosemary Sutcliffe joke of the day

Read her searing story about the Roman centurion, M. Tigris Silva, who was the finest golfer to play north of Hadrian's Wall in "The Eagle on the Ninth"

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Pea Shingle - the Critic Speaks

A few months ago I purchased some bags of pea shingle from a well known purveyor of household materials. I paid, they delivered and I assumed that was the end of the transaction. But no. This morning I received the following electronic missive and, as a leading writer and commentator, found myself impelled to respond with all the seriousness that it deserves.
A review about pea shingle! What would Charles Dickens have written - the Old Curiously Shaped bit of Gravel? Would Hazlitt leap into a hansom cab at Westminster and shout "To the quarry"? George Orwell might have contrasted the many colours to the many oppressed races in the British Empire. Graham Greene might have had his subversive, flyblown yet spiritually optimistic whisky priest squatting on some gravel and letting it run through his fingers. But what of those masters of short satiric pieces - Michael Frayn, Alan Coren and the guv'nor himself, Paul Jennings, the man who once wrote an article entitled "A Load of Hoggin", a piece suffused with the joy of receiving a lorry load of the said stuff - how would they have faced this daunting literary challenge? Is there a prize for the most penetrating review? If I venture to the very heart of what pea shingle is about, will my insights stir the soul of the judges and lead quickly to a book deal and a West End Musical? Will they make One Foot in the Gravel? [I had a horrible feeling that was coming: Ed]

OK, I've had some coffee, I am at my desk, the house is quiet. Time to focus the mind. Gravel. What does one say in a review of it? Funny word, gravel. A bit like grovel and a bit like gavel. Shingles is a nasty disease and a case of Pea Shingles sounds vile. What are the, ah, good and bad points of the bag of these little miniature pebbles? They are hard. They make a satisfying rattle if you rub a few together in your hand. They are undeniably a great boon to those of us who must, from time to time, erupt from the house to confront a goldfish-poaching cat; nothing moves faster than a moggy with a handful of stones converging at speed on his rear end. They make a crunchy noise when walked on - anyone trespassing nefariously onto my land at night will have to walk with exceeding care if they don't want to wake up the neighbourhood.

No, that's it. I've had a good think and now I'm bored. I can't be bothered to review this bag (or any of the 19 other bags purchased at the same time). It's Pea Shingle, it does what it would say on the tin if it came in a tin, and it's millions of years older than I am. Maybe dinosaurs walked over the cliffs that became the rocks that became the pebbles the sea pounded into little bits that Messrs. Wickes harvested for my benefit. Perhaps some of the bits once made up a rock lobbed by an ancestor at a woolly mammoth. There's plenty of romance in the bag, if you want to look for it, but I think I've had enough.

So nul points for the bag of shingle, no "like", no "followers". Don't go rushing off to the Wickes web site because there won't be any stars against this little chap from me. And there aren't any for the nails, bags of cement and other stuff I've bought over the years. I really don't care.