Stormy nights

Sep 25th, 2012 | By | Category: Personal Columns


Not the soft mistiness of an Irish autumn evening that brings a gradual dampness that soaks the clothes and chills to the bone, but raindrops that fall with the force of lead shot, bouncing off the ground as they land.

It was forecast as ‘thundery rain’, but at twenty-one degrees the afternoon temperature was twelve degrees down on two ago and the air seemed too fresh for the spectacular electrical displays that can fill the local French skies.

Thunderstorms used to be terrifying during childhood years. Each one would recall the story of the next door neighbour’s father who had been on his farm one evening, carrying a bale of hay on a pitchfork over his shoulder when he was struck by lightning and killed. The local wisdom was always that the pitchfork had acted as a conductor.

Lightning could certainly behave in strange ways.

Old Davie, a farmer in a former parish, saw it as a conclusive reason for the removal of the telephone from his house. He was in his nineties and Mary, his wife, was in her eighties when the family had decided that a phone should be installed into the farmhouse where they had lived since their marriage in 1925. It had never been much used; Davie could hear it but would not answer it and Mary generally did not hear it when it rang. The last straw came one thundery evening when someone had phoned and Mary had answered. Lightning struck the house, blowing the phone off the wall, but leaving Mary untouched. After that, the phone had to go.

French camping holidays made lightning less fearsome. The silence of heavy August nights would be broken by a sudden crash and the sky would be lit in blues and greens. Sometimes the storms would pass in a manner as perfunctory as their arrival, sometimes they would grumble away for hours with occasional loud outbursts following renewed flashes of lightning.

It was standing on the verandah of an African house that made lightning, for the first time, seem something welcome. Our Rwandan host had explained that the rains thus far had not been sufficient; that there needed to be much more rain. The day had been fine and clear, burning equatorial sunshine. By sunset, clouds had gathered and by nine o’clock the darkness of the African night was illuminated. Lightning which lit the air all around was precursor of rumbling thunder and massive drops of rain, which multiplied and fell as a great torrent. Watching the water pouring from the tin roof and puddles forming in the yard, there was a moment of contentment.

It is a pity there is no thunder this evening; the rain would have been more interesting.

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