Tuesday, 28 March 2017

While Mortals Sleep

It began in the night, while most sensible mortals slept.   great white flakes floating down witnessed only by owls, the occupants of the occasional police patrol car and other random nocturnal creatures.  by mid afternoon it had turned to relentless, torrential rain hammering a tattoo on the roof, bouncing back high into the air with the force of it's landing.  up in the Pennines the deluge soaked into already sodden ground before racing down into the valley carrying branches from battered trees aloft.  in the early hours it  funnelled into the beck at the back of my flats, an angry, roaring, foaming, flood threatening to overcome the retaining stone wall.
Either the thundering of a thousand locomotives or the floodlights woke me.   there were men in the watercourse, water up to their armpits, wielding long spiked poles they were manically hauling lumps of tree out of the water, pushing the accumulated debris through the protective grating of the slipway, working with a frenzy as more rain dumped in the hills poured down into the valley.  eventually they managed to remove what looked like the bough of a mighty conifer and slowly, imperceptibly, as their exhaustion began to show, the water level began to abate, their movements slowed, the urgency slackened.

Later we'd learn it wasn't only the Water Board who worked through the night to protect our homes, the fire service, police, ambulance, coastguard were all called out to serve.   many homes were flooded that night, businesses ruined, animals trapped in fields.   as i watched those men, the windows around me stayed darkened, the world slept.   when my neighbours woke there was no evidence of the battle waged on their behalf, nobody to bear witness to those soaked, frozen, battered men.
Every night while you and i are tucked up warm and secure brave men and women put their lives on the line for our safety, i wonder how often they hear a word of thanks from those they protect once the drama is over and the world has moved on to its next distraction.   in this age of social media and electronic communication it takes just a moment to express gratitude, to build up and encourage, to say "thank you i haven't forgotten your actions when we needed you".   we seem to have become a nation quick to complain but slow to praise, jumping to condemn forgetting to thank, then wonder why the workforce is halfhearted and demoralised. The Australians have called us "whingeing pommies" since the late 19th century, it seems we have recently decided to live up to the reputation with a vengeance.   why has negativity become our default?     

Life throws various forms of storms our way, some major some minor, but how we choose to react to those called upon to assist us will impact on how willing they will be to step up and cheerfully raise us out of the mire whether we are in ankle or armpit deep.   

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Soft Southerner

It was in the moment between sleep and wakefulness, that little death of a breath when the mind and body take a leap of faith to reconcile after the separation of the night.   no longer insensate but not yet in control of thought processes there was an awareness of something.... different.   an automatic, questing tendril of consciousness reached out to taste my surroundings, slotting each constituent element into it's allotted space.... cat, clock, duvet, toes, pillow, breath, pain oh yes always pain, also something unfamiliar caressing the skin on my face, a warmth long absent, a distant memory almost within reach.... SUNSHINE !!!
With retirement comes a new way of perceiving time and tide.  winter is distinguished by the number of cold weather payments that magically appear in the bank.  every time the temperature drops below zero for seven consecutive days us oldies hit the jackpot and receive a little bonus.   this year?  none.  does that mean there was no winter?   could it be that winter is still to come or perhaps it's not yet over?   were all those icy white mornings a figment from the fairies?  a gentle winter it may have been in the North East but nonetheless the absence of heat doesn't do the old jeni bones any favours.

When we moved here over 35 years ago from the mellow climes of the Far South i was discombobulated the first winter by the sprouting of sledges in our local supermarket, hanging like low growing fruit from every wall.  nobody had enlightened me that Newcastle was further North than some parts of the Scottish border until we woke one winter morning to stalwart parents hauling child bedecked sledges through two feet of snow that didn't clear till Christmas.   it was a moment of epiphany, The Soft South was no longer a concept but an incarnation of which i was bereft.  my sons had only ever seen a feathering in their entire lives so, since we were sleigh-less, i gave them the day off school and we built an igloo in the garden.  
The Big Cold has been tamed over the years, whether by climate change, natural cycling, or a mix of both, but i still yearn for the softness of a Southern winter, still spurn the freezing winds that reach Northumberland straight from the Russian Steppe, still think humans were created for hibernation.   but for a moment this morning upon waking it was spring and this Soft Southerner was filled with hope.