I was 11 when The Great Storm of 1953 featured in https://derrickjknight.com/2022/01/28/a-knights-tale-96-kings-lynn/ struck.
Memorable as that was, rather closer to home was the ‘great storm’ of 1987. Jessica, Sam, Louisa and I were then living in Furzedown in the London Borough of Wandsworth. I must have been the only person in Southern England who slept through the whole phenomenon. Our neighbour across the road enjoyed no such luxury. He was having a new roof put on, and spent the whole night hanging on to the ropes and stays which were keeping the tarpaulin covers over his otherwise unprotected upper storey.
I always ran to work in Queens Park in those days. This was a nine mile journey which I covered daily carrying a back pack containing my clothes and other necessities for the day. I was employed in the former Paddington Town Hall where there was a shower room which had been installed for the council members. I would take a shower, get dressed, go to a greasy spoon for a fry-up, and start the day sometime before 9 a.m. On this particular day, completely oblivious of the night’s destruction, I set off as usual. I vaguely wondered why a tree I hadn’t noticed before had been felled on Tooting Bec Common, and why there seemed to be rather more traffic jams than usual. Since much of my journey followed treeless routes or public parks I had no idea that the tree I had seen was not the only arboreal casualty. Many others were blocking main roads into London. When I arrived at my building in Harrow Road, I followed my usual routine and then began to wonder why no-one else had arrived. Had I gone by car I may have learned the news on the radio. On the other hand, I too would not have arrived on time.
This storm changed the landscape of Southern England. 70% of the trees in the wooded valley in which Chartwell is set were lost. Those you see today are in fact their replacements. Sevenoaks in Kent is no longer appropriately named.
It is a measure of the vast technological benefits satellites have given meteorological predictions that the paths of such storms can be tracked on our TV screens today. Back in 1987, with no such aids, poor Michael Fish, the TV weatherman – as if his name were not enough – earned decades of jokes by dismissing reports that a hurricane was on its way.
With my father on his deathbed in Hampshire, Jessica, Sam, Louisa, and I
moved to Lindum House in Newark, Nottinghamshire. I was to have one more visit before Dad died on Christmas Day. He was buried at Catherington, near Horndene and it was 34 more years before Mum’s body rejoined him.