Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Did the earth move for you?

It did for me last night. I woke up feeling as if a giant hand were shaking my bed from left to right. I was puzzled, but got back to sleep and by this morning, when I described it to Mr G, I had decided it was just a dream. I've just watched News at Ten and discovered that it was, in fact, an earthquake, though how I felt it in West London when it happened in Lincolnshire, I don't know. But feel it I did.

20 years ago I lived in a top floor flat in South End Green, Hampstead, in a house that backed onto the railway line. Shallow foundations, London clay and heavy goods trains conspired to give me earthquake experiences several times a night, making crockery and glassware rattle and pictures go askew on their hooks. Thursday nights were the worst. That's when the nuclear waste train trundled through and the quakes seemed to last for a good ten minutes.

It was in that flat that I experienced the famous hurricane of 1987. It was terrifying. My flat was a loft conversation, timber framed and covered in roof tiles. The whole thing shook violently. There were waves on the water in the loo. I saw the lights go out all over London and heard the eerie warning on the radio: "Stay where you are, do not leave your homes." For a ghastly few moments, I thought the nuclear waste train had had been derailed and we were all going to die a horrible, lingering death.

Next morning, as I ventured out of the front door, a few houses down from Hampstead Heath, I saw uprooted trees poking through windows, flattened cars, total devastation. But my flat was
intact and I hadn't done a Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and gone hurtling through the air. It was close, though.

Talking of natural catastrophes, a few years ago here in West London where I am currently staying at Mr G's, a thunderbolt struck the street during a storm. I have never heard such a loud bang. It must have been similar to the sound made by the landmine that exploded when my mother was seven months pregnant with me. I have been terrified of loud bangs all my life and this one nearly gave me a heart attack. I thought next door must have blown up. In fact, the poor old lady who lived there thought her boiler had exploded, ran out into the street, fell, sustained awful injuries and was hospitalised.

I think it means that, even if you stay indoors in a fearful attempt at sheltering yourself, Howard Hughes-like, from all germs and disasters, when your number is up, when your name appears at the top of the list in that great book in the heavens, then by thunderbolt, by hurricane, by plague and even, I hear, by frozen waste from aeroplane toilets falling from the sky and through your roof, it will jolly well happen to you. I live near Heathrow. You have been warned!

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