Saturday 4 March 2017


For the last four months I've been feeling like the fella in the Western, who’s peering nervously over a vast expanse of empty prairie towards the lonely distant mountains, turning to glare at you with nervous menace and whisper:

“It’s quiet. Too quiet.”

Now that we’re nearer Paddy’s Day than St. Bridget's, it’s fair to say that Winter is over, but did it ever begin? It seems a little strange to this northwest London Jewish blow-in to be talking weather in terms of saints’ days, yet all religion relies on a calendar to map our seasons.

All around me the yellows are emerging, and while it’s thrilling to see celandine, primrose, daffodil and forsythia announcing the end of the dark season by bursting forth their butter sunshine glory, I’m still twitching around, glancing fearfully over my shoulder like a Vietnam vet, waiting for Winter to hit.

Technically we’re in Winter until the equinox, but in our irrational and wonderful human way, we feel we are now in Spring. While we know only too well that big weather can hit our Atlantic coast at any time, if a conveyor belt of storms roars in off the ocean now, they won’t be Winter ones.

Many might think me mad, but I’m unsettled by this lack of Winter. The sun and moon behaved themselves, so we knew where we were in the year, but the weather did nothing.

Hallelujah you might cry. Your livestock are not stuck isolated on a tiny lump of elevated ground on a floodplain. You’ve not had pipes built into concrete burst from double digit freezing temperatures.

Storm Doris packed a short sharp punch last week, but apart from that we’ve had a couple of gales, a few frosty mornings and generally calm and benign weather this Winter.

So why would I wish it otherwise?

My excellent friend the Guru used to take himself off to India every Autumn, returning to Ireland in Springtime, but after a few years of this lifestyle he found himself feeling exhausted. 

Might it be, I suggested to him, that your body and soul need a Winter? Maybe you need to slow down in three months of darkness, sleep a lot and sit by the fire.

Despite the views of the American vice-president, we were not plonked onto a readily-prepared perfectly functioning planet. We have evolved with it, our needs linked to the seasons.

So while I know that Winter has come and gone, I don’t feel that it has, and that unsettles me in a surprisingly profound way.

Where were the storm force winds that create their own singular noise, the howling crashing roar that sounds like a giant dam has burst a hundred yards from your house? 

Where were the storm surges that wreck cars in Salthill car park, ripping giant boulders out of the sea wall and hurling them onto the flooded rushing gushing road?

My first year in this country was spent living in a tiny place just off the Prom. The house was one or two notches up from a slum. My bed’s straw mattress brewed all manner of blood-sucking damp-dwelling beasties, while directly above, the ancient flimsy roof struggled to support a cracked and crumbling chimney.

As the gales howled I lay there wondering which gust would bring the whole lot crashing down upon my head.

Young and drunk, rash and eager, we regularly walked up the road to experience the ferocity of the weather, as it battled to merge the Atlantic with the land. Anyone who’s faced into a storm force wind knows how exhilarating it feels; how tiny and powerless you become in the face of proper weather.

There was that mad bad Winter of 2010, when the ice on the leaves of the trees sat two inches thick. Three of the four roads in and out of Galway were impassable, and my friends from the outer limits of Co. Roscommon arrived ravenous on Christmas Day, having existed cut off and powerless, melting snow on their wood-burning stove so that they might have drinking water.

There’s not one bit of me that would wish for a Winter like that, nor another like 2013/14, when over a dozen brutal storms passed over the houses of the West of Ireland, pummelling our spirits, threatening to break our wills with its relentless assault.

No thanks. I’d rather have the non-Winter just past than that, yet there lurks something primal within me that feels concerned about the way this year’s Winter went AWOL.

Storm Angus arrived last November, with Barbara and Conor hitting in December. Doris arrived two months later, so if we’re to make it down the alphabetical list to Ivor, Jacqui and Kamil, it’d have to be a pretty cataclysmic March.

Jacqui and Kamil? I’m sure there’s a bigot out there already complaining that even the storms sound like immigrants now.

While discussing the weather, as we all inevitably do, a friend recently explained that over the last several decades, Ireland’s annual rainfall has barely changed. The same amount gets dumped on us every year, just not necessarily in the same season.

Alone during Storm Desmond, I watched water encircle this house, rise up the outside walls and sprout out of the ground in spontaneous spurts.

A river suddenly ran from the top left of the garden to the bottom right, as the turlough that yearly takes a quarter of our garden rose to meet the lake that was once our driveway. It was plain terrifying; not an experience I’d like to endure again.

This year the turlough has barely poked a puddle from the ground.

It’s quiet. Too quiet.


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