The second storm of winter 2016/17 to be serious enough to be named by our excellent Met Office – Barbara – is firmly on her way. Indeed, her horsemen are already here, with winds over the last 24 hours gusting up to the mid-50s, in mph, according to the precise forecast for our very local area. But they are very much the warm-up act: Barbara herself, when she arrives into town sometime around high noon tomorrow, will bring us winds gusting into the low 70s and an average of an apparently meaningless 1 mph below 50. And then she stays around [Edit: apparently she then changes her name to Conor], with threateningly high winds extending, after a small respite in the afternoon and evening of Christmas Eve, most of the way through until Boxing Day. Thanks, and Happy Christmas.
This is the first real storm I’ve been through since moving here and I’ve been anticipating its arrival for some time, through the weeks and the months of calm weather we’ve had up to now. You haven’t lived in the Hebrides until you’ve been through a proper storm, and I’ve been awaiting it with all the pre-flight nerves of an anxious teenager anticipating a first sexual encounter. Barbara, we were made for each other, you and I. Let’s get it on.
Meanwhile, Calmac ferries are hugely disrupted: 26 of, er, 26 routes are currently already either cancelled, disrupted or have ‘be aware’ tags on them; and Flybe/Loganair flights, while normal today, have significant changes to them tomorrow as the brief weather windows are sought out which can be exploited so that people at least have a chance of getting to their Christmas destinations. The Western Isles Council (the Comhairle) has also put out its advice. Here, I’ve spent a few minutes outside this morning shifting our recycling bins into the byre where they will be a little more sheltered, so that they don’t cowp over and spill their contents all down the road and into the sea; moving picnic and garden benches to the eastern-facing side of the house (Barbara approaches from the south and then, kindly, shifts her angle of attack to the west) – after all, we don’t want a repeat of September’s gales (below), or worse; and shifting miscellaneous loose left-over bits of timber, plant pots and other garden detritus into the shed.
As I write from our west-facing office, I watch, alarmed, as the glass in the double-glazing bulges inwards as an intense gust of wind pokes a testing, probing finger into it, before re-shaping itself back to normal, unbreached, as the finger retreats, flexing itself for another assault. Sitting quietly, I feel the structure of our house tense as it solidly resists, standing firm against the desire of the wind to shift it out of its path. Intermittent, but furious, showers of small hailstones beat short-term, but insistent, rounds of applause against the window panes. Outside: a loose strip of something-or-other underneath the eaves oscillates violently in the wind, making a buzzing sound like a low-pitched kazoo as the wind is forced to turn, against its will, by the house’s refusal to budge. The sky and the land are dark and the headlights of approaching cars coming down our road shine brightly in the gloom from a couple of miles away.
The gulls are quietened and the waders have, mostly, departed for wherever it is that waders go at these sorts of times, although a couple do emerge whenever the wind drops a little to allow them enough respite to seek out a sustaining snack or two from the incoming tide, nearly now at its height; very few of our gang of starlings remain scratchily at work in the field and on the shore; but the lapwings, however, continue to fly around, anxiously, piteously, calling out as they twist in the wind, testing and, so far, managing its strength. They know what’s coming. Likewise, the sheep in the field adjacent to our front door are hunkered down against the (wire) fence, back ends to the wind and, it seems, shaped for resistance to nature; at the other end, little appears to interfere with their stoical chewing. They, at least, are experienced at and with this; nay, they are used to it.
As for a soundtrack to the storm, opening my iTunes pre-sorted by album brings me, at the top of the pile, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, from 2004’s Abbatoir Blues. Not so much linguistically but certainly sonically, the sound and the fury of Cave’s delivery, and the intensity of the Bad Seeds’s playing and singing, call to mind the fear of what’s to come and the changes that Barbara’s arrival may bring.
I’m trying not to think too much about Cave’s title, though.