Thursday, June 14, 2007


16th October 1987. The day of the Great Storm. If you lived in southern England at the time, it's a day you'll never forget.

I have another reason for remembering it. 16th October 1987 was also the day my father had his heart bypass.

The night before, my mother, my brother and I who were the only ones at home, retired to bed early. Anxiety meant that none of us were sleeping well, but I can remember around midnight being aware that it was becoming rather windy. I slept at the front of the house, facing a suburban street. Nature doesn't tend to feature in such places.

My brother slept in the loft, in a rather creaky conversion which faced downhill towards the bright city lights of London. He reported that night, that it was rather like sleeping on board ship.

I tossed and turned for what seemed like hours. I can remember thinking, blimey it's windy. And then a sudden bang woke me out of my anxious doze, and I leapt out of bed, as did the other two. We met on the landing to discover that a window in my parents' room had smashed. Deciding that as none of us were sleeping anyway, we may as well go downstairs, the three of us headed for the kitchen. Just after the kettle boiled, the lights went out. My brother fetched his battery operated radio, Mother made hot chocolate on the grill, we lit candles and sat crouched over the radio, listening to the shipping forecast. As the announcer sonorously sounded, The wind is rising to x number of knots it felt like we were the only ones left on the planet.

As morning came we watched the two silver birch trees that graced our garden and had formed a feature of my childhood, being the perfect place for both a swing and later a tree house, bend with the wind and practically touch the ground. The damage done on that night meant one of them had to be cut down just before my parents moved house. I cried when I came home and saw it had gone.

My father, meanwhile, also wasn't sleeping. He reported later, how at some point in the night a window in his ward had swung open with a bang. He and several other elderly chaps, all due for heart operations, leapt out of bed to shut it. It was probably the most exercise any of them had done in years.

It was touch and go as to whether he should have the operation. Power supplies were down in London, and transport had more or less stopped. I was doing a publishing course at the time, and opted not to go in. I think, but now can't quite remember, that my mother struggled to get to Barts to see him before the op, but later came home.

I do remember a rather tense wait to find out if they were going ahead or not, and eventually the phone call came through that they were.

During the next few hours we distracted ourselves by clearing debris from the garden, and watching reports of the damage wrought across the south east. It was a wierdly surreal experience.

At some point, I can't remember when, we got a call to say the operation was a success. My father was resting, but all was well.

It was several days before I saw him, my mother as a former nurse, adamant that he needed rest and too many visitors would be bad for him.

When I did see him I was shocked. He had a huge scar running down his chest, he was badly bruised and looked as if he had been a victim of a traffic accident. Worse still, he seemed to have aged. My father was a tall man who always held himself erect. He had walked out of our house with a straight back, but he came home bent over, and shuffling like a little old man.

The weeks that followed were impossibly bleak. I was home from university, owed far too much money to the bank, hated the course I had booked myself on, and Spouse who still had a year to go before finishing his dental course, was still in Liverpool. It was by no means clear to me at that stage that we would have a future together, but after two and a half years together, being apart from him was killing me.

We couldn't afford to see each other every week, so we took it in turns to take the coach trip up and down the M6 every other weekend, or when we felt marginally richer, the train. He didn't have a phone, and was a poor correspondent. Sometimes three weeks would go by without us meeting. When I did get up to Liverpool we'd have frantic weekends when we would cram in as much activity in forty eight hours (I remember once going to the cinema twice in a day) before I would leave on the last available train from Lime Street Station.

I would get home around midnight, and the house would be shrouded in silent darkness. In the morning I was always the first up and out of the door. I used to stand at Wood Green station hearing the tramp, tramp of commuter feet and wonder why I hadn't stayed up north. My father's health didn't seem to be getting any better, the home I loved seemed for the first time in my life gloomy and cheerless. I wasn't keen on the Smiths, but heaven knows, as Morrisey liked to put it I was miserable now.

Then one day, Father had a bit of a blip. His heart started beating out of rhythm, so he had to go back to hospital. They stopped his heart, and restarted it (just thinking about that makes me feel slightly sick), and then sent him home telling him he was doing really well. It was as if that was all he needed.

That day he walked back into the house, standing straight and tall , his head held high. From then on, his recovery was smooth, and rapid.

My father was back. And all was very very well.

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