This is the first entry ever in this blog to be written from my own home, from the home I’ve lived all 17 years of my life within. Here is where I shall tell you why – the tale is rather dramatic. It’s also an explanation towards my total lack of activity over the last week.
On the 29th August earlier this year I arrived at home after a fulfilling day at school and made myself a cup of tea. I’m not sure whether it was coincidence or a result of the high air pressure addling my thoughts, but instead of browsing the internet for social networks and world news as is my usual routine upon getting home, I decided to lie in bed and read a book – God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin I think, if it matters.
I vaguely became aware of a thunderstorm brewing. There were dim flashes and faint crashes but I wasn’t phased. In fact, in what would soon be a fine example of irony, I was eager to see a lightning bolt rather than simply a flash out the corner of my eye, so I sat at the window expectantly. There existed no fear in my heart; for years I’ve laughed off people’s claims to be scared of thunder and lightning. “It’s harmless!” I’d say. It was a particularly bad thunderstorm – my mother had commented on how the thunder was causing the entire house to vibrate – but I thought nothing of it.
And then the house was struck by lightning. As with most traumatic events in my life, the actual details have been wiped from my memory, but fortunately I wrote a diary the night after it happened in which I recalled the scraps I could remember. Even then my memories were blurred like a dream. I described the event as a colossal explosion – a daydream which had leaked into reality. The house shook violently and my thoughts leapt between images of bombs and meteors, but I quickly realised we’d been hit by lightning. Out the window I saw bits of masonry, which I think were burning, splintering apart as they fell to the ground. This must have all happened in the space of a second.
My Mum was in the room which had been hit and she came running into my bedroom, having bared the brunt of the explosion and sparks, but was mercifully unharmed. We were both terrified and disorientated, having no idea what to do. I ran across the landing and looked into the room which had been hit. Plasterboard hung from the ceiling and a mixture of singed smoke and dust filled the air, giving the house a chemical stench. Believing the house was on fire and in the irrational terror of the moment, we made the foolish move of running to our neighbours’ house. I only realised afterwards how exposed this had made us to lightning, being directly in the centre of a storm of this intensity. I arrived soaked, wearing only shorts and a T-shirt.
Our neighbours were very accommodating and took us in. From the window I got my first proper view of our house. Where the chimney ought to have been remained a stump, blasted to pieces. Our neighbour’s fuse box had literally been blown apart, though this didn’t feel very important at the time. I cowered from flashes for the remaining hour that the storm continued in what was, it’s fair to say, one of the least enjoyable moments of my life. Water flooded across the path and flowed into a small lagoon next to the beach. You could clearly see the blue/brown divide where the floodwater had flowed in. I later saw pictures of another road in my village which was completely impassable after a river burst its banks. I don’t believe the flooding ever became dangerous enough to pose a risk to any homes, however. I phoned my Dad using a mobile to tell him what had happened, and he was convinced for a long while that I was joking. The call was cut off after a particularly bright flash.
Once the lightning stopped I finally became convinced to exit the safety of a standing structure and walk home. We passed a piece of chimney which I kept as a souvenir, but sadly now is lost. It may have come from our house, or that of another neighbour’s who we noticed was also missing a chimney and had various pulled up roof tiles. The lightning strike must have forked and hit several houses at once – we never stood a chance!
Upon re-entering the house we realised with relief that it was not on fire. I opened windows to ventilate out the smoke which the initial strike must have created. I struggled to climb the stairs, engulfed by the irrational terror of another random explosion, but managed to peak into the room which had been struck. It was in a terrible state: rubble lay strewn across the ground and water poured in through the gaping hole in the ceiling. At this point we believed it was rainwater from the roof and, utterly powerless to prevent it, placed a large bucket underneath. The light switch had been blasted to pieces. That was not all: our modem had clearly exploded, from the charcoaled plastic which was scattered throughout the living room, and a plug socket had been blown out of the wall, hanging weakly by fried wires.
With no idea how to proceed next, we drove out to my Dad’s house, about six miles away. The road was almost impassable in places, covered in rocks and soil which had been washed over it. We passed him on the way driving towards out house and turned around. Upon arriving, Dad inspected the damages with shock and disbelief. None of us had ever seen or even heard of a lightning strike this devastating. Dad took a look in our attic at the bizarrely placed water tank, and described it as looking as if someone had taken a machine gun to it. Rubble from the chimney must have scattered into the attic and pierced the metal tank. The scale of the damages were truly terrifying. Dad switched off the water and gradually the room became less flooded, though it didn’t stop damp seeping into three rooms – which is still there now.
We packed essentials, most importantly tea, and spent the night at Dad’s. And so began our 110 day absence from home. We would live in no fewer than four temporary houses, one of which was absolutely appalling. There was much stress to be had to do with the insurance company, as would be expected, including being blamed for delays (as if we’d intentionally put off moving home) and being expected to pay £4,000 for rewiring the house (they eventually accepted this was not our fault). My personal favourite is when the insurance woman asked on the phone, “are you sure that was lightning?”
We spent a lot of time driving the hour-round journey out to our house, mostly to feed the cats but also to observe process on the house. Repairs didn’t even start until late October, which is appalling. We waited weeks for the ‘loss adjustor’ (what the Hell does a loss-adjustor even do? Confirm we actually were hit by lightning?) who missed his flight. Twice. And then getting quotes and approving them were even worse. It was a tearful sight, seeing my home cold, damp and decrepit. The cats missed us and gradually grew furrier coats in response to the cold. One traumatic day we turned up, while the house was being rewired, to hear miaowing coming from the bathroom floor. After shedding blood pulling up the rotten floorboard, we rescued our cat who had been trapped beneath it. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if we hadn’t found her.
The strike had its advantages, however. Our temporary homes were right in the centre of town, where I got to experience the luxuries of a well-connected life. It confirmed to me that I would prefer to go to a university in a city, such as Edinburgh and Glasgow, rather than a more isolated one like Stirling or St. Andrews. To be able to go shopping at virtually any time, to walk to school, to make plans with friends without the stress of travelling, was enjoyable. It also taught me that as long as I have fundamental needs met such as water and shelter, I can live anywhere. This is another valuable lesson to have learned in time for university. Of course it also had its obvious downsides: lack of home comforts, lack of cats, heavy stress, etc. The house was a museum preserved in time; the empty mug sat on my desk for many months. But in time I may be able to look back and see how the lightning pushed my life into a positive direction. And also, pragmatically, the house was completely rewired after the meddling antics of its previous inhabitant. There’s no longer the fear of electrocution every time we flick one of the uniquely wired switches.
But here I am, in my bedroom, back to normality. The house has taken a week to get into an inhabitable state, and is still in a great mess – which is why I’ve been so quiet on this blog recently. I’m already considering digging a bunker in preparation for the next thunderstorm.