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Storm Eunice: Notes on a Tragedy

Storm Eunice was on its way declared the Internet and would hit the UK wreaking havoc in its wake. Days later, on 17 February the Met Office issued a red weather warning, which means that severe weather is expected and that measures should be taken to keep safe i.e. staying indoors, going out only if necessary. Things certainly started getting blustery in my neck of the woods. Somebody reported their garden shed had been uprooted. It was discovered later that same day on the banks of a nearby canal. My neighbour’s fence panels also went AWOL leaving a wide gap twixt our properties.

Browsing the Net, I noticed a grim story which stated that in such conditions lives are invariably lost. I imagined trees crushing cars, that sort of thing, and made a mental note not to use the car until the storm had passed. Friday 18th February and Eunice was tearing through the UK. Down in the Isle of Wight wind gusts of 122 mph were recorded. Apart from the fence panels we got off lightly: a night of howling telegraph wires and wheelie bin woes, but nothing too severe.

We’d even taken our doggie out as usual that Friday evening. It was blustery and the trees were swaying but we did our usual walk, pausing at the duck pond to check on its five inhabitants who were cuddled up together at one end. ‘The ducks are ok’, said I and having ascertained as much we headed for home. By Sunday the storm had all but passed. Fence panels restored to their rightful place and wheelie bins back where they belong normality was restored. Or so I thought.

As we don’t have a television set, we didn’t hear about the ‘Merseyside man’ who had been killed in a freak accident that Friday afternoon when the storm had been peaking – one of 17 victims throughout Europe. Even if we had heard, we’d never have thought the victim could have been known to us, well to my wife. It was several weeks later when my wife received an e-mail from a distraught former work colleague. Her husband had been killed in the storm; he had indeed been the ‘Merseyside man’ alluded to in the press.

We were stunned. The victim had been a passenger in a works’ van which had been travelling down Dunning’s Bridge Road in Netherton, a stone’s throw from our old home in Bootle. According to the Liverpool Echo an object of some sort, whipped up by the wind, had smashed through the windscreen of the van presumably into the poor man’s face. He had died at the scene of the accident. The vehicles’ driver had not been injured.

Though I did not know the victim personally, my wife did. She and his wife had worked together for a decade at the Post Office. He’d been an electrician. Once, when the victim had been working up in the north east, my wife and I dropped in at her friend's Aintree home, just a few hundred yards from the scene of the accident. I’d sat on the couple’s sofa as my wife and her friend had exchanged news. There was plenty to say: after a period of separation husband and wife had decided to remarry. And very pleasant it was too, family dog nuzzling into my lap, listening to her future plans.

Not so long ago a similar tragedy occurred with which once again I had a connection. I was working as an examiner, assessing English language proficiency at various colleges around the north west from Nelson & Colne down to Chester. Often, I would work in tandem with Val, a no-nonsense lady from Rawtenstall way who spoke with a thick Lancashire accent, had the biggest cleavage known to mankind and who I always envisaged as a character from Last of the Summer Wine. She and I got along famously. Exams over we’d have a coffee and a chat and I can still hear that cackle of hers as we discussed our various beefs.

I last saw her in Preston after we’d finished a day’s examining. Shortly afterwards, I subsequently learnt, she’d been killed in a road traffic accident. Negotiating a roundabout in Liverpool, a lorry had shed part of its load onto a car which just so happened to also be on the roundabout at that precise moment and in which Val had been a passenger. Her husband, who’d been driving, had miraculously survived. Déjà vu indeed. Unable to conceive of life without Val, her husband had thrown himself into a river that ran close to the couple’s home and had drowned.

God moves in mysterious ways so they say – unfathomable ways. Something has always prevented me from embracing orthodox religion and I suppose it’s events like these – inexplicable, brutal and downright unnecessary which account for my hesitancy. If these tragedies are all part of some ‘plan’ then all I can say is it’s the lousiest plan ever conceived.