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Open Features: Are The Cows Lying Down Today?

...Fascinated and at the same time appalled, I watched as we drew nearer and nearer. The lightening was the sort that lights up the entire sky and sends shivers down your spine. Were we really going to head into that?

Almost an hour and a half late we crept into Perth airport to be met by looks of amazement...

Mary Pilfold-Allan flies through one of the worst storms to hit Western Australia in 30 years.

There is something alien about boarding a plane in England with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark and getting off twelve hours later at the other end in slow roasting warmth and a humidity that sends any remaining make-up sliding downwards with all the speed of a car on a skid pan. Mauritius greeted me at the beginning of March lush, lovely and languorous.

Every day dawned hotter than the day before. The sky remained sapphire blue with only the very occasional puff of a cotton wool cloud to remind us mere mortals it was not really a mirror onto heaven. Then one evening, as I watched the sun setting into the sea from our balcony and guests gathering on the hotel beach for pre-dinner drinks, a light breeze blew up. Before I could don my shoes and head down to join them, the breeze turned into a wind and the wind into a gale. Raindrops changed in the blink of an eye from soft spots of welcome coolness to a torrential downpour driving in almost horizontally from the sea, sending guests scuttling to the sanctuary of the hotel.

Practiced in the art of these things, the hotel staff battened down the hatches, shifted tables, mopped up floors and carried on with serving dinner with great aplomb as if a tropical storm was an everyday occurrence. Guests meanwhile, fled to their rooms to change into dry clothes and repair hairdos.

The deluge lasted most of the night, but guess what, next day dawned bright and sunny, the sky returned to sapphire blue and apart from the steam rising from ground in a great curtain of moisture, it was as if nothing had ever happened.

Mid-way through March I left the island and flew on to Perth, Western Australia. There was a slight delay at the airport on take-off but nothing out of the ordinary. However, eight hours later as we should have approached our destination the plane almost seemed to be going backwards. Eventually a thin line of lights appeared on the horizon, but something else too, fork lightening.

Fascinated and at the same time appalled, I watched as we drew nearer and nearer. The lightening was the sort that lights up the entire sky and sends shivers down your spine. Were we really going to head into that?

Almost an hour and a half late we crept into Perth airport to be met by looks of amazement. We had landed after one of the worst storms to hit the area for over 30 years. One hundred and five days of no rain had resulted in a mother and father of storms with hailstones as big as tennis balls dropping out of the sky with the force of an ace serve. New cars were wrecked on forecourts, windows shattered, flooding galore and as for the palm trees; their fronds were shredded as if they had been passed through a pasta maker.

My son, who lives out there, greeted me with “What a night to choose Mum. I watched your plane come in. It cut it a bit short on the runway.”

He wasn’t kidding. I think the pilot must have been so relieved to get down in one piece he didn’t take any chances with aqua-planning over the runway in case he took off again.

Only once before have I felt Mother Nature and her weather lore lay a hand quite so firmly on my shoulder. It was in the late seventies when I flew with the family to the former Yugoslavia and experienced an earthquake and its after shocks. Apart from the fact that the hotel we were meant to stay in collapsed and we were accommodated in the height of luxury as compensation, I remember the time with a sort of distant fascination now. The shower grinding to a holt midway through removing soap from small children; an assistant hurtling out of her shop with the till under her arm; watching the lightening over the hills from a roof top. Landing and taking off in the aircraft was slightly hazardous due to the potholes.

As I write this though, ten of thousands of people in northern Europe are stranded waiting to fly somewhere or other. Their journeys are at the mercy of ash drifting over our airspace from an angry volcano in Iceland. It doesn’t matter who you are or whether you are travelling first class, business or economy, Mother Nature has a way of levelling us all out. She catches us unawares despite the myriad of experts and their equipment that daily tells us what to expect from our weather.

Is there something to be said for hanging seaweed at the back door, checking to see if the cows are lying down and keeping a weather eye on Fido to see whether he howls at the moon? I am seriously beginning to think the old ways could be the best for reliability.

© Mary Pilfold-Allan

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