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They said it couldn’t happen

But they were all wrong. Somehow singled out for rough treatment, our little corner of Scotland has just been hit by a natural catastrophe on a scale few can imagine and even less could have predicted. Exposed as we are to westerly winds, power outages are not uncommon for us on Kintyre, but this time things have fallen apart in a much grander way. Just one night of wind and snow was enough to bring down so much of our electrical power infrastructure that repair is now counted in weeks instead of hours or days. All road communications with the peninsula have been blocked by massive drifts of snow and the weight of what fell has been sufficient to break steel and wooden support poles like they were twigs so that power cables now lie draped across the landscape.

Filmed in the immediate aftermath of the storm

As an army of workers tries to repair this damage, our village and indeed the whole area, discovers what modern life is like when the electricity disappears. This is not just like turning back the clock. This is far worse, because today we are reliant on electrical power for everything. We have very few backup systems in place to see us through and those that exist only have a limited lifespan. In our village those houses that have them are using open fires, burning stocks of coal and wood. Elsewhere most residents are equipped with emergency gas heaters and cookers, but for how long? Bottled gas is brought in by road, as are most other things, and with the roads being blocked gas heaters must be turned down low to conserve precious fuel. At first even the telephones failed but with the system having backup generators the phones soon came back on. Generators run on fuel, of course, so how long before this runs out? Even getting money, cash, to buy what little is left in the shops, is difficult – cash machines need power – and shops can only sell they goods if they abandon their electronic tills and revert to pen and paper.

Fortunately there is one thing that continues to function through all this – the community. This needs no electrical power to keep it going. It is the ultimate support mechanism that ticks over all the time and when it is really needed everyone plays their part.

Ducky at CraigendmuirWith Kate and I away visiting Mike in Glasgow we hear about the disruption only belatedly when the telephones are first restored to working. My mother is alone in her Carradale home but her gas heater is keeping her warm and our neighbours are looking after her, we are told. Despite this good news we are torn between meeting our family’s needs and Kate sets off to try to reach home leaving me caravanning in the cold so that I can keep Mike company. Kate finds that her bus is unable to travel beyond Tarbert, a town some twenty five miles from home, but now separated from it by impassable snow drifts. She is forced to find accommodation there until things improve but all the time the easterly wind continues to blow its freezing air across Scotland.

The extent of the disaster is hard to comprehend from a distance and information hard to come by but it takes Kate two more days before the roads are cleared sufficiently and she is able finally to pass through. She travels with other displaced Carradale residents (a couple returning from their holidays in Spain) and on her reaching home at least now we have regained some control over this part of our lives. Our house breathes sighs of relief as the coal burning stove is lit, soon roaring away bringing comfort, warmth, and even some normality to our world.

Here in Glasgow, each day I set off in the cold on my double-bus journey across the city to Mike’s hospital. Glasgow Kelvin museumSuch places are run for the patients and not, it has to be said, geared towards those visiting. Nor should they be, I suppose. I am confined to seeing our son an hour here and there at set times of the day so for the rest I try to gain what pleasure I can from the dominating sandstone architecture that gives this place its character. The River Kelvin which cuts through the western part of the city, lends its name to one such structure, now a museum, that tries to hide itself behind bare branches in the park that surrounds it. Within the Kelvingrove I find an eclectic collection that celebrates Scotland and all that is Scottish, but gently so, without any fuss. I discover that the ubiquitous credit card reader is a Scottish invention and that the Glasgow Boys were not short-trousered hooligans but a group of artists whose vast and varied canvases take up a whole room here. All terribly interesting, although I am finding it difficult to tear my eyes away from the building itself with its multi-tiered towers each capped with a grey helmet that makes me think the builder didn’t really know how to finish it off. The entire west side of Glasgow seems to be built from the same reddish stone and on the same grand scale as this, refurbished tenements that are now enjoying a revival in popularity second to none. Despite my being here on another pretext, I find myself strangely grateful for this opportunity to explore and get to know the city in this way. 

Latest news on Mike’s recovery

Mike is never one to put his emotions on public view and as he struggles to come to terms with his situation whilst coping with an extended stay in hospital and discomfort on a level few would find easy, he remains impressively positive. Medically speaking his recovery is going well – nurses and doctors alike are genuinely pleased with his progress as he is made to walk unsteadily about the ward. But it may yet be a week before he is well enough to leave hospital and back home is where he wants to be. If there was anything we could do to get him there sooner then we would do it.

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