Most mornings I wake up and say the same thing, which you might generously call a mantra to start the day. In a former life in the UK, I would say (normally to my wife Jennie, where it made barely a little more sense, but sometimes to myself) upon throwing back the bedsheets:
I’m going to have a shower, you absolutely shower. I’m off to work to keep you in the manner to which you’ve become accustomed.
Day in, day out, the script remained the same. Nowadays, since the move to France, I have changed my tune a little. Now I’m more likely to say:
Another day in paradise. What’s the weather like, Jen? Sunny?
And most often it is sunny. But the price we pay for il fait du soleil are storms, violent ones, ones you’d remember for ages, ones you’d bring up in conversation months or even years later. Every silver lining literally has a cloud – in this case, a big angry one, full of thunder.
And so as we went to bed last week we expected the storm to come, as it does, and light the night sky, and crackle and fizz overhead and then pass, and then become calm. When the thunder woke us up at around 2.30, the sky was ominously filling with light. Clouds flickered endlessly in an almost seamless trail of light all over the sky. When sensible, I unplugged all the sensitive electrical equipment and returned to bed.
I dozed for about ten minutes then BOOM! an explosion jolted us awake, its sharp crack infinitely nearer than the thunder. Knowing we’d been hit, but not where, we ran about the dark house – the fuses had blown – with an unsteady torch, trying to find the source of the smell of sulphur.
It wasn’t until light that we saw the chimney had been struck, and that shards of debris lay on the grass and in the drive. We’re more or less the tallest house on this road so there was no surprise we had been hit.
If you look carefully you can see the large slab left sitting on the roof, and the tiles that have been uprooted by it. That night the water seeped in, moistening the plaster, dripping into the comble (can’t help smiling when I write that word, it’s like a Womble, but with more emphasis on meaning ‘loft’ or ‘attic’ space). It doesn’t look much in this photo, but for the record, being hit by lightning isn’t fun.
In the morning, as tiredness washed over me and I dozed, I imagined that the strike had affected me some way – like the bite of Spiderman’s arachnid, or countless other SuperHeroes subject to radiation, venom, or the madman’s experiment – perhaps I, too, would now have hero powers? Maybe I can fly, or, seemingly more prosaically, have great insight or understanding?
But I had none of these things. I was, and am, just Phil Greaney – with a broken chimney.