Saharan dust leaves East Anglian spirit undimmed as the dreaded Saharan dust cloud settles on Ely
Paul Gallagher is a reporter for the Independent and Independent on Sunday having joined the group in 2012. He has previously worked for the European Voice, Daily Mirror and the Observer and been based in Brussels, Belfast, Tokyo and London.
Wednesday 02 April 2014
Residents throughout the smog hot spots of East Anglia and Norfolk woke up on Wednesday morning to find their cars splattered in sand thanks to the Saharan dust cloud that is sweeping across the UK.
Atmospheric conditions had improved by the afternoon but even in the largely flat expanse of the east Cambridgeshire countryside it was obvious how badly the distant desert's storms have affected the area, with both counties hitting the maximum “very high”  on the Met Office air pollution index.
From a distance, the prominent spires of Ely Cathedral remained shrouded in smog as you drove into the historic city. Typical of the stoicism on display everywhere, Mick and Martha Stevenson emerged from the 12th century Gothic monastery determined not to let it ruin their day.
“We saw all the warnings on the news this morning but it hasn’t affected us,” said Margaret. “Mick’s been promising to take me here for years so we were not going to be stopped from coming on a day trip from south Lincolnshire. There’s not a lot you can do about Saharan dust is there?”
Groups of mums walking their babies through Cherry Hill Park were not to be deterred from their daily routine either. Mother of two Jane Kelleher had just been discussing the pollution with a friend when The Independent bumped into her with her baby George.
“The warning that many people shouldn’t be outside does make you think, but it hasn’t stopped us from doing what we normally do, even with our babies” she said.
Pensioner Geraldine Field was relaxing on a bench in nearby Jubilee Gardens. Was it because she was struggling with the smog? “Certainly not, I’m fit and healthy,” said the 87-year-old Londoner who was visiting Ely while she is on holiday in Kings Lynn, Norfolk. “It hasn’t affected me and I haven’t thought twice about going for walks. If it did start to affect me, I think then I might stay indoors, but hopefully it will blow over before too long.”
Ely did seem pretty quiet, especially given temperatures of 21 degrees had been predicted, so perhaps much of the city’s elderly and asthmatic had followed government advice and stayed indoors. One man who was certainly missing the crowds was Geoff the ice cream man, who certainly noticed a dip in trade at his van pitched alongside the marina on the River Ouse.
“There are not many people out today that’s for sure. I only saw on the news in the morning the reason why after seeing my car covered in red dust. You can definitely sense something different is in the air, and you can feel it on your face, though I do wonder how much of it is psychological.”
After gazing up at the shrouded sky Geoff was taking no precautions with his ice cream cone boxes keeping them under tight wraps overnight. “I don’t want any foreign bodies creeping in. The smog’s definitely had an effect on the sun and on me today already though.”
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