Alex James: The Great Escape

Weather is incompatible with modern life
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The Independent Online

The wind has been blowing up to 50mph, hammering in rain, rain from clouds so heavy that mid-morning feels like dusk and the short day is decorated with a faint but certain sense of finality. The grass has turned a lurid punk green, drunk with excess moisture. The chickens stay inside and cock-a-doodle uselessly at it all. The dog howls at the gale and the gale howls eerily back.

Soon the animals are silenced, beaten, and it's just the exhilarating, and extraordinarily calming, patter and whoosh of the elements. There are trickles everywhere. The stream in the cellar is coursing away, life-affirming in its vigour to reach the sump in the middle of the floor where it disappears again on its way to who knows where. The occult network of underground capillaries, swollen into torrents, springs up in the new back garden. I'm mesmerised by all these unknowable currents. There are no plants in the new garden yet, but the plot is brimming, teeming, streaming.

Out there, the pergola has taken shape. Its playful uselessness has boosted morale over recent weeks, but today the builders have given up and gone home, soaked and shivering. The book-keeper has phoned to say that she's turning back because the lanes are flooding and she doesn't think she'll be able to get home if it carries on. Another couple of hours like this and the roads will become impassable. Everything will grind to an immaculate halt.

It's cosy here, though. Strangely peaceful. The well is close to overflowing into the house. That hasn't happened yet, but it was a close-run thing back in July.

I watch the water level rise with a sense of detachment. You can't do anything about the weather. Weather is incompatible with modern life's room-temperature kitchen-sink dramas. In days gone by, these rustic homes with stone floors and rubble walls would have been less weathertight, more open to the elements. A few leaks and draughts were nothing to worry about. They'd just stoke up the fire until it passed, and patch up the damage later, if necessary.

A trickle of water is an abhorrence in a modern home, a breach of the border between outside and in. The more we fill our houses with things we can't fix because we don't understand them, the more we insulate and decorate, the more difficult it is to keep it at bay. That's the tragedy of it. As weather conditions become more extreme, the more we shut them out and isolate ourselves from them.

And then the rain stops. The sky is a couple of shades lighter and it's clear, crisp as a picture. Still the wind blows, but it's a fresh wind that chases the clouds away. All those who have been waiting spring back to life. Paddy is on his way to talk about pigs. The book-keeper texts to say she's coming after all. The dog wants to go outside. The rooks rise in full chatter. We're back in business. It's my favourite time of year.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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