Tempering the storm

Responses to the weather were understandably mixed, but it can't do any harm to lace our reaction to Monday night's storm with a dash of perspective

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The Independent Online

Can you imagine what we'd be like, we rich and pampered, protected and cosseted, people, if we were truly at the mercy of extreme weather events? And I'm not just talking about heavy snow or searing heat. I mean the sort of conditions which are a constant factor in an environment from which you can't escape, and whose regular interventions can mean displacement and death on a huge scale.

Of course, we in the west generally don't have to look too hard to find someone worse off than us, and just because someone elsewhere in the world has been hit by a monsoon, it doesn't make our suffering without power any easier. But it should help us lace our reaction to Monday night's storm with a dash of perspective.

Yes, a handful of people died as a direct result of the storm's ravages, and that is a tragedy for each of the families involved. But do you know how many die in domestic accidents? On average, more than 70 people are killed every week in the home as a result of misadventure. That's more than die in road accidents, and many more than in weather-related incidents. Four or five people in one day may lose their lives as a result of falling off a ladder, but that wouldn't be the lead story on News at Ten.

My point is not to belittle those who have experienced loss and serious inconvenience over the past 48 hours, but to point out that, because we have a benign climate and enjoy the security afforded by wealthy western society, we exaggerate the impact of acts of God. A friend told me that his old boss would, in the height of winter, phone her staff up with a warning: “Don't think about not coming in,” she'd say. “I'm from Canada and this isn't even snow!”

I'd like to know the figures of Britain's stay-at-home workers yesterday. And as acts of God go, its timing - coming during half-term week - could have been worse. Those of us who made it to work were able to indulge in some favourite pastimes - relating in detail the time it took, and the privations we suffered, just to get to the office, and complaining about the inadequacies of our transport services: after all, we have a proper storm every 26 years, and the train companies are just not prepared for it!

The storm of St Jude created more predictable ripples. I heard phone-in callers complain that the excessive media coverage exposed the North-South divide. If the storm had hit Scotland, or Yorkshire, or the North-east, we'd have heard little about it. I'm not sure this is true: the 24-hour news cycle insists that any freak event now gets blanket coverage. And then there's the censorious reaction to those who dared to make light of the storm. Gary Lineker and Jake Humphrey - TV sports personalities, and not politicians, remember - posted ironic tweets about the absence of the wholesale devastation we were promised. Cue the response:  DON'T YOU KNOW PEOPLE DIED! Irony in tweets? I have warned against this before. Better to adopt the vacuous all-purpose cliché of the moment: stay safe.