The storm

I’ve just put my son to bed.

He was awake and alert at 6am this morning. School was closed today. We couldn’t really go too far from the house because of the storm. My wife’s employed as a journalist so she’s been working relentlessly without a break all day.

I make that 14 hours of me and him together. Cooped up. In the same room.

That’s a lot of role-playing. Plenty of episodes of Peppa. A fair smattering of computer games. More chocolate buns than I’d like to admit. A few fights. A couple of incidents of blackmailing him into eating.

And one exhausted daddy.

And we all know exactly who to blame.

Ophelia.

I must admit that until yesterday morning Ophelia was nothing more to me than the love interest of Hamlet (‘Get thee to a nunnery!’).

I was listening to Love Songs on Radio 2 (I know! I know!). When it broke for the news the reader informed us that Northern Ireland had been placed under amber alert, with the potential for ‘risk to life’. Hurricane Ophelia was rapidly travelling north.

Northern Ireland seldom makes the national news anymore so it was an announcement which certainly made me pause over my cornflakes. Well, for a couple of seconds at least.

And then I waited.

It was still Sunday morning. The storm wasn’t coming until Monday. I assumed we’d be kept up to date with arrangements throughout the day.

My first thoughts were for my son. Would it be safe for him to go to school? He goes to a tots rugby class on Mondays; would that be going ahead?

I don’t know if it’s significant that it was a Sunday. I don’t know if it’s significant that we have no functioning government. But nothing seemed to happen.

There was no flow of information. Not here anyway. South of the border things seemed to be moving at pace. The army was put on standby, the government held emergency meetings, the schools were told not to open.

One of the jokes which I saw repeated through the day on social media is that Ophelia must be set to blow itself out just at the border.

But as the evening darkened into night the joke didn’t seem funny anymore. Anxious parents were communicating on WhatsApp. All asking the same thing. Did anyone know what was going on?

It was just before 11pm when I saw the announcement from the department of education that they were advising schools not to open. It was after 11:30pm when my son’s school sent a message via text to confirm this.

I shared the message with as many parents as I could but it was clear many had already gone to bed. I knew plenty would be waking up to a desperate scramble to make alternative childcare arrangements.

I’m not in the worst position. When I work I usually do it from home. There were a couple of projects I wanted to start today. I knew the twin factors of my son being at home and the certainty that my wife would be busy at work meant that now wouldn’t be possible. So be it.

The morning was unnaturally peaceful. The lull before the squall.

I composed a couple of tweets suggesting I was annoyed at how late the school announcement had come. Within minutes I was live on the Nolan Show being grumpy for the whole country.

I did venture out a couple of times. I took my son to the supermarket. I sold it to him on the premise that we were going on a secret mission to get supplies before the hurricane struck. And I had to promise to buy him chocolate buns.

I bought two torches. I suspect I’ll never use them.

My wife asked me to buy her a memory stick. I forgot.

Then when I got home I realised I had forgotten to get milk. In fact the only thing I did remember to get was the chocolate buns.

So with the wind now rising I trudged off to the corner shop. I wasn’t sure if it would be still open. It was. I got the milk and asked the man behind the counter how long he was staying open.

‘Till 11 o’clock. Same as every other day’, he shot back with a scowl.

‘But what about the storm?’

‘Load of balls.’

With this I decided it was time to go back home.

I tried to stabilise some moveable items in the back garden. The wobbly shed door. The loose wooden gate.

With the first serious gust both blew open. My wife looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders.

I tried to lighten the mood by saying that our garden always looks like it’s been hit by a hurricane. It didn’t work.

The worst of the wind arrived when I was making dinner. Some violent gales which shook the large trees in the back garden at their roots.

But it seems quieter now, late in the evening. Still blustery but nothing out of the ordinary. I’m not sure if the worst has passed or is still to come.

In the midst of it all the department has already announced that the schools will be closed again tomorrow. After being dissatisfied by the sloth-like pace of yesterday’s response, I can’t shake the feeling that they’ve been too quick with this new decision.

The storm, which has not impacted us as badly as feared, will have passed by then. I know there will be a significant clean-up operation and many homes still without power but the closure of every school in the country is unprecedented and radical.

We were due to have our first ever parent/teacher interview tomorrow. Our first progress report on how our son is managing in P1. That will have to be rearranged.

I told the wee man before I put him down that we have another day together to look forward to.

As I tucked him in and kissed him goodnight he whispered, ‘Daddy, don’t eat all the chocolate buns tonight.’

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