Dispatch from The Front Line of Climate Change

This is an account from Molly Fletcher ( Kensal to Kilburn Transition)
by an elderly (88) writer friend of hers Patricia Langdon-Davies who
lives on the Costa Brava, Spain, where the effects of climate change are becoming all too obvious. Autumn and Spring have disappeared, Summers are now extremely hot and Winters severely cold. Drought, flooding and freak storms are becoming normal.

Dispatch from The Front Line of Climate Change
A First Hand Account of Living Without Power For Five Days Caused by an Extreme Storm in Spain:

We've just put the clocks back and even those of us who hate the thought of the cold wind and snow to come find some solace in the knowledge that something cosy will come out of it. After shopping in the nicely warmed supermarket we'll go back to the flat, also nicely warmed, lock ourselves in, close the shutters and wait for our favourite tv programme to fill the evening. And quick, let's make a cup of tea. Maybe a good hot shower before the entertainment begins.

On the well known Costa Brava where I live, we do sometimes have snow, and we certainly get cold winds. But the bad spells alternate with hot winter sunshine, and don't last long, and usually we just think of England and say Thank God we're not there. But last year, in early March when the mimosa had finished blooming and when thoughts should have been turning to early violets and primulas, we were hit by a storm such as I have not seen here in 60 years. At four o'clock in the afternoon, on a Monday, the world outside my window turned white with snow, banks of it being driven by winds which seemed to come from two directions at once. A branch fell off a very large pine tree as I watched, another further down the road. But inside the flat everything turned black. The lights were off. Hope it comes on in time for getting my supper, I thought, but it didn't, it didn't come on for five days. Well, what's five days without electricity. A bit of ingenuity, Patricia, and you'll be all right. I collected all the candles I had in the kitchen drawer before going to bed that first evening, and put them in strategic positions. With matches. I fumbled in the drawer where there were torches, and found two, very small ones. Never mind, my son James would be able to bring me something bigger and better tomorrow. He lives nearby. And I must put down the shutters. It was now that the full significance of this storm reached me. I couldn't put down the shutters because they work by remote controls which no longer functioned without electricity. I have plate glass windows the whole length and breadth of my sitting room, and very soon, as the temperature dropped, I felt wave after wave of cold coming through as though a river had broken its banks. And next day was worse.

Without electricity means no lift, so no visits from concerned friends and neighbours. No calls from the phone downstairs at the entrance to the flats and no front doorbell. No computer, so no funny emails to friends to help pass the time. No telephone if you have a cordless, no mobiles, no TV or radio and of course your hearing aid won't work because you can't charge it up at night. The food in the freezer begins to soften. How to get in more if this lot goes completely? The schools closed. Very few shops could open as they couldn't raise their heavy metal grills. Nobody could wash their clothes, which caused great consternation in such a hygiene-conscious nation.

People with open chimneys invited their less happy neighbours in to enjoy a frugal fire of logs where they toasted a few sausages. People with SUVs - those big heavy cars intended for mountain use but in which children now go to school, went at first call to the local authority to offer their services, rolling away fallen trees or at least putting up warning signs and instructions for people caught out in it.

I was one of the lucky ones. First, I had gas, so as long as I had a supply of matches I could cook. Second, James had keys and could let himself in, walk up six flights of stairs and bring me some aid to
survival he'd found in one small shop which had a generator of its own and could open up. He did this every day, sometimes twice, with toddler on his shoulders, who had to be kept warm and active. People got out their cars preparing to set off to find a domestic sized generator; they went as far as the petrol station to fill up, but of course they couldn't fill up, the pumps didn't work.

The town hall sent out patrol cars with megaphones to make announcements
to the public as to what they were doing about it and when we could expect renewed services. In general though, the officials could do nothing. Their phones and mobiles didn't work either. In our particular town a communal space for people to gather, have hot showers, do their laundry and cook a hot meal was not set up until the end of three days because at first there was no fuel for the imported generators which anyway arrived without the necesany technicians to set them in motion. Meanwhile it was a case of fend for yourselves.

Personal reactions depend partly on age, of course. I'm getting on a
bit, so my daily routine was as follows. I put tomorrow's clothes in the bed with me at night, to take the chill off for tomorrow. First thing in the morning, I heated a big pan of water, enough to wash, make tea and fill a hot water bottle. When the bottle cooled off, I took a 15 minute exercise period, flapping arms, stretching legs, walking up and down the flat, bending - well, a little - and stretching my neck. Then I heated more water for any necessary laundry and for another hot water bottle. This done, I sat and read for half an hour. But, with three or four blankets around me the cold at the end of half-an-hour was like a wall of ice inside me. It was as though everything had died in me, and had been wrapped in ice for ever. Another exercise period. Another hot water bottle. More reading. When James came we fixed a blanket as well as we could over part at least of the huge windows. I checked candle supply and matches. Lunch, strictly hot and mostly liquid. Then off again, exercise, hot water bottle, read. Exercise, hot water bottle, read. By nightfall the reading was not easy. With a bigger and better torch, and two candles, the page still didn't show up with the clarity of normal electric light, and I went to bed at ten instead of twelve each night, accompanied by tomorrow''s clothing.

The trouble had come from the number of pylons felled by the enormous
wind of those first hours and the weight of ice which had quickly accumulted on them. Pylons which had not been well maintained and which probably had not been of today's standard when erected 40 years or more ago. Some are still to be seen standing with their top half hanging, very like giant rag dolls the dog has been playing with.

So be prepared. These extremes of climate are happening all the time
now, and I just hope that my personal experience of an energy-free world will reinforce the public in their efforts to conserve what energy there is.

Copyright Patricia Langdon-Davies October 2010

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