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Life on John Lennon's Island (2)

A storm deprives the little community of most of their homes

(A further extract from Chapter 1)

The storms on that island really are terrific. The force of the winds coming in from the Atlantic, the crashing of the waves on the cliffs, the screaming of the wind, the rolling of the boulders on the beach, knocking together, making a booming noise as they run up and down, are all majestically beautiful. It is also enough to scare you stiff. And it seems far worse in the night than it does in the day.

Our tents were the only homes our little community had. Sometimes they blew away. And when the tents blew away it wasn't that they blew a few feet, so that you could retrieve them. They blew into the sea and were lost.

We came to learn that when a gale was brewing we should immediately take down the smaller tents, stack them and put big rocks on them so they'd still be there when we came back after the storm was over. As the wind got stronger so in turn each of the larger tents would blow down. As they did we stacked them as much out of the wind as possible and piled rocks on them, and fought the harder to keep the others up, and ourselves on our feet in the face of the ever increasing gale.

I had the best of the bell tents and, through my superior knowledge of gales, gained on Exmoor, I always managed to keep this tent up all night. As the other tents collapsed, slowly more and more people would pile into my tent for shelter. I would instruct all to pull part of the bell tent under their backside. Twenty or more of us would be sitting around in a circle with part of the bell tent under our bottoms. The tent would shake about like a wild stallion but somehow we rode it through. Sleep, however, was out of the question.

On one particular night the storm was so fierce that by about half past three or four o'clock in the morning almost everyone on the island was in my tent, sitting on the lining; and still I had a nasty feeling that the tent was going. I knew there would be nowhere else for us to go if we lost the tent. Lose that and we'd lose everything. And we'd be extremely lucky if we didn't all die of exposure.

It was pouring with rain. The storm was very real. And if you tried to leave the tent, the winds were enough to knock you over. There was no other shelter on the island. I could feel that the tent was going to blow.

A desperate solution occurred to me. I realised we would have to drop the tent on top of us, so it would present less of a profile to the wind, and put stones on top of it. This way there was still a chance we could make it to the morning.

Shouting to be heard over the ever increasing fury of the wind, two of us went outside into the howling gale. We called to those inside to drop the central pole. Then we carried large stones and placed them on the sides of the tent in such a way that they didn't go on top of the many people inside it. In the hurricane it was hard to keep our balance, placing the stones on the heavy canvas which was pressing down on top of the many people crouched inside on the floor of the tent.

We climbed inside again. The rain was lashing down, leaking through the canvas on top of us. All of us lay there with the wind still flapping the sodden canvas overhead, getting wetter and wetter and wetter.

Sleep was impossible but, around eight o'clock next morning, I realised we'd beaten the storm. I crawled out from beneath the soggy canvas to find that the sun was up, birds were tweeting in the heavens, and you'd think that butter wouldn't melt in the weather's mouth. It was a glorious day.

Just opposite us on the mainland rocks there was a large ship, foundered. It had been delivering fertilizer, and had been caught anchored off the bay. This Portuguese ship had been driven onto the shore. It took them over a fortnight to get it back into the water. That was the force of the gale.

Marion, the young woman I mentioned before, took a couple of buckets to go to the well and get some water. She'd been given the nickname of 'Princess'. The rest of us had a conference. I spoke first; 'Right, lads, we can't have another night like that.' There was general agreement. No dissent. It was time to leave.

'Right, we'll pack up the equipment, that will take an hour or two, and then I'll put up the flag to signal for the boat. Tommy'll come over, we'll pack up the gear and we'll leave. As simple as that.' Was there just possibly a tiny note of uncertainty in my voice?

Princess reappeared with the buckets of water from the well. I said, 'Princess, we're going to have some breakfast, pack up the gear, and then we're leaving.'

There was a pause while she looked at us all evenly from her wide serene eyes. She said, 'Goodbye, Sid.'

I said, 'Listen, Princess, you don't understand. What I said was, we're packing up, and going.'

And she said 'Yes, but I live here.'

She stood there, looking at me steadfastly.

I said, with just a touch of panic at this erosion of my authority, 'You don't understand, we've just had a meeting, we've decided it's time to pack up and go, time to call the boat, time to leave and, of course, you're coming with us.'

She said, 'If you're going, fine, but I live here. This is where I'm going to continue to live.'

There was a moment's silence. We all looked at one another. Marion, our princess, had become very important to all of us, not only me. Then I said, 'Alright, lads, let's get the tents back up.'

We put up the tents, had a wonderful breakfast. And lived there in peace and contentment for another eighteen months.


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