Tuesday, January 04, 2011

My family and the earthquake

The news of an earthquake with the epicentre in Yorkshire reminded me of the earth tremor we had here some years ago. I had a piece about it in The Times. It’s my favourite ever piece, because it has all my family in it. Here it is -

There we were, quaking in our boots

Derbyshire. Monday morning 12.54 a.m. We wake to a sound like a bowling ball rolling across the wooden floorboards of our bedroom. My husband switches on the light and sits up, “What the hell was that?”

“Don’t know,” I say. “Weird. Let’s go back to sleep.”

But he is sitting up, fretting. Is it settlement ? Subsidence ? Last year we built an extension and now we are sleeping in it. “What the hell was that noise?” says DIY man again.

I want to sleep, but I need a pee. My adult daughter – who is staying with us – hears me out of bed and calls out, petrified: “What’s happening ? The walls were shaking. The roof was rumbling. The wardrobe doors came open and now they won’t shut.”

She had been lying in bed unable to sleep, so was writing a to-do list for the following day. I give her a hug, thinking Silly billy, fussing again: she lives her life on the margins of hysteria. Then I remember her ringing me on September 11th last year telling me to turn on the telly, and my refusing because I had to post a birthday card.

I return to our bedroom to find DIY man getting up. He has heard daughter speak of the shaking walls, and thinks the house is falling down. He dons a dressing gown and wellington boots ( the mission is too urgent to find the beloved boiler suit) and prowls around outside for fifteen minutes with a torch, looking for cracks, subsidence, disaster.

He finds nothing. He comes back inside and engages in anxious discussions with daughter while I retreat under the duvet and long for sleep. The front door opens: it’s our younger son. He has been sitting on the village recreation ground under the full moon, having a philosophical discussion with his friend.

Only on arrival at our garden gate did he become unnerved – not by unusual shakes or rumbles, having felt nothing and heard nothing - but by the freakishness of all the house lights being on after half past ten. A rarer sight is DIY man still up and about. Younger son is phlegmatic, but he is also an X files fan, and suggests to DIY man and sister that the noise was supernatural.

DIY man comes back to bed and props himself up in worry mode, arms tense, head twitching. His next theory is that something has happened to our older son, who was flying to Denver and arriving there in the middle of our night. You hear stories, he says, of people dying and doors opening in family houses miles away. He gets up and leaves a message on our son’s mobile phone: “Are you safe ?”

More effectively, younger son (in the UK) logs onto the internet, gets instant messaging and immediately contacts older son (in the US.)

[01:40] son in UK: isaac. say something

[01:40] son in US: hello. wozzup?

[01:40] son in UK: thank god for that

[01:40] son in US: :S?

[01:40] son in UK: theres some weird shit goin down here

[01:40] son in US: o no... what?

[01:40] son in UK: hang on, let me tell peeps youre ok. brb

Younger son tells aged parents that older son is safe, then returns to the computer.

[01:43] son in US: what gives?

[01:44] son in UK: i got back at 130 to find everyone up and wandering around the house looking worried

[01:45] son in US: there's been an earthquake

[01:45] son in UK: where?

[01:45] son in US: uk. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2275158.stm

[01:45] son in UK: haha coool

The lights are off and I am just dropping off – oh bliss - when younger son brings us the printout from BBC news online: an earth tremor shakes the Midlands – 4.8 on the Richter scale.

“Great. Can we go to sleep now ?” I say.

“Are we insured for earthquake damage?” says DIY man.

Morning breaks and I go downstairs to find him outside checking the drains. He has heard of damaged drains and wants no truck with them.

If something needs fixing he will fix it. If the earth moves, he will steady it. Failing that there’s always the BBC. ( But yes. The drains are fine.)

© Sue Hepworth and Times Newspapers 2002

printed here with kind permission of The Times

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