Batten down the hatches

At the end of each summer, my mother would say, “it’s time to batten down the hatches.” Battening down the hatches meant putting away everything that was not needed over the winter months and firmly securing everything that might be shifted by a gale.

None of us was ever sure why we talked as though we were at sea, the nearest port was at least forty miles away, but we understood the need for a very firm battening down. Everything needed to be packed away; doors needed to be securely locked; windows closed against draughts; nothing should be left exposed. The arrival of the season against which we guarded was announced by a mournful whining of the wind through the electricity cables that passed by on the other side of the road.

Once, while my father had been working at the air station at Lossiemouth in northern Scotland, it had been our community in Somerset, six hundred miles south, that had been hit by a severe storm.

Our garage was an asbestos structure set on a concrete foundation, secure on summer days but uncertain in winter. As the storm arrived and the wind built up, the entire garage began to lift from the ground. If it took off, or even turned over, the asbestos walls would be broken and everything inside would be exposed to the elements. I was sent to fetch Mr Croot, a mountain of a man of prodigious streng, who would know what to do. He drove quickly up from his house, bringing with him lengths of webbing and long steel spikes. The spikes were driven into the ground either side of the garage and the webbing was passed backward and forward over the roof. Mr Croot’s rescue equipment remained in place until the following spring, when the garage was much more securely concreted down.

Had we shown any reluctance to participate in the activity of battening down, my mother would say, “do you remember the time the garage took off?” Of course we did, how could we have forgotten it?

Perhaps, if we searched through the meteorological records, we could locate the date of the storm, perhaps it was not as severe as we remembered, but gusted along our road at speed because we lived on an open hillside. Whatever the historical facts regarding the storm, it left a fear of the coming of autumn for years afterwards, a sense of vulnerability.

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