Friday, December 15, 2006

My Tornado Hell

The greatest Evening Standard article ever written.

Pick your favourite line. Mine so far is "A black roof tile speared the American walnut floating shelf, scattering our younger daughter Ella's birthday cards", but there are so many others.

I hope Happy the cat turns up though, obvs.

UPDATE: oh, sorry, look, Happy turns up at the end. Took me a while to get that far. What with MY EYES BLEEDING.


UPDATE 2: to be fair, I'm with her on the Scientolology thing.

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

To Pseuds Corner, Private Eye,

I hope you have seen the best Evening Standard article ever written, reprinted here:
http://mytornadohell.livejournal.com/

There is so much to choose from. My favourite lines are:

"A wooden bowl of Christmas clementines. These are vomited across our limestone floor."

"If you dream of your home, it symbolises your psyche, what makes you you. It's your security. My soul was in that house. For three years, I'd indulged my passion for perfect decor. In January, it was to have been shot for Homes & Property."

"With sudden terror, I realised that the "smoke" was moving towards me. The words "Wizard Of Oz" went through my head as I crash-dived under the desk."

"On Friday evening, stupidly, we met friends for dinner in that awful eye of the social tornado, Cipriani. I wore Tornado Chic - the grey pants and multiple jumpers that were still my only clothes. I screamed with grief in the loo. I fought the urge to shout: "Less than five miles from here, there are old people like Beryl who didn't even have enough money to paint her door, who have lost their roofs..."

Ever your humble etc...

Hannah said...

Ooh, it's a toughie...

This one?

The words "Wizard Of Oz" went through my head as I crash-dived under the desk.

Or this one??

"Caroline, what's happened? Talk to me?" The voice of film producer Julia Barron came from the phone.

Literary genius...

christ said...

"I screamed with grief in the loo."

No contest. Although "Adrian explained that there is only one hotel in London: Claridge's." set a knell of sympathy tolling in my heart. He's so right.

I wonder if they'll be inviting good old Beryl the old person to stay with them?

james henry said...

Do you see Caroline Phillips? Even Jesus ends up on the side of the tornado.

Skeadugenga said...

Oh, that's so cruel, I'm sobbing so much that my ribs hurt...

In joint third place "vomited across our limestone floor", "Claridges" and "tornado chic"
In second place "dangling chimneys", an image to make your eyes burst with compassion. But the top spot goes to "And he loved what's left of our specialist-polished plaster walls". Now that's a woman with a firm grip on essentials.

I'm very relieved that "Happy" turned up, although I'm amazed that anything so mundane as a moggy has a place in Caroline's fabulous abode.

Anonymous said...

Jamie, our musician neighbour and father of newborn Seth, was standing in our communal bomb-site. "Our roof has been lifted off," he said simply.

Tim Footman said...

I've got used to friends calling me Dorothy...

...because I'm a neurotic junkie fuckup whose equally damaged daughter marries poofs and I'm going to die on the toilet.

patroclus said...

"...her eyes bursting with passion" does it for me. Ew.

At first I refused to believe this was real - even by the Standard's, er, standards - without seeing the actual article, but it seems it is. Brilliant!

Maybe it's time to move out of London after all.

patroclus said...

Er, *compassion*. Still messy.

james henry said...

It is, to quote the Teacher Lady from Grosse Point Blank: 'a barrage of visual imagery'.

Annie said...

It's all over the internet you know - very funny comment thread here

Can it be for real?

patroclus said...

I wondered about that Annie, because the original isn't online. But La Phillips was interviewed by a hundred other publications at the time, and it seems she *is* a freelance writer, and at the moment the tornado struck, she was working on an article about complementary therapy.

I think she may have considered this as her big break into serious reportage.

Erm...in which case it backfired just slightly. Still, I'm sure Adrian will find another job soon - it's bonanza time in the City, after all.

Skeadugenga said...

If you websearch Caroline Phillips, this is her usual style. Theres a very amusing one about going camping in darkest Cornwall with a bizarre reference to her husband and a sausage. It must be a send up.

leonie said...

"Adrian explained that there is only one hotel in London: Claridge's. Simon did not demur. And he loved what's left of our specialist-polished plaster walls."

how dare you ridicule these people? just imagine if they would have had to go to *gasp* another "hotel". oh, the horror, the horror.

this is amazing, AMAZING.

Anonymous said...

I've just tried to reply to this twice but it keeps telling me to log in and when I do my reply vanishes!! GAH.

Anyway: Patch, you chose the same bit as me! I'd just copied this to my clipboard:
We spent 10 tremulous minutes waiting to hear whether our damage would be covered by Lark Insurance Services or disallowed as an act of God. "Well, are you?" asked a policewoman, her eyes bursting with compassion. We are.

When I started reading this I thought it was one of those "jokes" where they're appealing for help for (insert chav town name here) after it's been hit by an earthquake. Still not sure if this is a pisstake or not, but either way it's bloody funning reading!
Slightly more worrying is that she has the same name as an ex-personnel manager of mine from about 20 years ago who, I believe, had writing ambitions ...

Anonymous said...

'"Almost worse than losing my house is being accosted by Scientologists," I told the waiting cameramen outside.'

That's my favourite line. I can't think of anything worse either.

It seems to have been lifted from Sex and the City, this modern-day Oz story. Those poor walnut floating shelves.

And thank god for Happy's return. I was worried there.

Anonymous said...

And here's the audio version. Read by Philips herself.

Like the Hurricanes, or whatever it was...'87...

Hearing her speaking just adds a new level to it.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Fat Roland - the wooden bowl of christmas clementines quote. I read that as actual wooden clementines though.

Also, why has she already got a "brilliant trauma specialist therapist"?? What else has befallen her?

BiB said...

Hello Blue Cat. I rather liked, "Juliet heard my cries through the thick Edwardian walls".

She's toned it down on the audio linked to above, so it's almost better not to listen not to take away from the pure joy of the written version.

Anonymous said...

'why has she already got a "brilliant trauma specialist therapist"??'

Probably when Ella developed a Philipino accent, from the nanny.

Imo said...

'spotty Cath Kidson carpet'

Is this an expensive carpet?!? I just can't quite believe she's really traumatised if she's managed to sit down and write this wonderfully serious article about the whole experience.

I don't know if I can cope with listening to the audio version yet, I've already had my quoto of laughing out loud today watching the wonderful Tamsin in Much Ado this afternoon.

violetforthemoment said...

What cracks me up is the way she has to refer to her neighbours' jobs as if learning that Jake is an advertising exec is meant to make anyone empathise or sympathise with him more...

I imagine some part of her felt soooo validated by being at the centre of such an event - like confirmation that the world revolves around her.

Betty said...

Too much detail, scope and tragedy to take in one one reading. It's almost Dickensian. In fact, it's crying out for one of those old fashioned BBC big budget Christmas extravaganzas. All singing, all dancing ...

Emma Thompson as Caroline Phillips.

Ray Winstone as builder Nathan Brown.

Pauline Quirke as 90-year-old Beryl.

Highlight of the soundtrack? Consider Yerself Wivaaht An 'Ome.

Anonymous said...

Surely this is an Alan Bennett monologue with Patricia Routledge.

Anonymous said...

Terri, your comments disappeared because you are on Blogger Beta and Mr Hentry is not. Before you type your comment, click on "Sign in using Blogger BEta" first. I only know this because my comment at the top took seven attempts...

Anonymous said...

..."Mr Hentry"?!?

Spinsterella said...

Francis Holland School costs £3,875 per term.

Obviously this doesn't include Music, drama, fencing, Alexander Technique(?) or even text books.

Do you think Ms Phillips will get a discount now?

(BTW. the 'eyes bursting with compassion' did it for me.)

Anonymous said...

Clearly the most upsetting moment is: "...many of whom had lost their homes and were too distressingly poor to afford insurance cover." God. Can you IMAGINE being that poor??

It was hilarious until about halfway through, when I suddenly became filled with a violent rage towards the poncey bint. There are far too many wankfests like this masquerading as "articles" in the papers, written by people with no sense of what life is like in the real world. I just want to smash all of them in the face with a brick. I can't get across how much I hate these people, I just can't. I need to go and lie down for a bit.

patroclus said...

Other James: it's OK, now that there is blogging, these so-called 'journalists'' days are numbered.

I don't hate all journalists, just ones that think their lives are more special and interesting than anyone else's because they live in Chiswick, go to yoga classes and buy lovely things in Portobello Market. Grrr.

Wyndham said...

Thanks to that article, I'm already having the best Christmas ever.

Wyndham said...

And "I need my medicine. I'm a paranoid schizophrenic," has just become my latest catchphrase.

Tedward's Missing Ear said...

Personally I liked:

"I phoned my brother Simon. He was watching his son George's nativity play...He couldn't understand why I was screaming."

I get the impression it's not the first time Simon has been troubled with such a phone call.

"I phoned my brother Simon. He was having open heart surgery and did not appear to appreciate my distress."

"I phoned my brother Simon. He was attending his wife's funeral. He didn't understand why I was so upset, yet I'd run out of balsamic and the guests were due at 9."

Etcetera, etcetera.

janey33 said...

If you listen very carefully, after sunset, you may just hear the anguished cries of Douschka, the traumatised dog, as she picks the remains of the specialist-polished plaster from her tender paws. Thank heaven it was only a few hours before her mistresses' appointment with her Trauma Specialist therapist. Douschka's delicate ears were still ringing with the sound of the physical manifestation of her mistresses psychic state. Douschka wishes she too had a Trauma Specialist therapist. The poor hound has many issues, not least the fact that she has poncy russian name that no-one can pronounce properly.

patroclus said...

Much has been made of the fact that this woman 'already' had a trauma specialist therapist. It seems likely that the specialist was procured to help her through the aftermath of witnessing an IRA bomb at Olympia, a fact which is clearly referenced in the article. I'm not convinced, however, that this so-called 'IRA bomb' was not simply a manifestation of Ms Phillips's disturbed mental state upon realising that she had forgotten to pick up some crystallised lavender buds from Carluccio's on her way home.

Rhodri said...

When you have a fantastic loss adjuster, it pays to keep hold of him, I find.

Spinsterella said...

Having witnessed several IRA bombs, I feel her pain. But obviously shrapnel landing on your doorstep and PEOPLE ACTUALLY GETTIG KILLED can't compare to the horrors of a damaged specialist polished plaster wall.

This really does bear repeated re-reading. There's so much more to appreciate every single time.

Right now I'm particularly loving; "I screamed and screamed."

button said...

I cannot get past the first couple of paragraphs as the rising desire to hunt her down and destroy her is interfering with my work.

LMS said...

I'm sure there's an idea for a sit-com somewhere (no wait, it was called Keeping Up Appearances - propably explain it's worldwide popularity)*.

I have an urge to see a version of The Big Lebowski with Caroline as lead.

*Not that I've ever managed to watch more than 30 seconds of any episode (to my shame, sorry I meant extreme pride).

button said...

Favourites:


*Despaired of my loss of earnings*
Well perhaps if she didn’t spend her ‘hard earned’ money on specialist-polished plaster walls, visits to Claridge's, spotty Cath Kidson carpets and American walnut floating shelves it might not be such an issue.

*Sat in my car and screamed and screamed hysterically at such unfairness.*

It was very, very, very fair. But it cannot have been an act of God as she Survived.

Oh and ,

*"Almost worse than losing my house is being accosted by Scientologists," I told the waiting cameramen outside. There was a tornado in Kensal Rise in the Fifties. Now I know about the Scientologists, I can't risk living there any more.*

What?!?

Skeadugenga said...

What's the scientology equivalent of a fatwah?

Billy said...

Maybe they come round and jump on your sofa a bit?

Anonymous said...

They're not allowed to shout, or is that only in the throes of labour?
Maybe they just make you watch Tom Cruise movies for all eternity....

Tamburlaine said...

Not a smidgen of it appeared in Private Eye. Perhaps they really thought it was a spoof.

Boz said...

It was the thick Edwardian walls that got me...

Sally said...

Here is another article by Caroline Phillips telling all about her specially diagnosed post tornado trauma.......


London Evening Standard 14th June 2007

Tornado Alley: the final fallout
Lootings, death threats, marital break-ups and traumatised children — just some of the aftershocks of the freak whirlwind six months on...

CAROLINE PHILLIPS

WHEN I saw the tornado looming towards me, I hid under my desk. That was six months ago. As my home and those of my neighbours collapsed around me, I lay on the floor screaming. Bricks, a window sill and tiles hurtled through my windows, borne by a “twister” that was travelling at 100mph. Afterwards there was a deathly calm and, eventually, I walked out onto the post-cyclone street where people stood dazed amid the debris.
Miraculously, nobody was killed or even badly hurt in those 20 seconds on 7 December when the NW10 tornado ripped through our homes. The emotional and financial costs are still being calculated and paid. Yet now, surprisingly, many of the people from my street to whom I’ve spoken feel upbeat about the aftermath of the tornado. One man even describes it as having been a “joyful” experience.
But there are also stories of marital breakdowns, still-traumatised children, opportunistic tradesmen, lootings and death threats, about which more later. And estimates for repairs to the 150 houses that were damaged (including 50 major cases) in the wider Kensal Rise area are in excess of £20 million. Not to mention the cost of emergency services on that day, plus alternative council and insurance-paid accommodation and the replacement of victims’ destroyed possessions.
So let’s first survey the scene. If you were to walk down my north London street today, you might be surprised, so long after the storm, to see 12 houses still covered in scaffolding wit h tarpaulin roofs flapping noisily in the wind, and the home of Beryl (an octogenarian) open to the elements — some of its walls and roof still missing.
One flat remains completely boarded up. “Robert moved in,” comments his neighbour, musician Phil Campbell, “the day before the tornado. He’s still living in a hotel.”
Stand in a few of our gardens now, and you can still see remnants of the war zone. There has been a huge clean-up, but some lawns remain strewn with chimney pots, glass and uprooted trees. Dogs and children wander with careless abandon. Most of the fallen fences have been re placed; but many haven’t, because there’s a national shortage of wooden panels — with most being exported to China.
During the day, the street is filled with the endless noise of building activity and heavy trucks disgorging bricks and steel beams. “To start with I had such survivor guilt, I wanted to smash my own windows,” reveals one woman, whose home was untouched. “But now I’m so stressed, I want to kick in everyone else’s.”
But for most residents, once their scaffolding had been erected, little else happened for two to three months — there was the holiday season, district surveyors and loss adjusters doing their jobs, arguments over who was responsible for paying for what, insurance companies putting the work out to tender, details being finalised and busy builders struggling to find starting dates. “I’m amazed at how impossibly slow it has all been,” says fabric designer Geraldine Larkin, whose house remains uninhabitable.
Scarcely more than half the street’s occupants stayed on after the disaster. “It has been hugely eerie living virtually under sail [the tarpaulin] with so few neighbours,” says advertising executive Chris Martin, “and at night having the pitch black and silence of a practically uninhabited terrace of houses.”
For a while, there were the inevitable lootings of some of the empty houses. “Now, thankfully, these have stopped as security has tightened,” says Martin, “scaffolding is starting to come down and people are moving back into their homes.” The last residents are scheduled to return in November.
But let’s wind back to that fateful day and its immediate aftermath. “It was the final straw,” says Phil Campbell, a talented musician and singer whose baby was then six months old. “I split from my wife of nine years the day of the tornado. It brought our marital difficulties to the surface. The stress was unbearable.”
Its impact was also awful for young children, who couldn’t rationalise the event, but realised suddenly that their parents weren’t always able to protect them. “My son had counselling,” says one mother. “He still doesn’t like being left alone.”
Seven-year-old Molly, who was home from school that day, also struggled to
come to terms with the catastrophe. “She’s still absorbed with natural disasters,” says her mother, counsellor Laura Gibbons, 41. “She’s been scared of strong winds ever since, and had nightmares — always about her parents not being able to save her. It was dreadful — she was upstairs when I saw ‘smoke’ and heard that wailing-engine sound of the tornado. We ran screaming towards one another as our roof flew off and windows smashed around us. Our front door was barricaded by a tree, so we picked our way over glass and roofs at the back.” (Their repairs have cost more than £50,000.)
MY OWN experience was of suffering from acute stress disorder ( diagnosed by Prof Gordon Turnbull, a consultant psychiatrist who has worked with serious victims such as Gulf War veterans) which included re-experiencing the trauma, jumpiness and insomnia. My muscles screamed like elastic bands stretched to their outer limits. Christmas photographs show my face looking as grey as my sweater.
More stress was to come after I wrote in the Standard about my tornado experiences, and became the object of internet terrorism — with sick bloggers whipping up a frenzy of hatred in cyberspace and ridiculing everything from our children’s names to our interior decor, and offering to kill me, (“shame the tornado didn’t”), burgle and stalk me. Was my crime that we’d lost our home and many of our possessions? Or that we had insurance cover?
“This is an example of ‘trauma envy’,” comments eminent psychoanalyst Dr Lionel Kreeger, author of a paper on ‘envy pre-emption’. “People envy those who achieve notoriety and one way they try unconsciously to deal with their envious resentment and jealousy is by attacking that which is envied. ” Kreeger’s colleague, Dr Earl Hopper, a world renowned authority on trauma, adds: “One often envies people for having a legitimate reason for sympathy.”
Seeking reassurance, I mentioned my experience to GP Dr Robert Lefever. “Ah,” he said. “An arsonist burned my house down because he didn’t like something I’d said on television. He’s in Broadmoor psychiatric hospital now.” Well, you bloggers, I have to report that I feel delightfully healthy and chipper now.
The same is true of photographer Joth Shakerley, who describes his tornado experience as being one of “pure joy”. “I had the miraculous good fortune of having renewed my house insurance 40 minutes before the disaster.” His house sustained £18,000 of damage. “Our insurers have been great. And we organised and used our own builders,” beams Shakerley, “We came back five weeks later from holiday and everything was finished and nobody else had got started.”
Shakerley’s upbeat mood mirrors that of many in the street. People are grateful to be alive and thankful nobody was killed or injured. Many have used the opportunity to improve their homes with everything from attic conversions, extensions, new roofs and side returns to fancy Lutron lighting systems and specialist paints.
And me? There’s a strength that comes from surviving and realising that I’d probably have died had I stood looking out of my window for one second longer. I’ve also learned that cats disappear before a tornado and don’t reappear from safety until afterwards — so next time a cat hides, I’m going too.
Yes, renovating the house has been virtually a full-time job. But our insurers (Lark Insurance) and our builders (The Building Works) have been superb. Yes, we’ve thrown away the king of beds, our beloved Vi-Spring, some lacerated furniture, soft furnishings, and lots of glass-filled clothes — but I found my engagement ring in a sock.
Neighbours who hadn’t ever spoken before the storm are now friendly. There’s a community spirit that was there before but is stronger still now. We’re planning our first street party. And there’s something new and positive — a whirlwind of creativity that will linger: three babies have been born to my neighbours since then. In the hours after our nightmare I had spoken on the television news, describing it as like the whirlwind in Wizard of Oz.
One of the new babies is called Dorothy. Coincidence? I think not.