John Walker's Electronic House

by on Aug.03, 2004, under The Rest

I have just seen the most beautiful thing in all my life.

The thunderstorm over Bath tonight is unlike anything I have ever witnessed. It is still going on, drifting further towards the valley, my study illuminating violently every thirty seconds or so.

I love thunderstorms and always have. Of course I have been scared of them, tonight included, but it is a delicious fear, an awareness that this planet we attempt to destroy is so many million times more powerful than we are. So my natural response to hearing thunder is to open the curtains and windows, in order to be able to see and hear more clearly. And on occasion, to go outside to watch properly.

I wrapped myself in my cagoul and stood in the carpark behind the flat. The storm was happening behind the houses, meaning I could see the flashes from my front door, but not the lightning itself. Standing in the carpark, I was able to see every blistering rip in the sky, every purple-white-blue-purple jagged explosion, and hear the booming from the belly of the sky with perfect clarity. And then the rains came down, torrential like I haven’t seen for years. And then heavier. And then heavier. To the point where my cagoul admitted defeat, and I became soaked. But above me was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

I once flew back from Chicago, taking off in a thunderstorm. That was incredible. We flew alongside it for about twenty minutes, and I was able to stare out the window and watch something utterly mind-blowing – the thunderclouds themselves, and the secret electrical activity that goes on within, that we are not privvy to from the earth. The ceaseless dancing of the lightning, viciously and balletically flitting from one mass of droplets to another. I was enraptured, unable to look away, nose almost touching the glass of the aeroplane window. Which was awkward, as I didn’t have the window seat. The girl who did was reading her book. As was the man to my right. And as was every other person on the plane, reading, sleeping, staring at the chair in front of them, each of them ignoring the most wonderful site I had witnessed. I wanted to stand up and scream at these people. “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?” “How can you live a life in which reading the in-flight magazine is your preference above the inner workings of an electrical storm.” Of course, I realise looking back on it that they may well have been scared to death, staring at anything other than the theatre of death performing its macabre play outside our giant metal tube in the sky.

It is times like these that I am so very glad to be able to type without looking at either the keyboard or the monitor, as I type these sentences while staring out the window, waiting for the next flash. And there again it was worth it. The sky becoming violet – not dark purple or less black, but violet. And then purple-white jagged fingers of power tearing through it like the ground tearing open during an earthquake, splitting into tendrils that fizzle as it fades away. That’s what I saw just then. What I saw outside was a bit better.

People often comment, “ooh, listen, it must be passing overhead now” as the gap between light and sound narrows. Tonight I saw it pass overhead. I looked directly up, and saw the epicentre of the sky’s illumination, the whitest purple spot in the middle – lightning leaping within the clouds – that spread astonishing brightness in a disc about it. Immediately above my head. That’s when the storm is passing overhead now. Which is why I went back to my front porch.

Being above the shop, my porch is not on the ground, but troublingly high up when wondering about which target the lightning might wish to choose. So I stood a bit inside, out of the wall of rain. But from there I could only see the flashes, and not the forks. I stepped outside again, and hid under the open window of the porch, which kept the majority of the rain off me (a mostly pointless exercise, as I was already shower-wet).

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I ran inside. This time the bolt didn’t stay inside the clouds, and this time there wasn’t the narrow pause between flash and bang. It was the most beautiful thing, and it was also the most dangerous. And the sound was so loud, louder than any other noise I have heard nature produce. So I ran in, and watched from the kitchen window.

This was lightning so bright that some flashes lit every moment of the sky, every building and tree, not “as bright as daylight”, but a unique brightness, that were it to last longer than the split second of the burst, would probably be more terrifying than a mind could cope with. Purple-white bright, as if the whole world were the ghost of itself, coming back to haunt the place in the universe it had once floated. And then after the light was gone, there was a darkness. That was the strangest part of it. For a moment that lasted just too long for comfort, before things went back to normal, there was a black darkness. I presume it was the result of my eye having just contracted its pupil as fast as possible against the ethereal light, suddenly trying to interpret the night through a pinprick. And so all that can be seen is nothing, until the pupil expands, the light is able to soak back in, and the world fades back into view.

Thank you God for tonight’s display. There is nothing that nature offers that I love more than thunder and lightning. I was on the verge of tears tonight, so powerfully overwhelmed by so much beauty. It’s still going on now as dawn begins tidying up.

I wish I had the words to share how storms make me feel. How alive and yet fragile. And tonight there was no aeroplane window between me an the electricity.

18 Comments for this entry

  • always_black


  • Nick Mailer

    I am alarmed to hear that an airline took off in the midst of a storm of this magnitude. Which airline was it? I shall report them to the FAA.

  • Victoria

    I bet you were bricking it at the time.

  • John

    I’m not sure. It’s certainly terrifying to be underneath such a storm, but I stayed outside out of choice. I think it’s the sort of fear you want, rather than the sort to run away from.

  • AndyKrouwel

    Tee Hee. He said ‘privvy’.

  • AndyKrouwel

    Hmmm. Instant Karma has just been perpetrated. A lightning induced power cut has just reset my PC. Justice is served.

  • Victoria

    I meant on the plane. You big girl, writing poetry about storms. You’ll be running away from spiders next.

  • Kieron Gillen

    It was aces. Woke me up at four with a start – I’d only got to sleep at 3 – and caused me to move panickedly around to work out what was going on.

    Then I realised the Gods were angry.


  • Charybdis

    Hah – likewise. Just noticed John had blogged this too.

  • MHW

    “I wish I had the words to share how storms make me feel.” I think you just did.

  • Tom

    I like the idea that basically the whole of Bath was up at 4am watching this. The flash woke me up, whereupon I noticed it had been raining on my face for some time (my bed is below a window), just before the noise hit. I really wanted to sit up with a cup of weirdo tea or something and listen to it – or go out in it – but I was insanely tired and had to get up insanely early because I’d been insanely tired that evening and had fallen asleep without doing the freelance work I’d suddenly discovered had to be in the next morning. I should have done it anyway, of course – this post makes that much obvious.

    There should be some kind of tradition or ritual that people are supposed to do when a thunderstorm wakes them up in the middle of the night, maybe something taking advantage of the fact that everyone else is up too. I suggest Thunderstorm Badmington on The Crescent.

  • John

    A thousand points for “Badmington”.

  • Kieron Gillen

    I prefer sex with strangers.

    But what can we do during thunderstorms?


  • Nick Mailer

    Sex with lightning. Electrophilia. Make sure the latex is very thick.

  • Jonty

    It was noisy. But I watched anyway.

  • Jonty

    (the storm, I mean)

  • Iain

    I love thunderstorms too. We had a couple of big ones when I was in France last week. Being a Physicist I know that thunderstorms are created by nothing more than ice and water particles having a boogie and exchanging electrons within the clouds, but I still can’t take my eyes off them.

    The best thunderstorm I was ever in was an absolute tempest when I was at university in Leicester. I went out into it with an Australian girl who was crashing at my shared house, and we lay out in the middle of Victoria Park, getting soaked to the bone and watching the lightning crash around us. In retrospect, it was an utterly stupid thing to do, but it was absolutely thrilling. I remember running back home with her screaming with laughter and exhilaration, watching the water stream down the gutters about three inches deep. An awesome experience, one of those things you never forget.