Zap!

It’s not safe to be near me. But you’ve already gathered that, haven’t you? You’re just here because you want to know why I’m standing on a mountain with a lightning rod in my hand? Well, I’ll make this quick, because lightning can jump, and trust me, so will you if I get a decent dose of the stuff.

I love weather. Especially extreme weather. If it’s wild, I want to be in it. And I don’t mean looking at it through some suffocating double-glazed window, either. I mean in it. Part of it. I want to be wet, I want to blown away, I want the hair on the back of my neck prickling with static charge. I want hailstones stinging my head and bouncing like lottery balls around my feet. I want to smell it, I want that fresh earth and wet smell up my nostrils and in my head. You haven’t been alive until you’ve been out in a storm. Ever walked along sea cliffs in a raging gale? It’s Viagra for the senses!

When I was a kid we had a freak storm, with hailstones the size of golf balls. They smashed up the roof of my mum and dad’s carport. We kept a hailstone in the freezer for weeks and when we cut it in half you could see all the different layers of ice and frozen snow. Ever since then I’ve been hooked on weather.

As a student I took a gap year and went to the States. I was supposed to be working my way round but I ended up in Kansas and fell in with a gang of storm chasers, you know, like the ones on TV. I met Liz who was probably the craziest of the lot, and they were all pretty barmy. Do you know what it’s like to be naked in an electrical storm? I spent the summer with Liz finding out.

We went charging round the Mid-West looking for twisters and thunderstorms and flash-floods, anything we could find that was dangerous. We got into some serious scrapes. Did you see that CNN report last year, the one where a Category Five picked up a farm and dumped it in the Missouri? That’s us running from the flying cow. We escaped, but the guy milking it wasn’t so lucky.

Me and Liz ended up in Vegas and we got married in that Elvis Presley chapel. That was crazy! She had a twister tattoo on her bum, so I got one on mine. We bungee-jumped off Grand Canyon and camped in the desert, although Liz teased me about snakes. I don’t like snakes. In the evenings we watched the lightning over the Rockies. Liz showed me that storms are romantic as well as crash bang wallop. Me and Liz, we couldn’t get enough of them.

Oh, wait a minute. Hear that? Thunder. And not far away, either. I’d better get on with it because you need to be getting out of here.

Me and Liz went round the world looking for extreme weather. Did you know there’s a region in Venezuela that has more lightning strikes per square inch than any other place on the planet? We camped there. In the Andes there’s a lightning study station with conductor rods and metal towers on different summits to encourage the stuff. We stayed there too.

I haven’t told you, have I? Liz got struck by lightning when she was young. She was mowing her mum’s lawn. Pretty stupid I reckon, but she said it was a beautiful day. She said that’s quite common in the States, clear skies and lightning. It burned her hands where she held the mower, and she got this weird white streak in her hair. You can’t deny the scar, or the hair, but I don’t believe the clear sky bit. When I asked her what it felt like, she said it was like a little piece of her got zapped and taken to Heaven. I thought maybe her brain had been zapped. Anyway, she was always telling this story, and people were impressed, and it got under my skin so much I started carrying round a television aerial I nicked from my Uncle Harry’s caravan. I took that bloody thing everywhere we went camping and never once got hit! But it was handy for drying clothes.

Ooh, lightning! Coming this way, I reckon. And there’s the thunder. You can feel it, can’t you, in your bones, like raw energy…

The irony is, it was only when Liz decided we needed to settle down and get proper jobs that she died. We were probably on our last jaunt, in Uganda – they have thunderstorms on 250 days of the year. This bolt of lightning hit a tree, which came down and smashed our jeep. I couldn’t get Liz out. It took two days for someone to come and cut her free. I stayed with her and kept the animals away. All the storm chasers went to the funeral, and they built her a little windmill instead of a headstone because she always insisted she didn’t want a dirty great lump of rock as a testimony to her life.

I only chase storms for one thing now – to get hit by lightning. I’ve been struck six times. Word of advice: don’t get hit when you’re wet. It makes a mess of your shoes and hurts like hell. They say it’s fatal 1 in 10 times, so I reckon my time is due. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not depressed. It’s just I’d like to think Liz was right, that each time you’re hit a little piece of you goes to Heaven. Liz is there now, and I want to be with her again. I miss her.

There! Feel that? The hairs standing up? This is it! Stand back! Stand back! Lightning will jump, remember, and I don’t want you stealing it from me.

Hang on up there, Liz! I’m on my way!

  • Copyright Phil Thomas, all rights reserved

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