Single exposure: high winds in Halifax as White Juan batters Novia Scotia, February 2004
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How bad weather brings out the best in us

Sometimes, when the wind hits hard and icicles form on the sea cliffs, we can all come together – and at those times we are at our best. 

There is a red sandy beach in the Minas Basin in Nova Scotia that is unlike any other shore landscape I have ever seen. The world’s highest tides wash its shores and the soft cliffs of Blomidon Provincial Park are constantly crumbling away; whole trees will occasionally slide downto the sea to decay slowly in the wind and brine.

In mid-March this year, as I made my way across the sands with friends, it was the brutal cold that was most striking, the beach blanketed with elegant, mackerel-patterned waves of snow, the wind whipping around the cliff as hard as iron and spotted with flecks of eroded sandblast, so it felt as if someone was throwing tin tacks into our faces whenever we turned to gaze out over the strand. Most impressively of all, huge, silvery icicles, often 20 feet or more in length, hung glittering from the cliff face like the pipes of some great church organ.

I suppose those icicles should have provided fair warning of what was to come but this was my first visit to the area and, forever the optimist, I had forgotten that the weather elsewhere is not always as polite as it tends to be at home. It was not long before more signs and portents cropped up and soon people were speculating how powerful the coming storm would be (not long after my walk at
Blomidon, heavy winds destroyed the 140-year-old lighthouse at Church Point in the south and more than 16,000 Nova Scotians suffered power outages).

What was most interesting was how my friends and their neighbours were so quick to recall the great blizzard of February 2004, nicknamed “White Juan”, when a metre of snow fell on Shearwater in less than two days and the entire province was brought to a standstill – not because they relished the drama of losing heat and light for up to a week but because any reminder of those difficult times also brought back memories of everyday kindnesses and courtesies, extraordinary stories of neighbour rescuing neighbour from potential disaster and, most important of all, that solidly egalitarian frame of mind that arises in times of hardship, bringing people together to work for a common good against a shared threat.

As it happened, this spring’s storm did not emulate White Juan’s fierceness but it did provoke, in one visitor at least, a nostalgia for those values and courtesies that usually go under the name of “community” in places that are close enough to one natural hazard or another to require a genuine communal ethic.

For too long, in my neck of the woods, the word “community” has been a buzzword for politicians and flimflam men, a fraud by which the privileged few openly pretend that the benefits of some dubious development will be available to all. What I heard in Nova Scotia suggested that there are still groups that, in times of hardship or severe unpredictability, worked together in a truly communal manner. But then, perhaps that kind of action defines the limit of community as a way of living: real communities form to guard against hazard or need and, when they work, they include the entire population that is exposed to those hazards.

At less demanding times, however, community may well be no more than a convenient myth, cover for those who would deny the role of society in sustaining an egalitarian, just populace. Sometimes, when the wind hits hard and icicles form on the sea cliffs, we can all come together – and at those times we are at our best. Nobody is at his or her best all the time, though, and after the storm has abated, a little everyday vigilance – and native scepticism – goes a long way in separating the communal from the cynical rhetoric of high-sounding opportunists. 

This article first appeared in the 10 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Tech Issue

Steve Garry
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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism