The Great Storm

by Robert Williams

Des and Mick were sitting around in Mrs Greasy's cafe as usual, one Monday morning in mid-October.

"Goodness, look at the date," said Mick, as he noticed the date on his newspaper. "It's exactly thirty years since the Great Storm of 1987!"

"So it is!" said Des. "1987, what great days they were. Mainly because we hadn't met Mrs Greasy yet."

"Or Clive," said Mick. "Or Dickie, Mike, Tracy, Fred or Pierre-Jean."

"Do you remember what we were up to on the night of the Great Storm?" said Des.

"Oh god, how could I forget..." groaned Mick.

The picture goes all wavy, and we find ourselves back in time, just over thirty years in the past. It's Saturday 10th October 1987, where we find the younger versions of Des and Mick sitting in the cafe. Not Mrs Greasy's cafe in Tolworth - this was Mrs Spoons's cafe in Chelmsford, where they lived at the time. The cafe is busy with customers, and Rick Astley's recent hit single 'Never Gonna Give You Up' is blaring out of the radio. As Mick mentioned, they had yet to meet many of the regular gang, although they did know Wayne, Farmer Files and Dave Presley, along with Des's Aunty Phyllis of course. Not only that, it's hard to believe, but Mick was still married, to Nora, and equally hard to believe, he had a full-time job working at the Sunset Insurance Company, where his boss was Doug Whitehouse. Des, on the other hand, was already of man of leisure, and was already spending his vast fortune on pointless rubbish...

"I do enjoy coming to Mrs Spoons's cafe every morning," said Des. "The food is excellent! Why do you only come here at the weekends, Mick?"

"Might be something to do with me having a full-time job?" said Mick. "Something you would know very little about."

"Oh yes, of course," said Des. "I can't understand why Wayne keeps coming here when he hates the food so much!"

"Goodness, look at the date," said Mick, as he noticed the date on his newspaper. "It's exactly thirty years since this day in 1957!"

"So it is!" said Des. "1957, what great days they were. Mainly because we hadn't met Farmer Files yet."

"Or Dave," said Mick. "Or Nora, or Doug..."

The picture goes all wavy, and we find ourselves back in time, just over thirty years in the past. It's Saturday 5th October 1957, where we find the younger versions of Des and Mick sitting in the cafe...wait a minute, we haven't got time for this! Back to 1987!

"Hey Mick, have you seen the new Doctor Who, Sylvester McCoy?" said Des.

"No, I don't watch it, I've been watching that programme about agriculture on BBC2," said Mick.

"It's not as good as when Timmy Mallet was in it," said Des. "Hey, you'll never guess what I've bought this week!"

"What is it this time?" sighed Mick.

"Not one, not two, but three new things!" said Des. "First of all, I've bought a new shed!"

"Oh yes, I've seen that out of my bedroom window," said Mick. "I take it you haven't put it up properly yet?"

"What are you talking about?!" said Des. "Of course I have, I did it all myself!!"

"I can believe that," said Mick. "The walls are all leaning inwards and the roof looks like it's about to fall off!"

"Oh all right, I'll have another go at it later in the week," said Des. "I've also bought a new car! Well, I didn't really want to, but Mark the Mild-Mannered Mechanic failed the MOT on my Fiat 126! Can you believe it, there wasn't that much wrong with it, I mean one of the headlamps still worked, and the windscreen wipers worked as long as it wasn't raining! If only we knew a mechanic in the area who would pass the MOT on my car regardless, if I paid him enough..."

"What have you bought this time?" asked Mick.

"I thought about it very carefully, weighed up all the options, and bought a Fiat 126!" said Des. Mick rolled his eyes.

"And what is the third thing you've bought?" asked Mick.

"I've decided that, since it's the 1980s now, to get myself my very own computer!!" said Des, excitedly.

"A computer?!" exclaimed Mick. "What on earth do you want one of those for?! Where have you put it?"

"In the living room," said Des. "Also in the dining room, the kitchen, the garage and all of my bedrooms. It's a mainframe, you see. State of the art technology! Apparently, it can do as many as five calculations per minute!!" Mick rolled his eyes again.

"And what are you planning to use it for?" asked Mick.

"The very first thing I've asked it is what the weather is going to be like on Thursday and Friday," said Des. "For our camping trip!"

"Oh god, our camping trip," groaned Mick.

For some reason, Des had organised a camping trip near the south coast for himself, Mick, and Mick's colleague from work, the Elvis-impersonator Dave Presley.

"Looking forward to it?" said Des.

"Oh yes, yes, of course I am," muttered Mick.

Mick certainly wasn't looking forward to it. He really didn't want to go at all, but the Mick of 1987 was too polite to say so.

"So did your computer say the weather was going to be like?" asked Mick.

"It hasn't come out with an answer yet," said Des. "Give it a chance, I only asked it a couple of days ago."

"We could just watch the weather forecast..." muttered Mick.

Thursday morning soon came, and Mick was at home, getting ready to leave for work. He had booked a half day's holiday, as well as the whole of the following day, for the camping trip.

"Look, if you really don't want go on this trip, why don't you just tell him!" exclaimed Mick's wife, Nora. "It's time you asserted yourself!"

"Yes," said Mick. "Yes, I think I will! I'll ring him up when I get to work, and tell him I'm not coming!"

"Good!" said Nora. "And another thing, when are you going to ask Mr Whitehouse for a pay rise?" Nora was always badgering Mick about asking for a pay rise. "It's high time you had one! Then we could afford to buy all those nice things that everyone else has these days, like a video recorder, and a compact disc player! You could buy me the new compact disc by Des O'Connor!"

"Yes, yes, all right, I promise I'll ask for a pay rise!" said Mick.

"And don't forget I'll be out tonight, I'm going to visit my sister, remember?" said Nora. "So don't let Mr Whitehouse invite himself round for dinner, or you'll have to cook it yourself!"

Mick's boss, Doug Whitehouse, had a habit of inviting himself round for dinner a short notice, which would invariably mean Doug would get whatever Mick was going to have, and Mick would end up with sandwiches.

"No I won't," said Mick. "Goodbye!"

Mick set off for work. Meanwhile next door, Des was being awoken by the sound of his doorbell. He stumbled down the stairs in his pyjamas and opened the front door. Standing there was his Aunty Phyllis.

"Aunty Phyllis!" he said, surprised. "What are you doing here?!"

"I have come to visit, just as I informed you I would," said Phyllis, in her usual haughty manner. "Did you not receive my telegram?!"

"I don't think so?" said Des

The main reason for Des not receiving Phyllis's telegram was that British Telecom had withdrawn the telegram service five years earlier.

"I suppose you had better come in..." mumbled Des, but Phyllis had already bustled past him.

"What on earth is all this junk?!" exclaimed Phyllis, walking into Des's living room to be confronted by several large metal boxes containing reels of tape whirring round and round.

"Oh, that's my new computer," said Des.

"You do spend your money on some rubbish," said Phyllis. "I cannot even see anywhere to sit down!"

"I had to move the settee into the shed to make space," said Des. "The armchair's still there, you can sit down there."

Phyllis located the armchair which was hidden behind part of the computer.

"And where will you sit?" asked Phyllis.

"Oh, um...I wasn't expecting visitors...I suppose I'll just have to stand..."

"What is that noise?" said Phyllis.

They heard what sounded like a teleprinter.

"Ah!!" exclaimed Des. "At last!!"

He hurried into the dining room, where a printed piece of paper was emerging from the computer. When Des saw what was printed upon it, he gasped.

"A hurricane!!!" he exclaimed. "There's going to be a hurricane!!!!"

"A hurricane?!" said Phyllis, incredulously.

"I'll have to cancel the camping trip!" said Des. "We can't go if there's going to be a hurricane! I'd better ring Mick, he is going to be so disappointed!!"

But Phyllis had got to the telephone first.

"Hello, operator? Get me the BBC immediately...hello, is that the BBC? I have just heard that apparently there is a hurricane on the way..."

Meanwhile, Mick had arrived at his desk at the offices of the Sunset Insurance Company.

"Right, before I do anything else, I'm going to ring Des and tell him I'm not going on his stupid camping trip!"

He put his hand on the telephone receiver, and was just about to pick it up when it started ringing. He picked up the receiver.

"Hello Mick, it's me," said Des, for it was him on the line. "Bad news, I'm afraid, I've just heard that apparently there's a hurricane on the way, so I'm afraid I think it would be best if we cancelled the camping trip. Sorry, I know how much of a disappointment that's going to be."

"Oh...yes, that's awful news, I'm devastated," lied Mick.

Heaving a sigh of relief, Mick then went to see Doug Whitehouse, but unfortunately he was in meetings all morning. Just before Mick was about to go home for lunch, Doug came over to his desk.

"Hello Mick, have you got time for a quick word?" said Doug.

"Oh yes, there was something I wanted to ask you about," said Mick.

"I wanted to say that I have been most impressed with your work recently," said Doug. "You are a real asset to the company. So to reward you for your work, I feel now would be the right time to offer you..."

Mick's eyes lit up. Was he finally about to get what he really wanted?

"...a computer!"

Mick's heart sank.

"A computer?!" he exclaimed.

"Yes, a computer, on your desk!" said Doug. "We've sold our old mainframe! You'll be one of the first employees in the company to have a desktop computer!"

"Oh whoopee," muttered Mick.

"Now what was it you wanted to talk to me about?" asked Doug.

"Oh, nothing, nothing," said Mick.

"Excellent," said Doug. "To celebrate, how about I come round yours for dinner tonight?"

"Oh no, that wouldn't be convenient, Nora is going round her sister's tonight," said Mick.

"No matter, I'll come round for lunch instead!" said Doug.

Mick sighed. They were about to leave when they heard a ringing sound.

"Hold on, I'll be with you in a moment," said Doug, producing a large black brick-like object from his pocket.

"What's that?!" said Mick.

"It's my new mobile phone," said Doug. "I understand Mr Ernie Wise uses one."

"Mobile phone?!" said Mick. "That'll never catch on, mark my words!"

"No I'm Doug Whitehouse," said Doug. "Mark Mywords is that new chap in accounts."

Once Doug had finished his call, they went to Mick's house, where Wayne was outside cleaning the windows. Nora gave Mick a dirty look when she saw who he had brought home.

Before long, Doug and Nora were enjoying their cooked steak, while Mick had a cheese sandwich. Suddenly they heard a loud crash. A bucket came crashing through the window, along with shards of glass.

"Whoops!" exclaimed Wayne.

Doug, Mick and Nora jumped up to the window.

"I must say I'm most impressed," said Doug.

"What?!" exclaimed Mick. "But he's broken the window pane!!"

"I know, but the pane next to it has been most expertly cleaned!" said Doug. "I must offer this window cleaner a contract at our office!"

Mick grumbled as he was lumbered with clearing up the mess.

Next door at Des's house, meanwhile, Des was also grumbling, because Aunty Phyllis was making him watch the 'One O'Clock News' - standing up.

"Oh Aunty Phyllis, can't I watch 'Bertha' on BBC2?!" moaned Des.

"No, we must watch the news, it is good for you!" said Phyllis. "Then we shall watch the weather forecast, and see if there is any truth about your hurricane!"

Once the news had finished, Michael Fish appeared on the screen with the weather forecast.

"Good afternoon," said Michael. "Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard that there was a hurricane on the way..."

"Aunty Phyllis!" exclaimed Des. "You're famous!!"

"Well," continued Michael, "if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't."

"WHAT?!?!?!?" exclaimed Des. "You mean my computer got it wrong?!?!?! Well that was a waste of £15!! I think I'll chuck the whole thing out!! So there's not going to be a hurricane? This changes everything! Sorry Aunty Phyllis, I'm going next door to see Mick!!"

Des hurried off next door, leaving a bemused Aunty Phyllis watching the remainder of the weather forecast in which Michael Fish said that it was actually going to be quite windy, and rainy as well. He rang Mick's doorbell, and Mick answered the door.

"Great news, Mick!" declared Des. "There isn't going to be a hurricane after all, so the camping trip is back on! Coming??"

"Umm...yes!" said Mick, seeing as the alternative was to spend the rest of the afternoon clearing up after Wayne.

Before long, Des and Mick had packed their things, and loaded them onto the roof rack of Des's new Fiat 126 - which was actually a year older than his previous Fiat 126. They were joined by Dave Presley, who sat in the back seat, and they were on their way.

"I'll put the radio on," said Des. He put Radio 1 on, and they listened to the Gary Davies show. "I love these new jingles - 'Britain's favourite Radio 1'!"

To Mick and Dave's horror, Des started singing along to the jingles.

They hadn't got very far on their journey before they came up against a familiar obstruction - Farmer Files was taking his pigs for a walk. Des waved his fist and tooted his horn.

"Oi, Farmer Files, get your pigs out the way!!" he exclaimed.

"Oooooh arrrrrr!!!" exclaimed Farmer Files. "Where you be goin'?!"

"We be goin' camping!" said Des.

"Oooooh arrrrrr!!! Oi love campin', can oi come?!"

Des sighed. Farmer Files coming camping meant all his pigs coming camping as well. They waited as Files fetched a trailer, attached it to the back of Des's Fiat 126, and herded all the pigs into it. He then went to get into the front passenger seat, where Mick was sitting.

"Oooooh arrrrr!! Move into the back, Mick, make way for Farmer Foiles!!"

"But there's no room in the back, Dave is so wide he's taking up the entire seat!" protested Mick.

Nevertheless, Mick was forced to squeeze in next to Dave on the back seat. Des then tried to start his car again - but it wouldn't.

"I can't understand this, I only bought this brand new secondhand car the other day!!" exclaimed Des. "I'll have to ring the AA."

"Oooooh arrrrrr!!! Oi 'aven't touched a drop!!" exclaimed Files.

"Not that AA!!" said Des.

Eventually, the AA got the car going, and they were on their way once more. Before long, they approached the M25, which had only been open in its entirety for about a year.

"Great news," said Des. "We are about to head onto the M25! Thanks to this exciting new road, traffic congestion is now a thing of the past!!"

It wasn't long before they were stuck in a massive traffic jam. Then when they finally cleared the jam, Des missed the turn-off for the M23.

"Whoops!" said Des. "Looks like we'll have to go round again!"

To Mick's incredulity, Des seemed to believe the M25 was some kind of massive roundabout, and so took them the entire way round the motorway, and getting them stuck in the same traffic jam all over again. This time, however, Des actually managed to turn off at the right junction.

"It's going to be dark by the time we get there," grumbled Mick.

By the time they finally reached the campsite near the south coast, it was indeed dark.

"There's no one else here, looks like we've got the place to ourselves!" said Des, as they drove into the campsite.

"It's getting a bit blowy," said Des. "Nothing to worry about, it's not as if there's going to be a hurricane or anything!"

They tried putting their tent up, which was no mean task considering it was dark, getting windy, and there were various pigs roaming about. Once the tent was up, they tried getting inside, which was no mean task in itself, considering they had an extra unexpected guest, and that Dave was so large.

"Have a great night, everyone!" said Des.

They awoke early the next morning.

"Ah, what a great night's sleep," said Des, opening his eyes and seeing the open sky above him. "That's funny, I thought we spent the night in a tent."

"So did I, man," said Dave Presley, whose quiff was slightly messed up.

"Ooooh arrrrr!! So did oi!!" said Farmer Files.

"What about you, Mick?" said Des. "Mick? He's not there, where's he gone?!" He rose from the sleeping position. "And where did that tree come from?!"

A massive tree was lying across the ground, right in front of them. He looked round, and another massive tree lay behind them.

"Wow, that was a lucky escape!" said Des. "Oh look, here comes Mick!" An extremely windswept and bedraggled Mick came staggering towards them. "Had a good night, Mick? I slept like a log!"

"Good night?!?!" exclaimed a furious Mick. "Slept like a log?!?! How could you have slept through that racket?!?!?!?!"

"Was a bit windy last night?" said Des. "I did hear a bit of a noise, but I assumed it just was Farmer Files snoring."

"For your information, I didn't sleep a wink!!!" exclaimed Mick, angrily.

"Where did our tent go?" said Des.

"I don't know, probably out to sea, I expect!!" exclaimed Mick. "I spent the night looking for shelter, unsuccessfully!"

"You could have got into the car," said Des.

"It's a good thing I didn't!" said Mick. "Look!"

He pointed over at Des's car - which had been destroyed by a huge tree crashing onto it.

"Oh!" said Des. "How are we going to get home? Could we phone for a taxi?"

"You'll be lucky," said Mick. "Telephone lines are down, power lines are down. If only we had a mobile phone, like Mr Whitehouse."

"A mobile phone?!?!" said Des. "What's one of those?!?!"

"Never mind that, what are we going to do?!" said Mick.

"Oooooh arrrrrr!!! Oi 'ave an oidea!!" said Farmer Files. "We 'ave a trailer, we 'ave moi porkers!!"

"And?" said Mick. "You're going to get them to pull us home in the trailer?!"

"Oooooh arrrrrr!!!"

That's actually what happened. Farmer Files rounded up his pigs and fetched some leashes which he happened to have in the trailer. Des, Mick, Files and Dave climbed into the trailer, and the pigs began to pull the trailer along the road. It was quite a sight for passers-by.

As they travelled home, they witnessed scenes of devastation everywhere they looked. Fallen trees were strewn everywhere. Buildings were damaged, cars were wrecked, and caravans and mobile homes had been destroyed. Debris lay everywhere.

The journey back to Chelmsford took many hours, partly due to trees blocking the roads, partly because they were in a trailer pulled by pigs, and partly because they unnecessarily travelled clockwise round the M25.

When they finally got home late that afternoon, they found the entire street had no electricity. As Des got out of his car, he saw Aunty Phyllis walking up the street.

"Where have you been, Aunty Phyllis?"

"I have been on a visit to the Meteorological Office to file an official complaint about their failure to forecast this storm," said Phyllis. "I had intended to confront Mr Fish himself, but I was unable to locate him."

"I expect he has gone into hiding," said Des.

"I did, however, happen across the Scottish gentleman, Mr McCaskill," continued Phyllis, "who I understand was about to make a live televisual broadcast on the news."

"What did you say to him?" said Des.

"Nothing, I just threw a glass of water at him."

Phyllis went inside to make a cup of tea, while Des had a look around to see if there had been any damage.

"Well, my house seems to have emerged unscathed," said Des. He went into the back garden. "Oh no, my new shed's collapsed! All the walls have fallen down! But where has the roof gone?"

He looked round, and was shocked to see that the roof of his shed had crashed right through Mick's bedroom window! He hurried round to Mick's house and rang the doorbell.

"Hello Mick, have you noticed..." began Des.

"Yes, I've noticed," said Mick, seething.

He took Des upstairs, and showed him his devastated bedroom. The shed roof had crashed right into the room and right into his bed!

"Oh my goodness Mick, I saved your life!!!" exclaimed Des. "If I hadn't invited you on that camping trip, you'd have been sleeping right there when this happened!!"

"Yes," said Mick. "Except that if you had put that shed together properly, the roof might not have flown off in the first place!!!"

"Yes, well," said Des. "I think I'll leave you to it, I've got plenty to do..."

Des went outside and tried reconstructing his shed, without any success. Then he threw out his mainframe computer, and then headed straight to Mark's Mild-Mannered Motors to purchase another Fiat 126. He drove it back to Mrs Spoons's cafe, where Mick and Wayne were being served cold food by candlelight.

"Be careful of those candles," said Mick to Wayne.

"What?" said Wayne, knocking several candles over.

It wasn't long before the much-loved Mrs Spoons's cafe had been entirely gutted by fire.

"That's it then," said Mrs Spoons. "My cafe is destroyed. I'm giving up the cafe business and retiring."

"But you can't!" said Des.

"I'm sure the cafe will be rebuilt," said Mrs Spoons, "but they'll have to find someone else to run it."

"I wonder who it will be?" said Des. "They'll never be as good a cook as you!"

That might be an understatement...

Image and video copyright © British Broadcasting Corporation 1987, Radio 1 jingle © copyright JAM Creative Productions 1987

Story copyright © Robert Williams

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