First, watch this.
I heard the first rumble of thunder at about eleven o’clock. I had been out with friends, sitting in an olive-tree-lined square where fountains played. The temperature was balmy, there was no indication of what was to come. I returned at ten, watched the weather forecast and settled down with a DVD. It was supposed to rain the following day, which was a shame, as I was planning to go up to the Sierra de Grazalema to do some research for my book. We would see.
The thunder sounded again, nearer this time. I removed my headphones (it was Tuesday night and neighbours had to get up for work the following day). No, there was no rain, but it was definitely thunder.
The DVD finished and I made ready for bed. Was that someone on my neighbour’s roof terrace with a flash light? I looked out of a window on to our shared courtyard. No, it was recurring bursts of sheet lightning. There was lowering cloud cover in all directions as far as I could see and the luminescence was almost constant, heightened by flashes close by. Nearly as light as day, it was midnight.
An hour later I was awoken by the most tremendous crash. Through the gaps in the shutters at the French doors, bright flashes lit the bedroom. I tried counting, as I had done when a child, the seconds between the lightning’s flash and the thunder’s roll, to determine how far away it was. But it was hopeless, both seemed continuous. I rose and opened a window on to the patio. The light was electric sharp, a cold white casting the blackest of shadows. Deep distant thunder formed a bass line, as the crash and rattle of the melody broke immediately overhead.
Then the rain came. Torrents of it, battering like tumbling stones on to the roof, but not stopping. I should have opened the storm drains, I thought, the better to allow water to drain from the flat roof. Too late, going on to the roof now would be madness. I stayed in the dry, lying awake, listening out for any tell-tale drips. There was a lessening of noise and I drifted off.
Another huge crack jolted me from sleep. The clock said 2.20. This storm had been going on for hours. Rain was pounding down once more, drumming over my head. Still the lightning flicker lit the room, still the thunder rolled. Not for nothing did our ancient ancestors equate the tempest with wrath. No one could be sleeping. Dessun dorma. A whole town lying awake, listening to the storm.
In the morning the rain continued in a quiet shirr of falling water, not the pyrotechnics of the night before. In a break from the deluge I hurried out to buy a newspaper and some bread. There were floods on the Calle Larga, the main shopping street, many of the shops were inundated. Friends rose to find their courtyard full of mud and water. Cars had been carried away, the power was down in some barrios. In the countryside there were felled trees and impassable roads. It was to pour all day, there would be no trip to Grazalema. But the town sighed in relief, it could have been worse, it had sounded so much worse.
I have experienced storms before (and have written about them). In Cadiz and Jerez the Atlantic storms return every year, though this year there had been no rain to speak of since May. In northern Italy, the storms would arrive, timed to the minute every evening, when thunder rang around the mountains and lightning reflected on the lake. In twenty minutes it passed and the sky was blue again. None compared to last Tuesday night in Jerez.