Storms Isha and Jocelyn had a field day last week, leaving many parts of the rural community without at least one vital service.

Our own neighbourhood was without electricity relatively briefly, but found itself without a BT landline telephone or internet access for what seemed an eternity.

The mobile signal is poor, and access is intermittent regardless of the provider at the best of times along the Lough Shore, from Stewartstown to the Blackwater River.

A stranger passing through the ‘Low Country’ might wonder what the locals are up to as, mobile in hand, arm outstretched, they walk along slowly with intent, as if some new technology had been invented for water divining.

The joys of rural dwelling! We can and do prepare for the loss of access to electricity or water.

Unlike our urban neighbours, we are reasonably proficient and practiced in driving several miles on ‘never gritted’ ice rinks with potholes lurking below the surface.

We don’t have footpaths to worry about.

I have childhood memories living ‘in the town’. The local shopkeeper took pride and responsibility for that part of the public footpath that ran along their shop front.

Be it ice, snow, dust, litter or young people taking up room perched on the sill of the shop window, the removal of whatever limited access to the shop door was on the shop’s to-do list.

The general population adopted the same approach to that part of the public footpath which ran along the front of their house.

I don’t think it was the law, or that it mattered if you owned or rented the house. It was common practice on our estate.

People just did it, and often did the neighbour’s house while they were at it. It was part of your contribution to your neighbourhood.

Perhaps we could reclaim that part of our culture and heritage with as much energy as we defend our traditional ‘right’ to don regalia of all hues, and to march up and down summer roads for the general purpose of reminding other people of who the various ‘we’ are, and who ‘they’ are not.

Anyway – back to the internet, the broadband, the Wi-Fi, the mobile mast. It is all beyond our control.

Imagine, for a moment, how instantly any of us could become isolated to our detriment, left devoid of communication with others if the phones went down, the computers went down, and stayed down for more than a week!

What if you lost communication with everybody you knew and couldn’t walk to meet them, or catch a bus, or drive a car?

How could you ask someone to help if you were short of food, or the water pipe had burst, or a tree had fallen on your house and you were trapped in it?

What if you lived in Gaza? What if all that was happening when someone was dropping 200lb bombs on your housing estate, your town, your townland?

Storm Isha and Storm Jocelyn are what the insurers call ‘Acts of God’ – unforeseen or unforeseeable, but either way beyond our control.

What is happening in Gaza is not.


I had a copy of Paul Lynch’s Booker Prize novel, ‘Prophet Song’, which I wanted to read.

It won the coveted 2023 Booker Prize and came with my daughter’s recommendation, which I might rank just as highly.

Being without internet access due to the reasons cited above, I had no access to several online engagements, and it seemed like a good opportunity to take thing easy and read the book.

The story is set in Dublin at some point in the future – how far is not clear, and is not crucial to the specifics of the story itself.

It could as easily be set in the author’s home town of Belfast.

To be fair, my daughter had distinctly used the word “grim”, adding “but worth it” when giving me her copy to read.

I will add a health warning here that ‘grim’ may be an understatement, but the book is a masterpiece.

Beautifully written, it tells the story of a woman holding her family together the very best she knows how as the fabric of her society breaks down around her.

She is not ‘an economically disadvantaged, socially deprived’ woman with ‘low educational achievement’.

Nor is her personal world that of the elite and privileged. She is just an ordinary member of the professional ‘middle classes’, but as we all found out during Covid-19, a crisis that endures will reach everybody sooner or later.

Once I began to read, I found myself setting the book down only to breathe slowly several times, and rescue myself from the sense of being carried in the swirl of rising water heading I knew not where, but which gave no hint of being anywhere good.

I would then feel compelled to pick it up again, caught up in a growing urgency to stick with her, and see how she was coping, managing and surviving it all.

Having finished the book, but still without home access to the internet or the phone, I have begun to read it again almost like someone who goes back into the dark to prove to themselves they are not afraid of it, and to explore its magnitude and magnificence in that knowledge of not coming to harm.

The Marble Arch caves are a bit like that – you need to go down there twice!

Everybody who thinks that what happens outside your own comfort zone, to people you don’t know, is “none of your business” should read this book, in case some day it is your turn.

Every politician, political activist, civil servant, police officer, every teacher, trade unionist, butcher, baker and candlestick maker should read it.

It should be on the secondary school curriculum. There is still time.

But how much? How will we use it? That is the question.


Respect and Thanks to Children’s Law Centre, Belfast, who have taken legal action against the Northern Ireland Office for failure to properly protect children in Northern Ireland, especially those living with disability and socio-economic disadvantage. More on that, next week, folks.