Unexpected lightning

I always knew that one day the roof would go. It was an old house, solid stone, well-weathered, the floors were sound and even though the windows rattled in the wind, it was a good building. Now the rafters were in good shape, but many of the slates had become dislodged (and whilst I could climb up and put them back, the effort and my inbuilt fear of heights meant that I often left it a while).

The slates were nailed to the laths with copper nails, old fashioned and expensive, but in places the slim timbers had given way under duress. Each time I'd shinned up the ladder to inspect and repair, I knew I was just putting off the inevitable day.

The day of the storm, I sat inside, hearing the wind conspiring with the driving rain to undo my security and warm, dry peace. The house had its own language, creaking and groaning, shaking and shuddering under the combined assault from the elements. I listened to these ancient enemies fighting their centuries-old battle, and shivered with each new attack, my book forgotten in my lap as I watched the artillery flashes in the distance, and hoped that we'd survive the barrage.

The storm finished, I walked out after a few minutes to survey the damage, watching the retreating army leave the clear, blue sky behind, and stepped out into the garden to get a view of the roof. Yah. Slipped slates, they'd need fixing. I stood for a moment, and clearly recall hearing the very air sigh just before the

       that lit
             and shocked
         cracked vision
  the thunder
      raked my chest

The Science

A thundercloud carries an electrical charge different from that in the surrounding air and the Earth. This is simple, everyone knows this. Lightning is the discharge that occurs between cloud and ground, a core of electricity with a temperature of around 27,500°C (50,000°F) and it can cause immense damage to property or people.

Generally, this strike occurs in small steps, small fractions of a second apart, as the charges between ground and cloud seek to equalize, and they normally happen as the cloud is roughly overhead. There are however occasions when the discharge begins at the side of the cloud, and moves out into the clear air behind the storm.

This bolt can move sideways for many miles (studies have shown that anything up to 25 miles is possible) before arcing down to strike the ground. From the observer's standpoint on the ground, the storm could be miles away, possibly even over the horizon, the sky could be blue and clear. The birds could be singing and the air fresh and light, but the strike point could be very close indeed.

Given the number of deaths from lightning each year (c. 1,000) it is unlikely that a bolt from the blue will kill you. It will, however, scare the living daylights out of you, so suprising is it.

The Idiom

Little wonder then, that we describe totally unforeseen events as "a bolt from the blue", or "coming out of the blue". Many things are shocking and difficult to deal with, but the impact they have is all the greater for being so unexpected. The shock of a sudden death, job loss or similar crisis may cause massive trauma and disorientation, which in turn can trigger depression and worse.

The unexpected hits us harder simply for being unexpected. Shock, awe and denial become the order of the day, and you sit, stunned and immobile, oblivious for a while to reality.

Then there are the good things which can equally strike us down. Think of the last time a loved one gave you a gift which touched you so much that you had to sit down. Or they said something which moved you with such feeling that your knees turned to jelly.

Or how about a chance meeting, a stranger on the train. And you talk, and talk and talk and talk and...BANG! From out of the peace of fascinating conversation comes the intense feeling of closeness that rocks your world.

When it happens to you, and you tell others the story, they won't believe you, just as a lightning bolt from a clear summer sky seems just too incredible.

Beware, things are not always how they seem to be.

The house story isn't really mine, it belongs to a friend
The grundoon part is true