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Germaine Greer's battle with the country wind

Blog | By Germaine Greer | Jul 23, 2021

Germaine Greer's troubles continue - this time Mother Nature is the adversary

'That ruddy wind won’t leave anything alone’ said David mildly as it plucked the cap off his head and lobbed it the length of the orchard. He was kneeling in mashed nettles doing something to the Westwood ride-on tractor which, as is its wont when there is work to do, had broken down. Before he had scrambled to his feet his cap was scudding along on the goose-pond and could not be retrieved until it beached like a tweed dinghy in the debris of petals, new leaves, straw, feathers and minced grass piled up at the east end of the pond. The hens were sitting together in a sandy hole, impersonating an ostrich with its head in the sand. Their chicks peeped out now and then at the roaring, flapping, straining world beyond their feathered snuggery but, as they still weigh rather less than a tweed cap, none was allowed to test its strength against the wind. The cockerel’s majestic green-black tail offered so much resistance that the wind made him mince along crabwise, facing permanently south-west like a weather-cock.

Elsewhere the country was experiencing high winds and heavy rain; at The Mills we got only the wind. Three days of calm, too-hot weather were followed hard upon by the penalty, a rapid cold air- stream. Great shudders wrinkled the cornfields, as the wind tore through the new green, fraying and rending the edges of the millions of brave new leaves that had pushed out in the still warmth. Wind is the driving force of weather and I try very hard to accept it in the same way that I accept and even welcome any other kind of weather. I bethink me of Freud’s remark, that there is no inclement weather, only unsuitable clothing, put on my stout drill cover-all, cram my trilby on my head and stomp down my fields against the wind, hardly able to see for the salt rheum stung from my eyes. I expend energy even trying to breathe, as the blast slams against my rib-cage and pulls at my cheeks. My nose drips.

Wind is the usual state of affairs at The Mills, so I try to keep to the work schedule of a normal day, but every job takes so much longer when whatever you are not actually holding must be weighted or lashed down. No plants can be raised or divided or potted on; nothing can be pruned or tied in. If I work in the framehouse the constant drumming of the plastic seems to suck the brains out of my head. I cannot go in and out of the greenhouse because the door has to be braced shut from inside. When the door is opened the wind slams in like a water hose and pushes more panes off the roof. The geese have settled on the warm new grass (their innards simmering the same warm new grass), tucked their heads under their wings, and gone fast asleep. I too should crawl under my eiderdown and let the roar pass over my head.

All around me stand my pathetic attempts at wind-breaks. To the north stands a double line of Leyland cypresses, that I mean to allow to grow until they blot out the orange light from the roundabout. As the Mil-All is to be raised we do not know how much above the present road bed, it will probably be many years before we are allowed to experience night once more. The cypresses soak up the north wind fairly adequately, but the truth is that the wind seldom blows from the north and we lie in the lee of a crest on that side in any event.

An effective wind-break along the southern perimeter of my land would have to be so tall that it would hide the sun from us more than half the days of the year. The farmer has kindly agreed to let the hedges round my property grow as tall as they can, so they make overarching tunnels of hawthorn and elder, but the winds sweep up and thump over them with added rather than abated ferocity. Virtually all our wind leaps upon us from the south-west, funnelled in the direction of The Mills by the motorway cuttings and the valley of the Cam. Nothing seems able to sop it up; instead it bounces and ricochets from obstacle to obstacle, losing little if any of its momentum. When the booming airstream fetches up in the front courtyard of the main house, it eddies everlastingly, setting the plants in the winter border spinning like tops. Every spring I find dozens of plants whose roots have been snapped one by one so that they come up out of the soil like toothpicks out of a piece of cheese. Happiest are the plants that creep down under the soil and leave no top growth to be worried and waggled by the south-westerlies.

The fact that my wind cannot be broken does not mean that I have given up planting wind-breaks. There is an avenue of limes that I mean one day to pleach, if ever they get big enough. There is a row of 50 yews meant to break the force of the wind that will not stop sucking and grabbing at the garage-doors, which have twice been torn from their moorings, and a hazel screen to protect the yews for the years it will take to get them seven feet tall. There is a hedge of hornbeam and beech along the side of the fruit-cage, that I would layer if I knew how. The front garden is surrounded by a brick wall and railings, upon which all kinds of plants have been trained, but still the wind pushes and pulls at the shrubs in the long border until they cork-screw out of the ground, and redistributes their bark mulch all over the paths and the lawn.

I should never have bought a house called The Mills if I could not deal with wind. It occurs to me sometimes to wonder if the two tower mills that stood here fell into disuse after less than 100 years because there was so much wind that it shook the sails to pieces and snapped the gears. No one who lives here and hears the high-pitched, incessant whine of the wind that slams any door left open and rocks the old farm bell night and day in its iron cote on the side of the main house, and rolls the dustbins over the gravel and sends tiles, fertiliser bags and mulch mats high into the air and over the chalk hill, could doubt that wind has massive energy. ‘Why do I not harness it?’ I hear you ask.

The short answer is because The Mills is not in Denmark. If you drive north from Rodbyhavn towards Copenhagen, you will see hundreds of wind turbines, their vanes twinkling and singing in the North Sea breeze. There seem to be almost as many of them as there are small-holdings. I for one do not find them ugly, especially because, if we can perfect the technology of wind energy, we have a clean way of bringing light into the homes of the poor, and fuel which does not require tree-murder. I would be more than happy to give The Mills real windmills again. I wrote letters to organisations mentioned in press articles about alternative energy, I answered advertisements, I acquired catalogues, I made expensive phone-calls to lots of people called Nick and Simon. The outcome was that I could have a wind-turbine that would keep a single light-bulb burning (the sort of thing I could assemble myself with a bicycle dynamo) or I could invest in a ten-acre wind-farm.

Now, as I listen to the bird-feeder screeching as the wind bashes it back and forth on its gantry, and comfort the longhaired cat, who was blown off the raised bed in mid-pee and had to have his legs dried off with paper towels, there is added to the annoyingness of the sheer uproar, the bitter consciousness of an opportunity squandered in this windy island packed with rich and clever people.