Monday, August 9th, 2004
The rain struck at exactly 3am, just as I pulled up at a red traffic light in front of a silent, darkened Buckingham Palace. Circles of water appeared on the windscreen like fast-growing lichen-spots, and a couple who had been walking along, hand-in-hand, squealed and broke into a run. On the steps of the Queen Victoria Memorial a group of tired revellers who had been sitting quietly, enjoying the peace of the night, sprang hurriedly to their feet and reached for their jackets.
I never heard the thunder as I was indulging a nostalgia kick by loudly playing a tape of 80s synthesiser classics. Together in Electric Dreams drowned out any noise as the orange sky above Green Park was opened up by a lightning flash.
By the time I reached the pillars at the top of Constitution Hill, each carved with the names of territories that once made up the Empire, Electric Dreams had given way to OMD’s Enola Gay and the rain was fast enough to make me switch on my wipers and close the window. A cyclist in a thin red t-shirt hunched his shoulders as we tracked parallel around the Hyde Park Corner roundabout, with the Wellington Arch in its middle, and as I turned into Knightsbridge he disappeared in my mirrors, wet and miserable, lit up in a second lightning flash, this time over Hyde Park.
By Harrods I was bored with Tears for Fears (Change) and switched tapes. The staccato hammerblows of the start of New Order’s Blue Monday were the perfect accompaniment to the rain slamming into the tarmac, filling up the deep workmen’s excavations just before the store, rebounding from the road in sheets that glowed golden in my headlights, falling in chains in front of me.
But the storm, though intense, was brief. By Cromwell Road and the museums, as I played tag with a battered old Ford Fiesta, it had already passed its peak and by the Hammersmith Flyover I was able to open my windows again. The air, previously so hot and stuffy, was now cool and clear. Water was draining off the road surface and New Order was still playing, having outlasted the storm.
It wasn’t the last I saw of the lightning, which persisted to the north of me for the rest of the journey home, striking in Mortlake (Eurythmics, Sweet Dreams) and Twickenham (the Human League, Mirror Man), but it was more or less the end of the rain. At the Chiswick Flyover, where the eastbound road is carried over the roundabout on the most precarious of metal stilts, I made the transition from wet roads, still reeling from the storm’s passion, to virginal dry roads, untouched by rain. A particularly savage lightning bolt silhouetted the flyover as I passed by.
Finally, at 3.30am, I switched off one of my less-favourite Spandau Ballet songs and ghosted into a parking space outside my flat. As I got out, the first few raindrops of a new storm arrived in the car park.