My Teen Can Literally Sleep Through an Earthquake

Earthquakes, like venomous snakes and everything breaking all the time, are one of those Bali facts of life. As with snakes and broken objects, I have yet to be sufficiently au fait to handle them with sang froid. (Isn’t it funny that for all sorts of words to do with calm, from courage to soigné, one has to resort to French?)

This morning, we had a corker. Quite how much of a corker it was, as, for that matter, exactly where it was, remains TBC. The US Geological Society has it at 5.5 and somewhere near Keramas on the east coast; the Indonesian BKMG has it at 6.4 near Uluwatu down south. Anyway, it was what we pro journalists call “too goddamn close to my house for comfort”.

Further, as I visited a real live seismography centre at Krakatau. I’m going with the Indonesians, their 1950s seismographs, their 1990s computers, their proximity and their experience over the Americans and their fancy tech. Plus, it’s a big number.

I was “working”, which is to say on Twitter, when it hit. And hit it did. We get a lot of 5.-something earthquakes here and they’re a pretty ambiguous experience. There’s the odd ripple in the fishpond, a sense that your stomach just shifted a few centimetres sideways and back again, and a general feeling of seasick insecurity and hungover malaise. Nothing, in short, to write home about, which is why I haven’t, although I’m sure Sartre would have done a lovely job of it.

Holy cow, I thought, either that cat that nests up in the roof has really put on weight or someone’s driving a bloody mining vehicle past the house.

This morning’s earthquake started with a bang. Now, I am not sure whether there actually was a bang or I retrospectively invented a bang to rationalise the sensation that an elephant was leaping around in the roof. On balance, I think something heavy probably fell in one of the neighbours’ houses.

Anywise, the elephant jumped on the roof, and the walls began to shake; the windows, which have many panes, took up a gentle percussive tinkling. Holy cow, I thought to myself, being a little slow on the uptake of a morning, either that cat that nests up in the roof has really put on weight or someone’s driving a bloody mining vehicle past the house. The floor began to shake more vigorously. Reality dawned.

Zac, being sixteen, sleeps with his door locked. Being sixteen, he can also sleep through pretty much anything although not, I am pleased to note, his alarm. “Zac!” I yell. “Are you OK?”

Silence. Panic bites. How can anyone sleep through this? The bloody house is flamenco dancing. The windows are its jingling castanets. There are WAVES, not ripples, in the goddamn swimming pool.

If this carries on, I think with sudden dread, the house could come down. And why in god’s name is he not responding?

“ZAC!” I yell, pounding on his door with an open palm. “ZAC! WAKE UP IT’S A FUCKING EARTHQUAKE!”

“Uh?”

“It’s an EARTHQUAKE! We need to GET OUT!!!!”

My spawn emerges, floor still shaking, in his underpants, with the bewildered and rather aggrieved air of someone who just can’t understand what all the fuss is about.

Unfortunately, none of our furniture is designed for hiding under.

And then it clicks. We look around the room. I’m not particularly up to speed on earthquakes but I do know that you’re supposed to get under a table to stop things falling on you and stay away from glass. Unfortunately, none of our furniture is designed for hiding under.

Our beds are solid-frame. The Suharto-era furniture we’ve inherited from our landlords includes an ugly teak table with one central leg below a circular base – better than nothing, but hardly going to help if one of the palm trees or mangoes in the garden comes crashing down (the papaya fell into the pool after a previous earthquake, so I’m aware of the risks). The grotesque and spectacularly uncomfortable teak sofa might fit some of Zac under it, but not me.

And, umm, that’s it. We look at each other and discuss.

“Should we go into the garden?” Zac asks.

“Trees!” I say, although I’m thinking that trees are likely better engineered to cope with earthquakes than the typical Indonesian building, even a single-storey one like ours. “What about hiding in a door frame?” (This is, gentle reader, terrible advice, about as bad as it gets after taking shelter under a chandelier.)

“Hmm…” says Zac, who actually does earthquake drills at school, which consist, I believe, of getting under your desk and covering your head then filing out in an orderly fashion at an appropriate time. “I guess.”

Normal service resumes later, as I go to turn off a dripping tap, the whole thing comes off in my hand, and I have to switch the electricity off at the mains as I cannot find the stopcock.

And with that the shaking eases, the windows stop vibrating, and the pool calms down. It will be a while before the birds, which stopped singing as they do at total eclipses, start up again, and quite a long time before I, personally, stop shaking.

I’m back on Twitter, trying to find out if there’s a tsunami warning and who knows what about the earthquake (answers, no, no one and nothing), when the Bag Lady rings on WhatsApp.

“Yes!” I squeak excitedly, picking up the phone and feeling suddenly soigné. “It WAS an earthquake! It was a REALLY BIG earthquake!” We agree to meet for coffee and a chat. The boy seems spectacularly underwhelmed.

It’s almost a relief when normal service resumes later, as I go to turn off a dripping tap, the whole thing comes away in my hand, and I have to switch the electricity off at the mains as I cannot find the stopcock.

4 Responses

  1. Pip says:

    Slightly more alarming than the fakenham earthquake in the mid 1990’s. I think a plate fell off someone’s wall near kings lynn.

    • Theodora says:

      Nothing actually came off our walls, amazingly, but, yes, I think more alarming than Fakenham’s earthquake. Although one is at least expecting one in Bali, so there’s that…. Must be quite terrifying to be in an earthquake, even a small one, in merry old Blighty – Armageddon time.

  2. Danielle says:

    Glad you’re alright!

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