The Katabatic Wind That Shakes The Barley


They blow cold these winds of change. Down from the mountain tops, down from the frozen plateau they come tumbling and whipping with crystal spurs. They are the spirit of malice.

Ever woken up feeling one day younger? Refreshed, maybe. Younger, no. Ever recalled a time when there was no news like good news to send shivers down the spine? Would human be worth being and success worth winning if life was not lived best with adversity’s mug staring it down? Game of Thrones would not quite resound with the same blood-curdling peals of war (the same old perpetual war that is reputed to make heroes of ordinary men) were its slogan – Summer is Coming. Howling as they career off the edge of the Antarctic high plateau, these katabatic winds have the oomph to slay dragons. A meteorologic southpaw, they are the nearest thing on Earth to the winds of Neptune. It is they and not the big, bad wolf that possess the puff to blow man’s house down.

Not all winds bring a malicious chill, particularly to those not standing upwind of them. The Shogunate had its Divine Wind, its kamikaze saviour. That typhoon proved propitious, not once but twice, seven cursed years apart for the Mongols. Taught a lesson they clearly did forget on that first shipwrecking invasion of the Japan archipelago, those marauding steppe nomads were sent home by the winds of change to stew over their expansionist future with moustaches dripping sour milk and hearts dripping sour grapes. Three hundred years later and half a world away, Felipe’s Armada were so brazen in their breastplates that they tempted the tempest. The cold, rushing air that scattered the Spaniards to the four winds – from the Hebrides to the coast of Kerry to name but two – must have been blowing change in all directions that fateful voyage. However, the weather-vane did not stop pirouetting madly there and then. Soon after, the vane pointed Southwest before swinging wildly Southeast when the Boston harbour winds let change rip in the Thirteen colonies. It was then that England let the polar front carry her south enough to catch the trade winds, setting a course that would keep the Empire’s mainsails billowing through the horse latitudes and into the roaring forties. Tearing downwind of the circumpolar, this wind would bring change alright. Terra Nullis became Terra Ours and, when the karabatic winds would, on occasion, reach Australia from the high plateau of Antarctica, the damp, wet soil never felt so fertile for Albion’s seeds transported in on that fateful wind. Historic climate change was truly underway, bringing with it a mini-ice age for natives everywhere. Meanwhile, missionaries, adventurers, sahibs and settlers alike settled in for an Indian summer of profits going through the barometer.

Which brings us to the political zephyr that was Harold Macmillan. His winds of change speech swept Africa into a new consciousness, one that would blow in Apartheid, death in droves, resource pirates, famine, and bloody dictators dressed as Citizen Smith.

“The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact”.

With all due respect, Mr Macmillan, that is precisely the problem. Nationalism is the scourge that won’t go away. It is the katabatic wind that tumbles down from the mountain top, making our journey to the summit a bitingly cold one.

Winter is coming. Put another log on the fire and beside it crouch, for the chill answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. Down from the north it flows, a gaseous floe. It might be Putin, the Iceman, it might even be second coming of Leif Eriksson and his Valhalla boys. But whatever it is that is blowing in, it is bound to shake your windows and to rattle your walls. It might even be the wind that shakes the winter barley.

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