TV review

A perfect storm

The Times

February 13, 2009


Cutting Edge: A Very British Storm Junkie
Who Killed Scarlett? 

A Very British Storm Junkie was so perfect— an eccentric, wonderful jewel — that initially you thought that it had to be a spoof and that Stuart Robinson, and his partner-later-wife Alison Baker were played by actors. Stuart sounded like the excitable lovechild of David Coleman and Alan Partridge. From their little house in Leicestershire he tracked storms and hurricanes on his computer and then jetted off to drive into the eye of them. How you know when you’re in the eye of a storm was unclear. It was only at the end that Stuart realised that the real storm was at home: could he survive Hurricane Alison at full force?

The scale of Alison’s disapproval of being a “storm WAG” was first limited to a roll of the eyes. Stuart said he had spent his childhood with nose pressed against the window listening to the thunder. In 1998 he had observed his first tornado, and had since experienced 30, and six hurricanes. But he still had to actually experience the eye of the hurricane. In his garage he revealed his storm kit, which included baked beans to be eaten in a hurry. First Stuart went to Taiwan where, at the airport, he met Roger from Denver, his “storm buddy”, who he seemed happier to see than Alison. “We’ve experienced some pretty wild weather together,” rhapsodised Stuart, as he remembered all those twisters and trees falling down and buildings collapsing. “Oh, that’s for sure,” said Roger, looking equally enraptured.

They rented a car, explaining that they were driving into the eye of a hurricane so needed full insurance. They chased the storm and their joy was almost orgasmic: “The thunder… oh my God”; “Look at the amount of vegetation blowing around!” The eye was eight miles south, but suddenly the storm changed direction and they had missed it. Like Alison, you rolled your eyes: this was a mad pursuit.

The first sign that Stuart was blundering into emotionally dangerous territory came when he joked, or didn’t joke, that his and Alison’s wedding day in March had been chosen with “the weather season” in mind: “Tornadoes in May and June and tropical storms in September”. “Most women wouldn’t stand for it,” said Alison, not really smiling that much. “You’re one in a million dear,” said Stuart. Oh Stuart, you thought, you are so playing with fire here. Retreat. Too late.

How dare he say that their wedding day had anything to do with storms, Alison remonstrated. Stuart was still smiling, the fool. On the day it rained: determinedly English rain . . . constant, dogged. The tables at their reception had names such as Cloud, Monsoon and Tornado. Alison said she was hopeful that if they had a family Stuart would stop storm-chasing, but he said, “If I’m not storm-chasing I’m thinking of storm-chasing”. Soon he was in Kansas with Roger, driving through the dark heart of a twister with demented, punch-drunk excitement. He emerged, unscathed, to exclaim to his beloved: “I thought we were toast then, Rog”.

He said that if Alison asked him to give it up he would. But after a brush with Hurricane Gustav (he and Roger got out of their cars and deliriously enjoyed the force of a category 2 hurricane), came Hurricane Hannah: this was the storm that broke the camel’s back. Alison told him she wanted him to come home.

An excruciating set of tense phone calls ensued. He said he had been walked over for too long. He first asked if he could go to North Carolina to experience Hannah (the woman’s name gave it the sense of adultery), then when that was refused he said he was going anyway. Alison held firm. “You’re putting an emotional gun to my head,” he said. Alison prevailed. “I’m doing the right thing and going home to see my wife,” Stuart said meekly. In the end Hurricane Hannah abated and we left Stuart and Alison eating a roast. Did he want another roast potato, asked Alison. Hmm, wavered Stuart, he’d left room for crumble. The storm had passed but the directors Nick Holt, Olly Lambert and Pete Woods had taken us, brilliantly and wittily, into the eye of the storm.

Who Killed Scarlett? followed Fiona MacKeown as she tried to grieve for her daughter Scarlett Keeling (below), murdered on a Goan beach last February, and also discover who killed her. She believed that there has been a police cover-up and you felt every ounce of her frustration as she found herself criticised for her “hippy” lifestyle and parenting skills as if either somehow excused the tragedy she and her family had suffered.

Does living in caravans and without electricity mean you don’t deserve justice or even to be able to bury your daughter (whose internal organs have gone missing or been destroyed)? It’s shameful that the hunt for Scarlett’s killer or killers has been botched and delayed. The Goan authorities should be ashamed, not Ms MacKeown.