Saturday, July 21, 2007


Noon yesterday at the client site, the gutters overflowing and giving us a neat water feature to enjoy from our desks. Not even the news from a customer in the Thames Valley that the office was being evacuated due to floods disturbed us.

Phone. Susan.

"The house is becoming surrounded by water - it's about three inches below the doors".

"I'll get home"

"OK - I'm going to get our daughter from school"

Start of a long day. I was pretty much the first to leave - Lord knows how many colleagues made it.

Outside a different world. Lots of water on roundabouts and junctions where never seen before. The direct route home was already clogged with traffic - which wasn't moving. A fair few cars were turning round.

I know. I'll turn round and whip along the back roads.

Big mistake.

Two hours later I was 200 feet higher in the Cotswolds, forced inexorably higher by water the like of which I have never seen. Village streets were rivers. Streams were rivers. Still trying to get home by a wider and wider arc.

My state of mind not helped by the phone calls.

Wife/daughter : "We've had to abandon the car and we're walking back"

Son : "It's two inches below the door !"

"When mum gets back tell her there's an electric pump and tubing in the garage - on the right in the corner. If that fails dig a trench in the lawn to a lower part of the garden"

So one son is alone in the house which is about to be flooded. The new extension, Susan's new kitchen, the flooring, the electrics ...

Wife and daughter have a two mile wade through flooded roads. Are they being swept away ?

Another son is at work. How's he going to get home ? All the roads are closing.

Another son texts - he's at a schoolmates house and staying there.

And I'm trying one road after another.

Son : "It's an inch below the door !"

By now I'm running out of options. One road is four feet deep. We all turn round. Next road the same. I remember a pub I passed in a village a few miles back. But first let's just try this way.

4x4s only. I can see the abandoned cars that didn't make it through.

Wife : "We've used the pump - it's lowered the level but then it stopped working. I'm digging a trench and it's just keeping it below the sill".

Curses. But thank God they're home. Is the pump clogged or is it what happens when you buy pumps from Lidl ?

"Is the trench working ?"

"Seems to be - the water's running over the lawn and away to the field"

"Dig it a bit deeper and longer then. I don't think I'm going to make it home."

Back towards the pub. I've been through so much scary-depth water, slipping the clutch and keeping the revs high for when the exhaust is under water, that a mere six inches is easy to navigate.

I pick up a guy who's abandoned his car - he lives in the village where the pub is. I go to drop him off - and his garden is two feet under. A river is coming down the hill and through the new estate. The houses are terraced one above the other, like rocks in a mountain stream, which flows round - and through - each in turn.

I've got nothing else to do and I keep thinking about my own house - so a wet and muddy hour follows as we wade through the gardens, putting boards held with concrete slabs across the front doors. All we're doing is lowering the level inside to five inches rather than two feet, but I guess it helps a bit. The back doors are open to drain the house and people are taking fence panels out to lower the level in the rear gardens - which of course means it gets to the next, lower, front gardens faster.

Further down the road dips into a lake and rises on the other side. It must be ten feet deep. Tarmac is lifted in the road and water is bubbling up from beneath. Everywhere drains are spouting water.

I'm soaking wet and covered in mud - time for the pub.

The landlord's lit a fire and I can wring out my socks and put my shoes by the fire. The pub is filling up with stranded people - a businessman from Macclesfield, some Radio 3 sound crew who were meant to be recording Schoenberg in a Cheltenham church that night, a couple of pig farmers from Berkshire, half a dozen nurses in uniform. Later the guy who's been flooded out and his neighbours arrive.

The news from home is good. Susan's heroics with a spade have saved the house, the eldest son has (foolishly IMHO) attempted to wade home seven miles with no jacket or waterproofs and been picked up after three, probably with mild hypothermia, by a Good Samaritan in a Land Rover. Middle son is at a friends house with two other stranded kids.

A few hours, a few pints and a good meal later the rain has stopped and I take a stroll in the dusk. There's a pretty B&B down the road offering a reduced rate due to the river in the front garden and the lack of electricity (all the B&Bs in the village are fully booked - but none of the people have turned up). Most of my fellow strandees are sleeping on the bar floor, which I would have done 10 years ago. Getting old. I sit by candlelight in front of a coal fire at the B&B and turn in early.

This morning most of the floods have gone, though abandoned cars are everywhere. I get home without any major problems. Middle son's back and car retrieved. Lordy.

It's raining again. I think I'm going to make the trench bigger.


Umbongo said...

Very graphic and very impressive description of what we in the hills of North London only see and (thank God) only experience at second or third hand through television and the press. Glad you and yours are OK.

Sam Tarran said...

Sounds like a hell of an experience. Thank God the family's ok, though.

verity said...

Gosh, what a marvellous account! I was with you every second! Reading this in Mexico, with the heat everywhere, yet felt a chill while reading your description. That was great! Thank you!

Foxy Brown said...

You're not out of the woods yet; as I write there are still 12 severe weather warnings in the country. Fingers crossed and all the best.

verity said...

Fear not! The Leader of HM Opposition is over in Rwanda generously lending his time and his thoughts!

To hell with sink estates and social problems in Britain, David Cameron is needed in Rwanda!

To hell with the British electorate! What about such accoutrements as protection? How many British soldiers/policemen are protecting Cameron in Rwanda and could they please stop it?

JuliaM said...

"David Cameron is needed in Rwanda!"

Fair enough. He certainly isn't wanted here....

Anonymous said...

My wife has lots of family in North Oxfordshire. Her granny says she remembers bad floods in exactly the same places when she was a girl. Even my wife herself remembers their house being almost flooded a few times when she was young.

Her uncle has had to go around helping people whose houses have been threatened by rising waters, doing simple things such as clearing the leaves out of their drains, simple measures which have made a dramatic difference. (He's had to do it because so many modern people, brought up by the nanny state, are pretty much useless when it comes to do anything practical like defending their homes).

verity said...

Juliam - Excellent point!

David Duff said...

Commiserations and congratulations, if that doesn't sound too 'Oirish'!

And by the way, you couldn't possibly lend me your wife for a day, I have a bit of garden needs turning over ...

Take that as a 'no', shall I?

Observer said...

They do say the gardens need the rain....but they don't say it quite as often as they did !

Rules of Living are a) Always live on a hill b) always live in a detached house

There are more but at times with non-piped water supplies it is worth sticking to the basics. Digging trenches is only good if the water table is not too high - have to start planting more trees and fewer houses.

There is no part of England more than 70 miles from a waterway - I bet those old mineshafts are full so we can expect subsidence on the East Coast Mainline which is built across lots of mineshafts.

The English are very cavalier with their environment which doesn't take too kindly to an open immigration policy and shopping centre concrete.

Anyway, at least floods down south get better coverage on the media than in Hull or Sheffield....maybe it will be the auguries for an impending Stock Market Crash just as the 1987 storms were then

Dr Mabuse said...

Getting old. I sit by candlelight in front of a coal fire at the B&B and turn in early.


c. 1627, Hendrick Terbrugghen, Dutch,

Seems to have captured the essence methinks.....

Jim Miller said...

Glad to hear tht you and your family are OK

Nannette said...

Thank God you and the family are okay Laban. I've been hearing some nightmares from friends in Worcestershire, stuck in the thick of it... what a nightmare!

Worst of all is this impotent, toothless government who don't want to give any decent money to the flood victims, but they're too happy to take our taxes and give £8 billion to Africa.

They didn't ever hear the saying that charity begins at home!

Enough with the useless politicians, it's the people who make the country, and the floods are helping to rebuild the communities that Nu Labour managed so skilfully to divide.

Take care and I hope your home stays dry.

Nannette xx

Observer said...

but they're too happy to take our taxes and give £8 billion to Africa.

So Cameron "followed the money"....typical !