I wrote about the floods we saw out in the Somerset levels; what we saw with vast areas of land covered in water would have been very much how the Levels looked a thousand or more years ago before it was properly ditched and drained. It rather fascinated me but I also thought about the farmers who would be suffering because their pastures and fields were under water; maybe their animals had to be moved to higher ground, or under cover, or given extra food because the pasture was ruined. Maybe they couldn’t sow their new crops or do the maintenance work they usually did at this time. Maybe they would have to do extra work to repair the flood damage, shifting stuff which had washed onto their land, digging out ditches which had been clogged with debris, mending fences, replacing hedges, rebuilding sheds, and barns and byres.
This is on the land; think of the poor people whose houses have been flooded, sometimes more than once… and it isn’t just water pouring through their properties, it carries mud and sewerage and sometimes fuel oil; it carries debris and dead vermin, and sometimes brings live ones too. Think of the possessions which are ruined or lost or damaged beyond repair… personal items like photos and letters and books, things which could never be replaced.
I read on the news about the landlord of a pub in Mevagissey who had been flooded twelve times – 12, since October. This would mean his cellars where he stored the beer and other stock, the kitchens, the bar areas and the stock beneath and behind the bars, the seating area for his customers and the carpets, and furnishings probably the outside areas too, maybe the carpark… twelve times in twelve weeks. He has lost customers in two ways, regulars can’t come if the pub is closed, and new folk can’t become regulars of the place isn’t open. A property which as been flooded doesn’t smell very nice either, I know this because my parents had a bungalow here in Uphill which had been flooded before they lived in it, and there was always that lingering aroma, even after fifteen years.”It’s hard trading in the winter in Cornwall. It’s hard to build a reputation for a pub when this is happening so often,” he said. It has cost him money in wages to the people who work for him, paying them to clean the pub not cook or wait on, and with no income to balance that! He has handed in his notice to the brewery… understandably, his heart must be broken.
I think about our house… we live about four hundred yards from the sea – and probably about three inches above it. The village has been flooded before but now we have huge sea defences so I hope we will never have to face anything like that. I have however, looked around our downstairs rooms and thought about what we should shift if there was a threat of flood… the sea-chest of old photos and documents, the LPs and CDs, the books, the pet rabbit.. would we have time to snatch up the electrical items, things in the kitchen? So much we couldn’t move, carpets, much of the furniture, the electrical stuff in the kitchen – fridge, freezer, cooker, washing machine…
An early novel I wrote which may never see the light of day ‘The Man in the Sun’, opens with a young man visiting the home of his new girl-friend and her brother for the first time, arriving late at night and finding a stream up the hillside had burst its banks and is running through the family house… In the subsequent chapter they clean-up the following day… when i wrote it I had no real idea of the awfulness of flooding, and after having the carpets cleaned and the skirting boards wiped, all returned to normal in the house… If I ever rewrite this book, those opening scenes will change dramatically, now I understand the full awfulness of a flood.