I feel I should write about the flood. I know it could be worse, but it still hit us, and we’re still out-of-sorts.
On Boxing Day, in the early hours, our little town flooded. Not just a little flood – the river and the canal burst their banks, the flood defences failed and the water was the highest for 80 years. Yeah, we live in the bottom of a valley, and that’s what happens, but this really hit us all hard.
It happened before, since I’ve lived here. In 2012, I was heavily pregnant with Mini, and the main street and surrounding areas in town were flooded to around knee height. I didn’t see much of the clean-up (except vicariously on facebook), but I saw the damage, the high street gutted, the shops closed for months or re-opened in haste, and closed for business within a few months. As a small business owner myself, I couldn’t imagine the pain.
This time was different. I live in a first floor flat, and though it’s close to the canal, I never thought of myself as being at risk. I heard the flood sirens through the night – the night of my 31st birthday, and mostly I didn’t let them bother me. They sound like an air-raid siren, a horrible drone that sounds like the end of the world, like a 4-minute warning. (hey, remember that Mark Owen song?) (Also, I’ve seen Threads, thought of a nuclear holocaust freaks me out, not least because I was born on 25th December 1984, which makes sense if you’re seen it.). Anyway, I slept through it. I didn’t get up til 10am, when I checked Facebook and figured I should check outside my windows. This is what I saw:
I saw it on Facebook first, and I thought someone Photoshopped it. Here’s the view from my flat. It was still raining at this point, and this isn’t even the highest water level.
View from my kitchen window:
This is the view from my living room. That van was on the only dry patch (just a little too high for the water level on the raised bridge by Old Gate), and as far as I know stayed dry, but you can see the river water cascading over its banks. I think that’s my bin, too. The bins floated away. All the bins from the Turkish restaurant, the houses and the cafés floated away, upturned and spilled their contents into the Primary school’s playground. Forget about the sewage (I heard it’s not that bad anyway), all that icky water was basically bin-juice.
This is one of the main streets in my little town, an area treble-hit by the river, canal overspill and blocked drains.
The water level in my flat frightened me.
In hindsight I got away fairly lightly. Some people lost their whole homes. But for me it was horrible. To have spent so long trying to build a home for me and my daughter and to have it intruded upon by horrible muddy water, well, it felt horrible. We were without power for 4-5 days. I couldn’t care for my child and that broke my heart – regardless of it being Christmas.
The beautiful little café I work in, I love it so much, and though it escaped fairly lightly (just on the rise by the Old Gate), the damage was mainly to the appliances and the floor – a lovely original 1930’s floorboard that equally cursed and blessed us, the water drained out through the floorboards, and the gaps gave them room to expand, but the Environmental Health Inspectors think the holes should be plugged. Regardless – I’ve been out of work for a couple of weeks and that’s hurt me financially (obviously), and mentally (it’s hard but true, my well-being has really suffered these last few weeks). I know it could have been worse. I feel bad for worrying when I know so many people had their lives and businesses destroyed.
But, I’m on a low income. The bills don’t stop coming in. I’m down at least 3 weeks’ wages and I have a child. I need to put food on the table, make this place warm and comfy. She stayed at her Dad’s while the power was off and it killed me that I couldn’t provide her with a safe, warm place to live. I’m grateful to him for that – but it really rocked me. I had to rely on others and that’s something I find so awkward.
Our hallway is drying out, we have a dehumidifier and as soon as our power was back, she was here with me.
I will always be grateful for that. How quickly your life can be washed away – that will live with me always, yes, it was minimal, we lost a freezer and fridge full of food, we lost our house for a while. I never really buy bread and milk but I was so grateful for the food hub at the Town Hall. A whole room of food and necessities to take – I’ve never felt so awkward but we needed it. I cried in there, and I know it was shock and sadness. I’m so grateful for the people in there for making me feel it was okay to cry – even though I know people were hit so much worse. We did our bit to help. We made soup from all the veg that defrosted, I donated my birthday cake, it wasn’t enough but I tried my best. I got nappies from the flooded Co-op, without transport or power it’s scary when you can’t get the little things you take for granted.
This guy put it better than I ever could – and his life was really wiped out:
It’s only stuff! It’s only stuff! It might well be everything but get some perspective man! It’s only stuff!
That was the mantra that kept my head above water (every pun intended) until Lady Shock slowly released her cold, bony grip on me. And I slept when I fell and ate just for fuel and barely kept it all together in front of my nearest and dearest who cared and fussed and loved me enough to not chastise their scared and wounded relative as I sometimes snarled but mostly stared and sniffed my way through my tiny melon processing the previous weeks events. Once I’d sent out the distress signal and the cavalry was on the way, I was asked to make lists. Many lists. “List what you lost” and “list what you need” List the lists if need be. This being my first flood, who was I to argue?
My first list, though accurate, I felt didn’t meet the brief. This is my first list
Short, sweet but ultimately disappointing (insert own joke here)
I couldn’t settle on where to start, as the things that immediately sprang to mind were both ridiculous and tragic in turn. The jar of liquorice allsorts and pear drops I kept on the bookshelf. The jar the liquorice allsorts and pear drops were in ( I loved that jar!). The books behind the jar on that particular shelf. My musty, familiar, dog-eared copy of ‘Autobiography of a Supertramp’, the bible Aunty Bev and Uncle Graham gave me when I was a page boy at their wedding over thirty years ago, my signed copy of ‘The Wasp Factory’ and on and on and on (there were many other shelves and many other books) It felt more like making a confession than making a list. And that was just one bookshelf. In one room. There were four more to consider. Anything above chest height had a fighting chance, so mainly cobwebs and light bulbs, but everything else, gone. It didn’t disappear behind a slick magicians silk scarf, only to reappear somewhere unexpected to the scratching of heads and rapturous applause. There was no space where things should have been thanks to a sticky fingered chancer, no crime number to collect so the claim would go smoothly. No crime was committed. When I say gone, I mean stuck to the feet of the strangers with angel’s faces as they tramped through what, a mere 24 hours ago, had been my Fortress of Solitude, this Yorkshireman’s castle. When I say gone I mean suffocated beneath the inch thick silt, slick and slippery as the angel faced strangers dragged furniture into the daylight that would never again offer comfort. So not gone really, still there, if you think about it.
And think about I did (and do). At a million miles an hour, a million thoughts a minute buzzed and swarmed through my head, sending off fluttering battalions occasionally to recce my stomach and chest and arms and legs in turn, before buzzing back to the nest in my head. Until my brain sputtered then muttered ‘Come on mate, it’s a bit much just now’, and my eyes would glaze and my stare would fix and while the hornets in my head settled slowly and silently, I left the lights on and snuck out the back door. Sign read ‘Nobody’s Home’.
My second list, although technically still a failure, was at least a step in the right direction. More expansive and more focused than my first list, it was sadly as useless, like nipples on man. This is my second list;
Living room -Everything
Bathroom – Everything
Kitchen – Everything
Hall way and foyer – Everything
Bedroom – Everything
Progress I’m sure you’ll agree, but still somewhat off-message. Over and over the hornets would buzz, angry and spiteful till my brain muttered then spluttered and the sign went up again. When someone was in, the hornets would wake and buzz and I’d paint the memory of a smile on my face as I skipped from my Tardis money box to my capo and guitar tuner that were behind it to the sewing kit in the kitchen draw next to the shoe brushes, oh and the polish too, brown and black, and I’ll need some shoes too, socks too thinking about it, and pants, and shorts and, oh no, my Danger Mouse t-shirt! (I loved that t-shirt) and my favourite tie and my bright red ‘happy’ shoes and my guitars, and the keyboard, and the laptops and every song that ever set my foot tapping or heart breaking and the digital camera and the box of poems and songs and thoughts and doodles and ideas and notions that was fat and bloated with words memories that’s been with you pretty much everywhere you’ve been since you were 20 and the watch I bought with the money I got when Nan died, and the photos of Nan, and Grandad, and Grandma and everyone I’ve ever cared enough about to keep and carry their photo with me over the years and……………….Sign’s up!
I just couldn’t make a list. I made a list of the steps that would be required to make a list and I have to admit, I thought it would be easier. In the end I didn’t make a list, I didn’t need to. Family and friends, old and some brand spanking new, were ticking off items on a list I hadn’t made. They’d made lists for me, in their heads I presume, but who can tell with angels. Having just experienced how difficult making a list was, I was more than thankful of their efforts. As items were ticked off the Emperor’s New Lists, both bulky and small, the hornets still danced, but they were miffed rather than angry, sweaty and apathetic after their vigorous outings not too long ago, maybe it was the mantra. It’s only stuff! It’s only stuff! It might well be the accumulated gumph of your 46 years stumbling and bumbling about on this planet, but it’s only stuff! It’s true. I can get new copies of old books to put on new shelves. I can write more poems, sing more songs. Ten years ago I may have struggled to find a copy of 69 Love Songs by Magnetic Fields or Pulp’s first album, but nowadays, piece of cake. Instruments, ten a penny, clothes may be a little more expensive, taste dependant, stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff! There’ll be new pictures and prints for new walls, familiar songs and friendly bands at my housewarming, and knowing my new friends and family have newly clothed back, the new me will sleep in a new bed. It’s all just stuff.
It’s only stuff, except for the photos. Photos of those that have passed and those that have moved, ghosts from a pre-digital age, snapshots in time that bring a smile or tear at a glance, the only evidence that some of what I call memories really happened. While every image captured is in me and part of me, without the photo, the faces and colours, places and people trapped on the paper, they will slip away like smoke. The laughs, life and loves that make me me, that were captured forever in those perfect Kodak moments, both digital and otherwise, they’re not gone, I have them inside me, they are me, but they’ll fade, it’s inevitable. But what if, say, somebody else has photos of the same event. Of the same school and school friends as a flood victim, the same work and work colleagues, both current and past, disastrous stag nights, memorable hen nights, weddings, christenings, parties. Know a flood victim in a similar situation? Know someone who knows a flood victim. Have a photo of them? In the time it takes a heart to beat, with click of a mouse, you could help preserve a memory and make a new one. Don’t wait for them to ask, if you’ve got a picture of a happier time for a flood victim, send it to them. Surprise them. How cool would that be?
So we’ve kept the Christmas tree up. Yes it’s the middle of January but I’m all out of f**ks to give. It makes me feel like this place is a home. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted.