Storms across Northern Europe are becoming more frequent and more violent. The most recent, Storm Dennis, affected not only Ireland and the UK but continued to wreak havoc on Denmark, Germany, Estonia and around the Baltic.
Global warming puts more moisture into the air which then has no choice but to precipitate in torrents, saturating the earth and causing flooding, landslips, environmental damage and, of course, severe disruption to human activity and distress to communities.
Ever since the floods associated with the Sumerian Utnapashtim, the Greek Deucalion and the Biblical Noah we have all been familiar with tales of ‘universal’ deluges and their survivors — not just the who but the how and the why — and my mind drifts to how modern writers have depicted similar disasters in fiction.
Though such narratives are common around the world I’m going to reference a few British examples, mainly because it’s been quite close to home in recent days. Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, the first title in his trilogy The Book of Dust, has young Malcolm, a slightly older Alice and an infant Lyra travelling down a swollen Thames through a flooded English landscape. Whether Pullman had the infant Moses in his basket or baby Beowulf in his bark as a model I don’t know, but that journey to a new life for Lyra parallels those heroes of old.
Flooding in the English countryside has also featured in other children’s novels I’ve read recently. Lucy Boston’s The Children of Green Knowe begins with young Tolly travelling through winter floods to reach Green Knowe in the Cambridgeshire countryside, the start of magical adventures for him. Conversely, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising has its climax in a flooded Buckinghamshire as young Will Stanton battles the Dark. Finally, Joan Aiken’s Is has a town adjacent to the North Sea inundated by a tsunami triggered by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Hekla.
Floods are evidently a key setting for such fiction, whether as a prelude to strange happenings or as an epic, almost biblical, backdrop to the action. But this isn’t what springs to mind for householders whose homes and properties are rendered uninhabitable or uninsurable by rising waters, falling trees or eroded ground: their concern is for an uncertain future.
Our house on the High Street fortunately is high by nature as well as by name; however, the town itself was briefly an island, with roads and bridges almost impassable from Crickhowell’s highest flood waters for over forty years (reaching not much under five metres).
This weekend was naturally the moment we’d chosen to start ripping out and replacing our kitchen after returning through flooded roads from performing Handel’s Messiah. It would’ve been more appropriate if we’d been putting on his Water Music.