Deluge

Crickhowell Bridge after the Usk overflowed its banks

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.

29 thoughts on “Deluge

  1. When I saw Crickhowell on the news, I hoped you hadn’t been flooded. So glad to hear you were spared, Chris. Another issue appears to be building on flood plains. Where is the water supposed to go? Also, the issue of drains and sewers coping with so many more houses being built. Something has to change and soon!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree it has to change, Paula, but will it? I can’t see the current [insert suitable expletive] government addressing it, it’s way down on their list of misguided, wicked priorities.

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  2. The problem comes, according to the famous quotation, apres le deluge… Yes at first there is drama and wonder, but the after effects are grim for farmers, shopkeepers and householders. So much destruction comes at the cost of literally killing sports for the rich – deer allowed to proliferate just so they can be shot for sport, leads to decimation of forests that would hold back the water, then comes the promotion of grouse shooting on those barren moors, and the slaughter of wild birds so grouse can breed and and be shot for sport in their turn… playgrounds for the wealthy and careless.

    That Eisengrim post was for you – https://twitter.com/LizzaAiken/status/1229815853849464834
    I liked the contrast of the dark waters against the elegant feast – but Crickhowell’s waters are flowing fiercely red!

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    1. As always I hesitate to be overtly political on this literary blog, Lizza, but I’ve always felt that the result of the December general election was (to use another food-related reference) like turkeys voting for Christmas.

      I find it hard to forgive parts of the electorate even if, as it were, they ‘knew not what they were doing’ — their fault was in not making sure they were well informed of the consequences of allowing closet fascists to take control. Cryptofascists who, in fact, stand to profit from environmental disaster. Maybe the Usk’s waters red with sediment is the land weeping blood…

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  3. We had a flooded downstairs (where we keep the main part of our library) in March 2012; I documented some of the reconstruction on my blog in April. Our house is older than I am but had never flooded before. It was a sudden, violent thunderstorm that did it, backing up the storm drains into our lower level. We put in a sump pump and a lot of our neighbors got backup electrical generators, because the storms are going to continue to get worse.

    And yes, we do build on flood plains, as a previous commenter pointed out. When I say the house is older than I am, part of what I am saying is that this happens to lots of newer houses in the U.S. and it’s not even considered all that unusual (as in Houston after hurricane Harvey). It is a bit more unusual for an established house to experience flooding for the first time. It shows me how the climate has changed over my lifetime.

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    1. I enjoyed reading about your library, Jean, ogling your books and wondering how you coped with flood damage to some of your ‘tonnage’. The buildings by the bridge — in the photos I pinched from the net — are a mix of 18th- and 19th-century houses, including the Bridge End Inn the cellars of which seem to have been flooded an inordinate number of times. Inundations are no reapectee of age..

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  4. I’m glad your house was spared, Chris! But I do feel sorry for all the others who weren’t so lucky – this flood really looks like it’s of biblical proportions, and together with the Brexit plague looks like something you’ll be battling in long years to come… 😟

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think too of all those affected by the Aus fires, followed by torrential rain; by the fires in the Amazon rain forest; by economic disaster in Zimbabwe; and so on and so on. The Four Horsemen have mounted their chargers…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, pestilence, war, famine, and death — the harbingers which fundamentalists are always identifying with the ills of their time, be it AIDS or Ebola, the Arab-Israeli conflicts or Iraq, Biafra or the Sudan, Pol Pot or Rwanda.

      Alternatively we could focus on the Four Elements: bushfires, floods, earthquakes or hurricanes. Pick’n’mix time is always available for literalists.

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  5. Glad your house escaped the flooding! Apparently the houses around here (KIrkintilloch) used to flood quite regularly but fortunately they built new flood defences just after I moved here so I’ve never had that experience. Must be awful – I can’t begin to imagine how people gee themselves up to putting their houses to rights knowing it could all happen again any time. Fictional flooding is far more fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True, you can at least close the page on fictional flooding, you can’t just shut the door when it’s your cellar or ground floor, your prized possessions or your memories. This Bridge End Inn has been flooded three or four times in the last couple of years, a perpetual hazard but seemingly more and more frequent — I don’t know how or even whether they will survive.

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  6. I’m delighted that you, yours and your books are all safe and dry, Chris. But I am so sorry for all of those affected by the floods. I can’t help thinking that in their place I wouldn’t be overly thrilled to see Boris Johnson turning up for a photo opportunity but convening Cobra might be helpful…

    And when will we get serious about dealing with climate change?

    Anyway… I like your literary musings on floods. Such a great device for making the familiar strange and exposed to danger. It’s a while since I read La Belle Sauvage, it’s a nice link to Beowulf and Moses. Do you think there was a flavour of the Odyssey too? (For Malcolm and Hannah, rather than Lyra perhaps.)

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    1. Thanks for your solicitations, Helen. Here the sun has just these last few minutes come out after a morning of solid rain, and it’s hard to conceive how awful it has been until one ventures out and sees the damage. And yes, our charlatan of a PM might have regained a modicum of respect if he’d actually thought it worthwhile to convene COBRA but now he’s merely confirmed (if such confirmation were needed) what a shit he is.

      I hadn’t specifically thought of the Odyssey, other than metaphorically, in correction with the voyage downriver of La Belle Sauvage but with all the wonders Malcolm encounters I can see the parallels. In my review I noted Heart of Darkness but of course that was a journey upriver.

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    1. Ooh, had a quick look, Karen, and it is indeed set by the River Severn — right now affecting places from Worcester to Tewkesbury and Gloucester. I see it’s dubbed an echo-thriller so I suspect it’s part of the growing genre of cli-fi, fiction related to the climate crisis. I’ll check it out in the local indie bookshop, thanks!

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  7. I’m a little late to this post Chris but am relieved to learn that your home has been spared. When watching the scenes on the news I have been thinking of you and others I know living in Wales. It is unimaginable how people manage to cope with repeated flooding and I feel so sorry for them and frustrated at the lack of help they receive. On a lighter note I did enjoy your literary links to floods, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s odd how so many people will put their trust in pundits, politicians, mavericks and a mate down the pub rather than 97% of climate scientists who’ve been warning for decades that global heating will result in sea levels rising and warmer, wetter and more extreme weather for places like Britain. “My gran remembers summers as hot as this during the war” counts for more than patient collecting of data and analysis of trends. And many of these people are the ones blaming local government for not building higher flood defences with the reduced funding it gets from central government.

      I apologise, I’m on my hobby horse again — I’m so angry, but also so, so sorry for those across swathes of Britain and, indeed, across Europe and the rest of the world affected by our collective failure to rein in exponential growth.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I wish I could hear your choir sing! The flooding, though, I hurt for those beneath these waters. We know folks who live near where the flooding is horrid in our South, down by Mississippi. Prayers you stay safe, your kith and kin stay safe, and our own friends stay safe.

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    1. This was a Come & Sing scratch Messiah, Jean (I played continuo and did a sectional rehearsal) and also a Come & Listen for the audience! But yes, flooding is awful wherever you live. Thanks for your kind thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Deluge — Calmgrove – Earth Balm Creative

    1. If natural disasters take front stage then we often lose sight of the human drama or else it becomes mere garnish upon apocalypse. I think Joan Aiken has the flood at the climax but we never lose sight of the dramatis personae.

      Liked by 1 person

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