IT would need Ian Dury’s biting wit and a Panglossian sense of optimism to find anything very cheery to write about this week, as the winds continue to rip across the West Country, the rainwater pours off the land into flooded watercourses and across the thresholds of homes and businesses and the waves crash relentlessly along the coastline.
Of course, as we have all seen from photographs on countless websites and news pages and film or television news, there is a savage beauty to Big Weather.
Foolhardy spectators – eager perhaps to get the perfect picture that will be snapped up (sorry for the pun) and sent around the world, climb onto jetties and sea walls and are in turn captured on film from the mainland, miniature matchstick men like cut-outs against the soaring mountains of sea and tormented foam.
We have watched with sad horror as fields become vast lakes, roads become canals only navigable in rowing boats and houses stand in two, three or more feet of water. At Christmas, a pub in Sturminster Newton was under five feet of water, with the landlords marooned upstairs.
One of the Jurassic coast’s most famous landmarks, Portland’s Pom Pom stack was smashed like a rock garden with a lump hammer. And the famous arch of stone at Porthcothan has gone.
The armageddon from the skies has reminded us with super-natural force how puny and helpless we are, when the forces of nature combine. As the blinded Gloucester says in Shakespeare’s King Lear, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport.”
We are all drawn to it – we drive down to Lyme Regis or West Bay and stand somewhere we hope is safe to watch the seas roaring up the beach; we climb to high places to look out over the floods on the Somerset Levels; we put on our wellies and wax jackets and trek over the causeways to gaze in awe at lakes where normally the dairy cattle graze.
Across the pond, things have been even worse. A friend who went to Canada for a New Year break was confined to her friends’ home by the Arctic freeze and across North America life has come to a halt in the face of ferocious blizzards and wind-chill taking temperatures down to -50C.
It is so cold it hurts to be outside for more than a couple of minutes. Even the bison and the wolves, equipped by nature to deal with extreme winter weather, must be suffering.
Not really surprising if we’re all talking about the weather, is it?
And hardly surprising that flood-hit communities are calling for a rethink of government plans to reduce DEFRA’s flood defence budgets and funds for the Environment Agency which is cutting 1,500 jobs this year.
With that bland sanguinity that exemplifies this grey generation of politicians, the spokespeople sidestep the question – sure the cuts won’t affect their department’s ability to control the situation.
We cannot control the weather. Look at Portland, look at the Somerset Levels. QED
So what reasons can I find to be cheerful?
I am optimistic about human nature. For every selfish Pharisee there is a good Samaritan. Churches become food-stores for marooned communities and volunteers bring in fresh milk, bread and more by boat.
Coastguards and lifeboat men and fire crews battle the worst the weather can do to rescue those who are at risk, even if they put themselves in danger’s way.
Volunteers risk their own lives to rescue horses abandoned or forgotten, up to their necks in flood-water.
Don’t expect help from politicians. All they can offer is platitudes. But see if your elderly neighbour needs some shopping. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way by driving straight into a flooded lane with no end in sight. Help friends – or anyone in your area– to clear up after floods.
So, it may or may not still be raining outside but we’re with Ian Dury …
A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it
You’re welcome, we can spare it …
(from Reasons to be Cheerful, part 3).