The Great Wraysbury Floods – 2014 (14)

May 27, 2014
"An eerie night-shift"

“Midnight in the Wraysbury triangle”

(Cont…..) Part Fourteen:

The Night Shift

Increasingly residents of Wraysbury were worried about looters. Many houses had been evacuated and the west side of the village was beginning to resemble a ghost town.

Most evenings during the floods I had donned my hi-visibility vest and patrolled the streets. One particular night I left my flooded home armed with my vacuum flask, head torch, hand torch and mobile phone. There would be no looting that night, not on my watch!

My two-hour shift began at 23.00hrs, It was a cold and miserable night, the water on the roads was still at least 2 foot (60cms) deep. It was an eerie sight, empty houses everywhere and not a soul around. For an hour I walked down the three roads that formed what I called ‘the Wraysbury triangle’ occasionally shining my torch at abandoned-looking houses.

I felt very proud about what I was doing. I thought if I knew someone like me was patrolling the streets, I would sleep a little better knowing their presence might just deter the opportunistic burglars who were growing in threat as the flood continued.

Halfway through my shift I found a good vantage point where I could see at least two of the roads and more importantly my house, where I had left my wife alone and pretty much in darkness due to our compromised electricity supply. As I drank my coffee I was thinking how abandoned our house must look, which might just catch the eye of any prowler. Just then, a small 4×4 jeep came towards me very slowly.

Despite my hi-visibility jacket and driving close enough for me to see there was a male driver and at least one other passenger, the driver seemed not to see me. I finished off my coffee as I watched him drive very slowly further down the road.

After a few yards he stopped for about 30 seconds and set off again and then stopped again, this time for much longer. I was convinced they were up to no good. Why were they stopping? What were they doing? I decided to follow them. Despite the deep water, I was gaining on them and had to quickly think what I would say to them. I checked my phone was at hand but then remembered I had used up the battery earlier messing about trying to make a video of the surreal situation of patrolling alone in the middle of the night, in a flooded village. There was not a soul in sight despite just about every rescue service in the UK claiming to be here, helping!

Undeterred by something as futile as no means of communication, I decided to keep going, besides they were in my sights now and I was totally convinced they were up to no good. I was within thirty feet (9 m) of them when the car moved on again very slowly.

As I reached the house they had stopped at, I quickly scanned it with my torch. Just then a window opened and someone shone a very powerful torch at me, lighting up my hi-vis jacket like a firework. Before I could tell him he realized and switched it off. “Why the hell is he doing driving so slowly?” he shouted. “I don’t know” I replied, “I’m trying to catch up with them, can you call the police for me?” He agreed to do that and wished me luck. By this time the car had stopped again so I was gaining on them once more. My heart was pounding, I knew the Police would take a while to get there, if they came at all. I was speeding up whilst also trying to be as quiet as I could. I nearly fell twice, tripping over submerged bollards at the side of the road.

The car took off again. I wasn’t sure if they’d seen me or not as they turned left onto a quiet road. Despite living in the village for ten years, I had never been down that road and so had no idea if it was an escape route or if they had just pulled out of sight.

I stood listening to the car engine, which suddenly stopped. It was just around the corner. I was close, ‘I don’t know what to say’ I thought to myself. ‘Maybe I should just wait for the Police’. Instead I decided to confront them.

"Strangers in the night!"

“Strangers in the night!”

As I turned the corner the car was just there at the entrance to a driveway. The driver’s car door opened and a tall guy wearing a head torch got out. “Hello” I said. He said nothing he just switched on his head torch and shone it right in my face, so I quickly did the same. There we were in the middle of the night trying to blind each other with our Tesco ‘buy one get one free’ head torches. “Do you live here?” I asked. “Yes” he replied. I didn’t expect that, I quickly retorted “What number is this house then?” hoping he would crack under interrogation. “Number eight” he said. ‘What should I say now?’ I thought, I had no idea what number house it was. If I said okay and it wasn’t number eight then he would have the upper-hand. “That may well be” I said. “Only there has been a lot of looters coming round here, so me and the other volunteers are just keeping an eye on things”. I was trying to create the impression that I wasn’t alone. “Are you on your own?” he asked. “No, of course not” I said trying to make light of it, “there is another team just around the corner” Just then his passenger appeared behind me. Trying to not look too startled I turned round slowly to see a woman dressed in a full-length wet suit carrying a large ‘empty looking’ rucksack!!! Now I am no detective but something did not look right to me. They were very intimidating and both standing very close to me, one behind dressed like a scuba diver and the other in front of me trying to burn out my retina with his head torch. I was surrounded!!

The man in front spoke out “Well, if I was who you think I am, someone like you would not last two seconds” I was pretty scared, now being threatened with no means of communication, all alone and practically freezing to death I decided to go for the sympathy vote. “I’m just trying to help, keeping an eye on things, you know, doing my bit for the community. Anyway, good night” I said, beating a hasty retreat not daring to look back to see if they were following.

It took me about ten minutes to get home through all the water, I was furious. Why had I not topped up my phone battery before I went out, why had I messed about trying to make a movie and why was I so crap at dealing with confrontation?

As soon as I got into the house I grabbed my wife’s phone and called the Police. I was delighted to hear my suspects had already been reported, presumably by the chap hanging out of his bedroom window and the police were on their way. Phew!

After my near death ‘night-shift’ experience, I decided I would concentrate my home guard efforts just to my own street from now on, at least there I knew the house numbers!
(to be continued……….)

Disclaimer: The content in my blog is provided for entertainment purposes only and as such is in no way reflective of any recognized sailing regulations or guidance. Whilst all the stories are factually correct, the identities of the people concerned may have been changed to protect me from any liability. Please consult a sailing book, preferably endorsed by the Royal Yachting Association (RYA), before going anywhere near the River Thames. All content is copyrighted to Bracken, in the hope it might eventually pay for his chemo!

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The Great Wraysbury Floods – 2014 (13)

May 10, 2014

(Cont…..) Part Thirteen:

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get!”

"Will someone please help?!!"

“Will someone please help?!!”

Saturday 15th February 2014 brought with it some terrible winds, thankfully however the re-flood we were bracing ourselves for never appeared. The water in the garden was still quite deep though at around two feet (600cms) which meant that many of the bushes and trees resembled something out of the everglades with the ground below them just very soft mud.

I was getting increasingly concerned about two sixty feet (18m) pine trees at the bottom of the garden that over hang an outdoor hut which we had recently purchased as a Christmas present to ourselves. As the wind got stronger, I became more and more obsessed with the trees. Watching them constantly from the living room window I reassured myself  ‘Surely we do not deserve any more bad luck?’. Eventually I could stand it no longer and put on my waders to venture down to take a closer look. I was horrified to see the roots of one of them totally exposed!

I ran back to the house (well perhaps not ran exactly, the water was still a couple of feet deep plus I had put my wife’s waders on by mistake) I had no idea what to do. Reluctantly I decided to phone the bronze control centre but was yet again told there was no help available.

I found it really difficult to just stand and watch the trees get blown over towards our lovely thatched hut, partly because I was still wearing my wife’s waders and partly because I wasn’t sure if it would be covered with the house insurance. I kept trying to think of ways I could prevent them from falling any further.

After about an hour of head scratching I was delighted with the arrival of six firemen from the London Fire-brigade who had come to see if they could help. For forty-five minutes we all paced up and down the garden in our waders, trying to figure out how the trees could be restrained and be prevented from falling on the hut. Strangely I was pleased to see their concern, it was reassuring me I had not over reacted about the situation and had done the right thing asking for help.

After much deliberation over winches and pulleys they finally came up with a plan and called their watch commander on the radio to get his approval to execute it. For an agonizing fifteen minutes we waited for their commander to give the go ahead. Unfortunately the long awaited call back brought bad news, apparently for health and safety reasons it was too risky for the firemen to get involved. Besides my tree was not on a public street and so not a threat to the community!?

I was disappointed but not surprised. I think the firemen were more frustrated than I was as they repeatedly apologized and said they wished they had just gone ahead and done it without asking for permission. Nevertheless, I thanked them for their efforts and assured them we would sort something out ourselves, after all that was what we had been doing for the past month.

By now the storm had gone away, however the degree of lean of one the trees meant that the threat of it falling, had by no means gone away.

I tried to ignore the trees for the remainder of the day deciding to put on my volunteers fluorescent jacket and do my anti-looter rounds, which I had by now become accustomed to particularly when I was pissed off. Secretly I was hoping I might catch a looter to take out my aggression on.

"Can you help us, we have a blind cat and a dog on chemotherapy that need saving"

“Can you help us, we have a blind cat and a dog on chemotherapy that need saving?”

The following morning the weather was pretty good and more water had gone from the garden. However, the worst tree now looked as if it was about to take out the hut, next doors fence and a large Acer tree! But not quite a threat to the community yet, sadly.

Unexpectedly our son and his girlfriend arrived offering to help sort the problem. I watched as my son waded down the garden and produced from his arsenal of gardening tools he now stored in our barn, an implement I had never seen him use before.

With great expertise and dexterity he systematically worked his way through every single branch on the tree, cutting each one slowly with a saw attached to a pole that he gradually extended to at least sixty feet (18m). He finished the job by cutting about ten feet (3m) off the height of the tree. Despite being devastated that such a beautiful tree was now just a fifty foot (15m) log sticking up out of the ground, I was relieved and very proud of my son for helping us make it safe, God knows no-one else was willing to help.

We celebrated with a beer and spent the rest of the day chopping up the branches and joking about things we could ask for help with, which might just get a ‘yes’ response.
(to be continued……….)

Disclaimer: The content in my blog is provided for entertainment purposes only and as such is in no way reflective of any recognized sailing regulations or guidance. Whilst all the stories are factually correct, the identities of the people concerned may have been changed to protect me from any liability. Please consult a sailing book, preferably endorsed by the Royal Yachting Association (RYA), before going anywhere near the River Thames. All content is copyrighted to Bracken, in the hope it might eventually pay for his chemo!

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The Great Wraysbury Floods – 2014 (12)

May 6, 2014

(Cont……) Part Twelve

As if by magic!!

"As if by magic!!!?"

“As if by magic!!!?”

Before we could enjoy the non-essential supplies our daughter had brought us on Thursday evening 13th February 2014, our doorbell rang! Which is not particularly strange under normal circumstances, however our doorbell had not been pressed since the flooding started, which had been over a month ago. To my surprise, it was a messenger representing the environment agency. He had kindly come to tell us ‘they’ would be dropping the water level around our house by eight inches (20cms) but warned us not to get too complacent as they were just doing this to make space for the heavy rain forecast for the coming weekend. Thanking him for thinking about us and for the information, I closed the door. For a moment or two I could not speak. I had to process what I had just been told. ‘Did he just say they were going to drop the water level eight inches (20 cms)?’ I kept asking myself over and over. ‘How the hell are they going to do that? After all, this was an uncontrollable flood, was it not?’

“Who was at the door?” my wife enquired, which she had been doing repeatedly from the kitchen since the doorbell rang. “I think it was someone from the environment agency”, I replied. “He said they are going to drop the water level by eight inches (20cms) to make way for the storms at the weekend” I told her, struggling myself to believe what I was saying. The water in our home was still twelve inches in the annex and four inches in the main house. Even without my engineering background I could have quickly calculated that a drop like that would put the water level at four inches below coming in the house. However, not even my engineering background could help me understand how the Environment Agency could actually do that, after all this was a natural disaster was it not, beyond the control of any mere humans or the environment agency……was it not?

Before retiring to bed at about nine O’clock, (which by this point had become pretty normal due to limited electric, no Sky TV and being very tired as a result of everything that was going on) I decided to mark exactly where the water level was outside the house so I could check if indeed it dropped at all. ‘Eight inches?’ I remember mulling over and over in my head as I laid in bed, wondering what odds a bookmaker might offer me on that if I was to call them. Then I remembered I had unplugged the telephone due to a shortage of electric sockets and that my mobile phone was probably flat, and so I fell asleep.

Friday 14th February 2014 was going to be a busy day, (Don’t worry, I hadn’t forgotten what day it really was) Bracken had to be taken to the vets for a blood test before he could have his next dose of chemotherapy. The plan was that I would give him that weeks chemotherapy since it was cyclophosphamide which is in tablet form and of course being a former Royal Marsden oncology nurse, I couldn’t think of anyone better to do that.

The day before I had again asked for help at the command centre. I had done this in the hope that I could avoid the challenging task of carrying a 27kg dog through thigh deep water and risking him getting an infection in his immune compromised state, from the polluted Thames water that surrounded our home and village. But as you might expect if you have been following my blog, help was not forthcoming …….. yet again! Even the RSPCA (Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) who had enjoyed much media publicity for being the first emergency services to come to Wraysbury, said they couldn’t help. Apparently they didn’t have a vet who could come to the house and take his blood! I did not dare ask if they would consider taking him to the vet for me, after all they were very busy!

"No, we didn't forget!"

“No, we didn’t forget!”

When morning came, I rather nonchalantly made my way downstairs expecting the water in the house to still be at the level it had been for the past couple of days and winning the bet I had made with myself that ‘the environment agency were actually not capable of doing anything they said they would’.

As I reached the ground floor I was astounded to see the water had practically gone from the house. There was some water pooled around the edges of the laminate flooring but apart from that it was pretty much all gone! I hurried outside to check the marks I had made the night before and confirmed to myself the water had actually dropped quite significantly. So much so I felt compelled to get my tape measure and check exactly how much it had fallen. “Seven and a half inches! (19 cms)” I shouted up to my wife. “How the **** have they done that?” I asked her. More importantly though, I asked myself, ‘If they could do that, then why did they not do it three days ago and prevent our house from flooding in the first place?’

So, I had lost my bet with myself, for once the environment agency had done exactly what it said it would, to within half an inch (12mm’s). In less than eight hours!!! Sadly, it was three days too late for us!

The water in the front garden was fortunately low enough now for me to carry Bracken and lift him over the front gate which was now permanently closed to support my environmentally friendly dam and deter the flood wardens who previously had thought it their duty to dismantle it when my back was turned.

The water on the main road was also shallow enough to risk walking Bracken all the way to my car. It was a good day, his white blood cell count turned out to be high enough so we could give him his chemotherapy and the water was shallow enough around the house so that I could wear wellington boots instead of waders!! How crap was my life right then, if that constituted a good day??? Still, my wife and I did exchange Valentine’s day cards that evening, which neither of us opened. Instead we decided to keep that pleasure for a less shitty day!
(to be continued……….)

Disclaimer: The content in my blog is provided for entertainment purposes only and as such is in no way reflective of any recognized sailing regulations or guidance. Whilst all the stories are factually correct, the identities of the people concerned may have been changed to protect me from any liability. Please consult a sailing book, preferably endorsed by the Royal Yachting Association (RYA), before going anywhere near the River Thames. All content is copyrighted to Bracken, in the hope it might eventually pay for his chemo!

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