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 (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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The Great Wraysbury Floods – 2014 (10)

April 14, 2014

(Cont…..) Part Ten

Welcome to the Truman Show!

"Essential flood supplies and more!"

“Essential flood supplies and more!”

After the usual unsettled nights sleep, upstairs on ‘Gilligan’s Island’ (We could only refer to upstairs as Gilligan’s Island now as downstairs was strictly speaking, completely underwater!) Wednesday 12th February 2014 began with my usual check on Bracken (my dog) to let him out onto our flat roof for his early morning ablutions. But that morning I was overwhelmed with a horrendous stench, ‘what the hell was in that Thames water?’ I thought. It took me a moment to realize, the smell wasn’t coming from the stagnant water downstairs, instead it was clear that the chemotherapy which Bracken had started five days ago was beginning to make it’s presence felt, there was s**t everywhere, the kind of s**t only chemotherapy could cause, which is on a whole new level! Trust me, I’m a former oncology nurse.

I began trying to clean up the evidence before my wife woke up, when I spotted one of our two cats downstairs stood in water up to her stomach, drinking it! Clearly this was no place for her, the water would kill her, unless we found somewhere for her to live for a while. Then it occurred to me, if she had to leave anyway, why not blame her for the smell and diarrhoea.
Genius I thought, as I sat drinking my first coffee of the day. Now I don’t know if I’d contracted dysentery overnight or my trench foot had began spreading to my brain but this random thinking was increasing in frequency. I began to seriously think perhaps all the events connected to the flooding were not real. A bit like the Truman show! (a film about a man who’s life unbeknown to him, existed in a TV world where the whole world watched him face challenging situations which were thrown at him one after the other by the studio directors. Truman and how he reacted to those challenges were the only real things in his TV world)
It was all beginning to make sense now, the camera people everywhere, the hero Dave Francis, the heroine Su Burrows, the environment agency as the villain and an army with rubbish army costumes (no wellington boots and hair too long it wouldn’t fool an Iraqi insurgent). I was convincing myself the floods, Bracken’s cancer and everything else was just like the Truman show! (The Truman show – Wikipaedia)

As I had my fourth coffee I began to think I could hear some studio director or plot writer saying “The flood is not enough, I want more pain, I want more emotion, I need to see more suffering!” Thinking to themselves ‘How can we push this guy to the limit? We know he’ll break soon……… let’s try feeding his dog some poison while he is asleep and see how he reacts to diarrhoea everywhere.’ I decided that if my growing paranoid assumptions were correct then the best plan of action was to try and ‘not give a s**t’. After all, the whole world could be watching me.

Over the next few days, a sequence of events followed that would challenge even the patience of a saint!

With dwindling supplies and barely enough coffee-mate for my fifth cup of coffee, (fresh milk had long gone, since we had no refrigeration) I could hear the studio director calling ‘Cue elation!’ as our daughter arrived with essential supplies and yet more supplies. I had never been as pleased to see her, well not since the last flood four weeks ago. As she staggered across the front garden in her waders, thigh deep in water bringing everything a flood victim could need and more, I began to well-up, just how desperate a situation had this become that I was so emotional seeing my daughter carrying a box of everyday essentials?

Our family was disappearing!

Our family was disappearing!

We had a good couple of hours with her before she had to make the forty mile journey back home. I’m not sure who felt worst, her for having to leave her normally coping parents in such a desperate situation or us because she brought with her optimism and strength, which would shortly be leaving.

But there was one more job to do before she left, take the cat! I don’t like thinking that our cat is fat (well who would?) but she’s a big girl and quite heavy. Our daughter couldn’t get her car any closer than the village at least half a mile away, which was a long way to carry a ‘big-boned’ cat. I looked up and down the road for signs of anything remotely looking like someone who could help us. Then I spotted them, the ‘Water and Animal Rescue’ team parked in a van a hundred yards from our house. Perfect, I thought as put on my waders and made way towards them. There were six burly gentleman sat in the van as I reached it. The driver wound down his window for me to tell him what I wanted. ‘I have a cat that we need to get to the village, is there any chance you could help us?’ I asked. ‘Sorry mate, we don’t do that’ was the reply.
I didn’t even wait for a further explanation, not that I thought there was one coming. ‘Excuse me! I kind of thought my cat would qualify as an animal, my mistake’ I was really on the brink of kicking his van, to this day I don’t know how I stopped myself. All these people pretending to help and I had yet to experience any of it first hand. It was just like everyone was saying and doing things to push me over the edge, just like the Truman show! ‘I know what you mean mate’ he said. What the hell did that mean? I chose not to pursue things further and ignored him heading back towards the house.

It was a sad time carrying our cat all the way to the village, not just because she’s ‘generously portioned’ but also because it was as if we were giving in to the flood. Until now we had managed to convince ourselves we could carry on as normal. The reality was slowly kicking in. Our family was disappearing. Our son had already left home many days ago as a result of our comprised electricity supply and sewage system.

We said goodbye to our cat and our daughter, not knowing when she would get time off work to be able to visit us again. We slowly made our way back home. Perhaps it would not be long before Bracken could no longer cope with all this……or even us! (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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