Hugh Reilly: The gods laugh while mortals flounder

However the reporting of the floods is dressed up, we cannot mask our vulnerability in the face of nature in the raw, writes Hugh Reilly

Royal act: even princes William and Harry have helped with the flood efforts. Picture: Getty
Royal act: even princes William and Harry have helped with the flood efforts. Picture: Getty

UNLIKE natural disasters such as earthquakes, a flood can often be a source of benefit to mankind. On the banks of the river Nile, Ottoman rulers of Egypt employed water level markers to forecast the extent of the annual inundation that would bring with it the abundant deposits of black silt necessary to maintain the land’s productivity. The higher the water mark, the higher would be the taxation imposed on farmers.

When there is a flash flood after heavy rain in Glasgow – yes, it does happen occasionally – it’s prudent to avoid certain areas, such as Carntyne Road. Some years ago, my sister-in-law did not heed my pearls of wisdom, choosing to drive through a roadway that resembled the Nile in spate. Sadly, the water ran into her exhaust system and buckled the engine.

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Until recently, the River Cart on the south side of Glasgow burst its banks every five years or so. Some distraught and drookit sou’siders – reluctant possessors of salmon beats in their bedrooms – hoped for a morale-boosting visit from a representative of the Royal family. Unfortunately, the city’s regular inundations coincided with more pressing monarchical duties such as participating in It’s a Royal Knockout.

Due to a bout of inclement weather, much of southern England is a tad holed below the water line, only reachable by typing “Northern Atlantis” into one’s sat-nav. Perhaps mindful of the fate that befell the rather haughty Marie Antoinette, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, on hearing that millions of her subjects were suffering from riparian incontinence, declined to say: “Let them wear Aigle wellies!” Instead, her grandsons William and Harry sped to the scene as fast as the taxpayers’ transport could take them. Serendipitously, Fleet Street photographers were on hand to capture the princes – heirs to the rump of Great Britain should Scotland vote for independence – forming part of a human chain passing on sandbags. Not since Hans Brinker, the Dutch schoolboy who stuck his digit in a dyke to save his community, have we seen such selfless acts of valour. I think I speak for the nation when I say that, after witnessing this noble deed, how can anyone dare countenance the vulgar notion of republicanism?

To be fair, the political elite championed those in danger of evolving webbed feet. “Money is no object,” pronounced David Canute, sorry Cameron, the Prime Minister. I’d been led to believe that Britain was living in an age of austerity, what with the long-term unemployed being compelled to work for their Job Seekers Allowance and the introduction of the dreaded boudoir tax. As a socialist with a small “s”, the type of “s” found in the last line of an optician’s eye chart, I take great comfort that voters in the Tory heartland have finally embraced the ideology of collectivism.

The new converts to primitive communism are demanding adequate flood defences and regular dredging of waterways, both enterprises to be paid out of the public purse. People who have been charged £30 for four sandbags by their financially hamstrung councils are raging, not drowning. If southerners receive government largesse, I fully expect citizens of flood-hit blackspots in northern Britain to demand similar compensation payments – backdated, of course.

It would be cynical to say that the catalyst for Cameron’s almost Tourette-like outburst was his sinking popularity in opinion polls. It seems the countless photo-ops of our be-wellied leader pointing out problems to yawning environmental experts have failed to convince many that he is the right man at the helm. In a recent survey, 51 per cent of people said the PM had responded “badly”. Floating voters are drifting towards Ed Miliband, the Labour leader responsible for his party treading water these past three years. Little wonder the seas around the island of Britain are chock-full of messages in bottles imploring to be saved.

Saturation news coverage of inundations affecting the beautiful people of southern England gives the impression that flooding is a new phenomenon, akin to Tuareg tribesmen suffering snow-blindness following an avalanche in the Sahara Desert. To my certain knowledge, if it rains in Perth for 40 days and nights, it’s termed a drizzle. The frequency of floods in the Fair City has been such that Ikea has seriously considered launching an Ark-self-assembly-kit (with dovetail joints, naturally).While meteorological scientists indicated a shift in the jet stream as a likely cause of the incessant precipitation, one Ukip councillor claimed that the floods were a punishment from God for gay marriage. Call me a doubting Thomas, but would a traditional, Old Testament smiting be the modus operandi of an all-loving Almighty?

In Nigeria, where homosexuality is somewhat frowned upon, floods bring ravenous crocodiles and hungry hippos into villagers’ homes: in Britain, houses are invaded by Sky news teams. Personally, I’m unsure which is worse. The reporting is formulaic: a waders-wearing bimbo tele-journalist beckons the cameraman to follow her inside the rippling abode of an uninsured resident. As the poor sod surveys the flotsam of what had hitherto been his earthly belongings, the model-turned-interrogator asks him if he fears more rainfall. At this point, I am always disappointed that the householder doesn’t drown the idiot and hide her body under the floating sofa.

Locals making do are televisual gold for rolling news. At the first sign of awashed streets, an attention-seeker riding a half-submerged bicycle video-bombs the reporter’s sombre despatch to the newsroom. Earnest red warnings of roads being impassable are undercut by toffs in Landrover Freelanders cruising past, creating mini-tsunamis that swamp the low-lying Citroën Saxos and Ford Fiestas of impoverished oiks.

Of course, no flooding news story would be complete without a vulnerable old biddy filmed inside an inflatable dinghy being pulled by firemen in full safety gear. Rightly, it’s portrayed as a matter of life and death – sometimes the water can be up to a rescuer’s knees. The drama is often heightened by the pensioner carrying her dog, even though the animal is quite capable of paddling to safety (a mongrel doing the backstroke to terra firma would relieve the viewers’ boredom).

In my view, the continuing floods only serve to highlight humankind’s impotence when confronted with extreme forces of nature. Man makes flood defence plans and the gods laugh.