And now for something completely different.
It’s been six weeks, give or take, since the big floods here. They happened on Boxing Day, which was unpleasant. I was lucky. Despite living less than ten metres from the River Calder, my house remained dry. It’s quite high up, I suppose, and there are lots of easier places for the river to escape from than right by my front door. Nevertheless, when the water was lapping at the boundary wall at the foot of my property, I figured it was time to move all my stuff out of the lower ground floor. This is where I have my office, all my many, many books, and all my many, many goblins. It took me the entire day to move it out. Then the rain stopped, and the water ebbed, and I spent all the next day moving my stuff back. A lot of people had it a lot worse.
The lights went out. Helicopters were thundering overhead. A huge Sikorsky coastguard copter spent two hours rescuing a disabled man from a house sixty metres away which is usually on the other side of the road, on the other side of the river, but which on that day was just on the other side of the river. The Calder broke all its depth records, everywhere, bringing another devastating flood to the Calder Valley only three years after the last.
There are dozens of little streams and rivers around here, but two sizeable rivers in town. The Calder, and the Hebden. It is when the swollen Hebden meets the swollen Calder that the problems start. The water has nowhere to go, backs up, and pours into the town. In Mytholmroyd, the next town on from Hebden they have a similar problem where the Elphin meets the Calder. There buildings collapsed. The community centre had eight feet of water in it. Hundreds of businesses were destroyed, many homes were wrecked. I went out volunteering in the following week. What I saw was shocking, piles of belongings in the road, internal floors fallen into cellars, and dirt and filth everywhere. The army was here. There were looters. On the days afterward, a vast mountain of broken possessions was piled up in the old council yard down the street from me, thirty metres tall. There were avalanches on the moors. It was fucking crazy.
But it wasn’t all bad. Everybody helped. People came from all over to pitch in. Lots of money was donated. The area was thick with voluntary organisations – many of them Muslim – handing out thousands of free meals. Many shop windows bear notes of thanks. Several businesses were going to jack it all in, but did not thanks to the kindness of strangers.
Things are beginning to get back to normal. The cinema – one of Hebden’s jewels – ripped out its lower seating, opened its seldom used balcony and was showing films a few days later, handing out blankets for customers as the heating is bust. One pub right by the river, cunningly flood proofed by its owners, was cleaned up and open in time for New Year’s Eve. Hebden is a hive of activity as various shops are refitted. There’s still crap everywhere. A lot of places are still shut. The main road into Hebden is collapsing into the canal, and one lane is closed, one of many temporary traffic lights to be found on the valley bottom. Potholes are everywhere, and the river is full of rubbish washed out of the towns. Old debates about land management have been reignited. Climate change suggests we’ll be getting more of this endlessly crappy weather. We should cut down on the sheep and plant a few more bloody trees, eh?
I was deeply moved by the community reaction to the disaster here. I was proud to be a part of it, although I wish I could have done more. If anything, it makes my decision to return home seem even sounder than before.