Monday, 27 January 2014

Flood Blog

Flood Shepperton Towpath Feb 2014
Come gather 'round people 
Wherever you roam 
And admit that the waters 
Around you have grown 
And accept it that soon 
You'll be drenched to the bone 
If your time to you 
Is worth savin' 
Then you better start swimmin' 
Or you'll sink like a stone 
For the times they are a-changin'. 

AFTERMATH 13th March 2014
Primeval landscape, The Towpath Brown

The times have definitely a-changed for us. The flooding is yesterday's news now but it has been a foretaste of things to come which we have had to acknowledge. Climate change is the theme of the moment, but us wiping out biodiversity is going to have huge consequences one way or another.
 It has given a sense of perspective of what's necessary for survival (family and community, a warm dry bed, connection to the natural environment) and what's unnecessary (all the stuff we don't need, money, politics, Winter Olympics, conflict). BBC News - Flood diehards: Riverside residents refusing to budge
13th Feb
What a long time ago it seems since the January blog below. And what a doddle it seemed then compared to now. The water in our house was 7" higher than January, 5" higher than 2003, stopping 1/2" short of the freezer electrics. Starting exactly a month later on Friday 7th Feb, the water came up much more quickly this time, about 3" a day over 2 days before slowing down as the water spread further, peaking on Monday evening. Sunday was when the family baled out, to in-laws and my Mum.
Lucy, Dan and the boys evacuating. No more pirate games..
Also  transported Liz and Andrew and family from Reed Place. Normal life like getting to work and school is impossible now.
Next was Alan and Gaenor - their house wasn't in water, but they were getting stir crazy..

The scruffy old truck has once again been brilliant for evacuating people and getting supplies, post, papers etc. I have wasted a lot of money in my time, but that truck has been one of the better buys.
In low 4WD, at a snail's pace with no wash, it got through the 2'+ high water in Ferry Lane with warning lights hardly coming on.
Bryce from Nauticalia has been running a regular free shuttle service, and various others have been giving lifts, including John Lee. Community pulling together independently of politicians, army or police! Linked by email and phone.

To add to then and now pictures, here's the Towpath Harvest Sept 2013,
 And now…
The Towpath Green is now going to be the Towpath Brown
x marks the spot of above pics - from Daily Mail

x marks the spot. Note part of the Ranges, ex flood meadow
1947 Floods - much less built up, much more farmland, more floodplain.

The water has dispersed far more widely than 2003, including into the Ranges, which was 80 acres of flood meadow before the gravel got extracted and it got landfilled and capped with a clay non porous topping. But at least the water's going somewhere other than our houses.

I am getting sick of smelly socks from wearing waders all day. And the constant sound of water pumps (why?) and helicopters is wearying. The piano that arrived hours before the January flood is now delaminated at the bottom. But it's not the end of the world, it still plays. A pile of power tools got drowned, but are probably salvageable. 5 of the cars parked up at the top of Ferry Lane were hit by falling trees during the storm on Friday night -Saturday. Mine narrowly escaped. Many of the trees coming down e.g. in next door's garden, have been Leylandii- overgrown hedges, tall and thin without much root strength.

My beehive entrances were under water, so I put wooden blocks under the roof to allow air and an exit for the bees. 

So many people have been amazingly kind and supportive and offered accommodation etc..
Donations of non perishable food and other supplies have been coming to the Jubilee Centre. We were embarrassed about accepting these because we're not poor, or short of food - just short of space! Anyway, we heard that it was sent on to more appropriate destinations.
  Simon Brown, who has been doing some carpentry for Lucy, cycled through 2' of water getting soaked without waders to bring us some (delicious) home made hot stew.

We and the other Towpath oldies have been doing ok, but it has been desperate for so many people who didn't expect to flood. I would like to say to them, please don't despair. It will pass. You'll get help and support with cleaning up. And don't get angry; blaming is a waste of energy. We are all responsible for this situation!

if we could acknowledge this, and accept that we can't control nature or predict anything, it would be the first step to finding a solution (see/hear BEEDANCE HAIKU)

2nd March -
A tacky ITV piece done last week about Flood Heroes - there were no heroes, just a lot of people doing what any community ought to do. The footage at the beginning is worthwhile though (after the ad which you can't skip)

When you're head of a borough that is all on floodplain, this is not a very wise remark!
Dave is one of the Spelthorne Tree Wardens, volunteers who plant street trees requested by residents. NB - trees absorb 67 times more floodwater than grass! Willow even more!


This is our area - we're behind trees

This was our third flooding in 31 years, all in the last 13 years of being here. We're used to it but a lot of people in the SE have been completely surprised by being flooded this time. 2003 was higher, but had to wear waders and have breakfast in wellies both times. We're having to deal with the environmental consequences of our actions sooner than most! But it will hit everybody sooner or later...

The flooding was slower to rise than in 2003, and more extensive. There has been a lot more building in 11 years, and a lot more paving of front gardens for parking. Could this be the reason why? At any rate, there is a need to address the drainage issue.

Sunrise Towpath Green, 5th Jan 2014
Sunset Towpath Jan 2003
Tues 7th Jan
It was an amazing piece of luck that the piano arrived from Eastbourne first thing in the morning. It was being chucked out by Kayleigh's parent's neighbour and would have been broken up if we hadn't paid for it to be brought here. It was raining when they brought it in, but a few hours later it couldn't have happened because the garden started filling up. Same with Clive and Jack cutting the tree in our swamp that was leaning and about to fall on Geoff Godsmark's  garden. They wouldn't have been able to do that a few hours later.
So I spent the rest of the day clearing the bottom end of the Doghouse, where the children's DIY craft workshops have been happening. In 2003 it came up much more quickly, which is why so many books and drawings got wrecked. 
Doghouse Jan 2003
This time I had time to pull out drawers and lift the bed with Lucy and Kayleigh onto plastic boxes that the Tree Wardens use for mulch- they were perfect.
The water started to trickle in around 5…

Hedley came with a team and in an hour we lifted his stuff off the floor in the barn, onto ladders perched across plastic boxes. Many hands did make light work.
Wed 8th Jan
Water up another 2 inches, and into the barn, so me and Lance lifted some more things up there.
 It came up much more slowly than 2003, so there was time to get stuff lifted. Even so, you had to be conscious of your every movement, like getting your phone out while standing in water, and I managed to drop a whole pile of photos of scenery work in the garden while taking them to a drier place.
Cars were taken to the top of Ferry Lane, except for mine and Julian's which ended up with soaking carpets, and my stalwart me-proof Toyota truck, (the indestructible one on Top Gear), became the only useable vehicle with enough ground clearance. I would like to point out that I went very slowly, unlike a couple of other pickups/4WD's that apparently went bombing along making a bow wave that was guaranteed to go over the top of people's wellies.

Thurs 9th Jan

Roads were closed so no access to the field for Tree Warden activity, and the truck we normally use was in full use by everybody. Just as well because the water came into the house and things had to be lifted there. Chairs onto tables, new old piano onto bricks. Bit gloomy eating supper surrounded by chair legs. 
This is what it was like 11 years ago:
Jan 2003 Living room 3" higher

 Lucy and Dan, whose tree stump doorstep had floated away, had to wear waders to get out of the  boathouse, and Lucy had to piggyback Oscar to the truck, then go back for Rufus, then change out of the waders because she couldn't drive in them and didn't want to be seen at the school gate with them. Which she wouldn't have been because she was so late after collecting Freddy as well that there was no one to see her there. Anyway she looked quite glamorous in chest waders, as much as anyone can.

Collected post and papers from the village, and for some of the old ladies on the Towpath at the same time, who couldn't get out. Alison aged 96 was as cheerful as ever, and Joan aged 86, who had stocked up on biscuits and Marvel she said. They're super resilient.
Kayleigh and Bella baled out to her parents near Eastbourne, like a rat from a sinking ship I said unkindly, but actually it was the only option; it would have been impossible with Bella here; there was nowhere for her to be, except upstairs; the water outside was too deep even for a pushchair, let alone toddler's wellies.
Fri 10th Jan
Water up an inch, slowing down. After the meeting about Renfree Corner, collected post, papers, Joan's prescription, and Rufus from nursery, then George, whose workshop was full of water - he hadn't realised how much it would come up and a lot was damaged.
Life was so normal in the High Street away from the flood. By the river, more helicopters than ever were buzzing about, hence the extensive aerial photos.
Sat 11th Jan
Water level peaked at 11/2"- 2" on the ground floor, 3" lower than 2003:
2003 level ground floor
 Still enough to ruin Ritbit's folder of coursework which slipped off the table. L&D and co were holed up in the boat all day. It was a lovely day too.
peak levels 2014
peak level 2003, with freeze.
The peak levels stayed for a longer time in 2003, with much more dispiriting chilly dampness in the house. Then it froze, and took even longer to go down.
Sunday 12th Jan
The willow day planned was cancelled for obvious reasons, also because the waders that would have been used for the pond clearing were in full use at home. Water level down 1"! And the pirates abandoned the telly and came out to play..

Mon 13th Jan
Water level down more, interestingly, further down in the river than where we were, which is basically the level of the water table. The river is controlled by locks and weirs so the level doesn't have much relation to the water table. But the water was out of the living room so we could wear shoes, though it was a bit muddy. Last time it took a couple of weeks to go out of the house.
The pirates went in the swamp in the boat after school, and made the compost heap their treasure island. Lucky boys having all this Nature around them.

People have been very sympathetic, but I think we got off lightly this time, and we always had power and a warm dry area upstairs, and a pickup truck to escape in. I even think flooding was A Good Thing, for 3 reasons:

  • It makes you resourceful, and makes you focus on what's important, and how much unnecessary stuff you accumulate, and made us sort out the piles of paperwork and magazines we don't need.
  • It brought out the Dunkirk spirit along the Towpath once again, people pulling together. Appropriate as there is a Dunkirk little ship being restored along the Towpath. Sadly will be dissipated again now the flood's over…


  • Finally, it was a wake-up call. When it's in the house, we're forced to acknowledge our connection with the environment, and our effect on it, and think about what we can do about it eg- working with nature to slow flooding. Absolutely no point in getting angry and blaming others e.g. The Environment Agency, or 'Them' as in 'They should do something about it'. We're all culpable! 
  • See also  Drowning in Money


  1. What a lovely blog! Very well done, good calm account, do like the 'A Good Thing'

  2. Interesting insight into life on the Thames. Sounds like you have great neighbours on the Tow Path. Best wishes for the weeks ahead....

  3. Sally, your guts, resourcefulness and spirit and integrity are an inspiration! The riverside life, and nature, feature in Roger Deakin's 'Wildwood, a journey through trees', which I heartily recommend, for a time when you are under less duress. take care.

  4. I think you are remarkable! My heart goes out to you looking at the pictures. It is great to see how you are coping but at the end of the day you have had to put up with so much, keep smiling and thank you for sharing this, it is a wonderful account and it is good to be able to have more of a personal insight after seeing so many reports on the TV, thank you for this and all the very best with the clear up and getting your lives back to some semblance of order.

  5. Further flood protection measures would rely on the City upgrading its stormwater pipe-work and tide gates, creating neighbourhood dry-wells and cisterns, and developing its ‘green infrastructure’, such as greenways, levees and detention ponds. A longer term vision involves elevating whole neighbourhoods at a time, with roads, infrastructure and terrain being raised along with houses, to a new safe level, or installing a large-scale flood barrier. This would obviously be extremely costly and financial mechanisms for collecting the necessary resources would be complex. San Diego Water Damage