Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Living with Jonah Jones - Kathleen Jones' disastrous identity

I once heard script-writer Andrew Davies say that 'nothing bad ever happens to a writer because they can always earn money writing about it'.  I tried to remember that when my home was under water recently.

Living through turbulent times seems to be my specialty - in fact friends tell me my surname ought to be Jonah rather than Jones because I seem to attract catastrophes.  I went to Christchurch NZ to take part in a literature festival and got caught in the middle of an earthquake;  I house-sat for friends in Italy and got hit by a weather bomb and a catastrophic landslide that cut off an entire village for 6 months.  So it was little wonder that, deciding to spend Christmas at home, some terrible event was bound to strike.

341 mm of rain in a single 24 hour period is a record for the British Isles, and I'm proud to say that Cumbria, my native county, holds it.  Courtesy of Storm Desmond, the rain was biblical.
The Mill on the river bank
I live in an old water mill on the edge of one of the Lake District's biggest rivers, the River Eden, which - when provoked - is anything but Paradise.  It runs down from the hills with a speed and ferocity that has to be seen to be believed.  Normally the river is about 40 feet wide, with a ford below the weir that you can walk across knee deep - perfect for children with shrimping nets.
The ford under the footbridge, which disappeared under the flood water.
Above the weir the placid water is up to your chest, but you can still wade across it. We've had summers of fun swimming off the weir or paddling canoes upstream.
The weir on a normal summer's day - a lovely picnic place.

But, when the river gets angry, swelled by rainfall up in the hills, it swallows up the land on either side and begins to rise up the banks, engulfing the footbridge and my garden, surrounding my house, and creating a brown torrent a hundred yards wide.
The river just about to cut off our rear entrance. 
At one point, this time, it was more than 20 feet deep, running like an express train.  The Mill is built on a plinth about 6 feet above the river bank, several yards from the river, but it quickly rose over the threshold, up through the ground floor, smashing windows and partition walls and then started rising through the workshops on the mezzanine level, at first floor height.
One of the partitions demolished by the flood.
It's never been that high before in the entire history of the Mill.  The building was marooned in the river, encircled by water, both front and back entrances cut off.
Ground floor windows about to disappear.
At one point I had a Sea King helicopter overhead and a kind gentleman on the phone asking if I'd like to be rescued.  I assured him that I had an escape route into a neighbour's garden and would stay.  But after the electricity went off it became much too scary - so much water in the dark - the whole building was thrumming with the force of the water going through, so I left to spend the night with friends wondering if I'd have a home to go back to.
The bridge just before nightfall, about to be engulfed.
I wrote the whole story up on my blog and was very surprised to be contacted by a magazine asking if they could use excerpts from it and some of my photographs. Which just shows that writer's blogs are useful tools.  I've received only a small fee but it will help to swell the flood reconstruction fund. There!  Andrew Davies was right.

Meanwhile, we've been flooded again (Christmas Eve), had a tree blown down by the next storm, and are on flood  alert for yet another storm next week.  I'm getting a bit tired of being stalked by them - Dastardly Desmond, Evil Eva, Ferocious Frank - it was all right until they started giving them names. Hatches now being battened for Gruesome Gertrude.  At this rate, we'll have reached the end of the alphabet by March and I'll have enough material for a book!
The aftermath. Water levels reached up to the beginning of the arch above the doorway.

Smashed windows inside.
I strongly recommend that, when you plan your holidays, you find out where I'm going next and make sure you go somewhere else. Unless, of course, you love a good disaster ...... after all, you can always write about it!

Kathleen Jones is a biographer, novelist and poet who publishes on both sides of the fence.  She blogs at 'A Writer's Life', is often to be found wasting time on Facebook, and Tweets incognito as @kathyferber 

Her latest novel is The Centauress, available on Amazon.



17 comments:

Dennis Hamley said...

Kathleen, how terrible. Apocalyptic even. I can only sit here in placid Queenstown and shudder. I hope Vera and Frank weren't so beastly to you and that things are clearing now . In the light of Kay's struggles in Christchurch with the rapacious insurance industry (which might be closer to an acceptable conclusion), I'd be interested to here something of your negotiation with your insurance people.

Dennis Hamley said...

I meant 'hear'!

Mari Biella said...

I'm so sorry you had to go through all this, Kathleen, and I hope things get back to normal as soon as possible. It reminds me that, no matter how much technology we surround ourselves with, we remain at the mercy of nature. Let's hope nature wears a kindlier face soon...

JO said...

I know these events make a good story - but that doesn't make it fun at the time. I've never been so frightened as I was after a cyclone in Nepal. I hope you are soon dried out at life becomes quieter!

Bill Kirton said...

Devastating, Kathleen, and yet you've described it all so calmly and with such humour. I can't imagine what it must feel like surveying the aftermath and setting about getting such a lovely house back to normal (especially with more threats on the way). You've also voiced, for the first time that I've seen anyway, the observation that, since we've been naming them, these storms seem to be trying to live up to their new individualising identities. I hope you're spared more of the same and that you're soon back to some lovely Cumbrian tranquillity.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Aaargh, so sorry to hear this. I agree about giving the storms names. Not a good plan. Just makes a thoroughly bad situation worse.

Kathleen Jones said...

Thanks for your commiserations everyone. Dennis - you must be joking about insurance! We don't have it here - they won't insure anyone within spitting distance of the river. We've applied for a grant from the Cumbria Flood Relief Fund for repairs and are waiting to hear whether they will give us anything.
You simply have to keep a sense of humour, even if it is rather black, though I confess that seeing the funny side of things has often been impossible over the past month. This flood has been life-changing for hundreds, possibly thousands, of people up here - me included.

Chris Longmuir said...

How awful for you, Kathleen. I shudder to think of the experience, and of course the aftermath of clearing up with no guarantee it won't happen all over again. I'm sure I would never be able to cope with what you've gone through, and would have found it impossible to be so upbeat about it. Even getting the blog out in the midst of all that is a major miracle. I think you deserve a medal.

Wendy Jones said...

How awful Kathleen. I admire your dedication to still get this blog post out. I shudder to think at the cleanup you must need to go through to sort that out.

Enid Richemont said...

God, Kathleen - that's horrendous! Hope you do get Flood Relief - is that financed by the Government (that Environment guy who was holidaying in the Caribbean when it was happening?) Water - that gentle liquid stuff we paddle in, play in, swim in, love to look at - turned into a ravaging beast by the storms with those silly names.

Susan Price said...

I can only add to the sympathy expressed by the others - and thank you for blogging about it with us.
My experience of this long queue of storms has been limited - thankfully - to listening to them roaring around the sky overheard and wondering if my roof will stay on. The rain comes down in torrents, but all runs away downhill to bother unluckier people on lower ground.
But, like you, I've been wondering if, at this rate, the alphabet is going to last through until February. We seem to have a new storm every week.
I can't imagine what it must be like to stand in a building 'thrumming' with running water with a Sea King overheard, seriously offering rescue. - You were very brave!

Kathleen Jones said...

Not brave at all, Sue. You just do what you have to do. Thank you all for your messages of support - it's been wonderful to have them through what has been a very dark time. Although my precious possessions are high and dry, the financial hit is big - so I'd better get busy on the best-seller! There are also long-term repercussions I can't face yet. We were intending to sell and down-size, but it seems we can't - may never be able to. And it just keeps on raining . . . !

Lydia Bennet said...

A sort of typhoid Mary of the weather! A cheerful post considering the swathe of disasters, here's hoping for a change in your luck for all our sakes!

Katherine Roberts said...

OMG! How horribly scary, Kathleen. I don't envy you the clearing up and trying to work amidst all that chaos, although on the positive side your watermill looks a beautiful place to live when the river is behaving itself and I guess in the summer it's peaceful, inspiring and charming...? Hope you have good insurance.

Kathleen Jones said...

No insurance, Katherine! Like most of the people who've been affected this time. No company in their right mind would insure us in the present climate and, even if they did, we wouldn't be able to afford it! Thankfully we've been given a small grant by Cumbria Flood Relief which will help enormously. The charity response here has been amazing.

Reb MacRath said...

Sorry to learn of this, Kathleen. It adds a new dimension to the old Chinese adage about the curse of leading an interesting life. May better times lie ahead.

Fran B said...

I enjoyed your style so much, in spite of the depressing topic, that I immediately went to Amazon and ordered 'The Centauress'. Thank you and good luck with the clean up. Spring IS coming and dry weather with it, let's hope!