….. everywhere said the poet and not a drop to drink. That was the sea of course and the mariner (that ancient one, remember?) was further hindered by an albatross strung round his neck. What has prompted me to write this post now is, of course, the flooding in the UK and actually in Northern France too though my English friends are probably less aware of the plight of the Breton than we in France are of that sinking feeling in the UK. One thing I have learned here very quickly is how ludicrous the preconception the British have that the French don’t like the Brits or that they are partisan to the extent that they have no knowledge of life beyond the Atlantic, La Manche and the Med.
The sheer volume of water that is lying idle in the UK is quite breathtaking. This is a clip sent to me by a friend whose son is at Radley College in Oxfordshire. The Boathouse submerged: (http://www.radleyvideo.co.uk/clips11.html)
The weather is a fascination for me more than the average Englishman which might indicate a minor obsession. Inevitable probably since I was brought up by a father whose quiet hobby was meteorology. He kept charts for the entire time he lived in the house I was brought to as a tiny baby and raised in, it finally being sold when I was already in my 40s. He watched the forecast for farmers and growers every Sunday and somehow the habit rubbed off on me – things evolve of course and my version is not one but four weather apps on my iPhone. This winter I am accustomed to seeing rain cloud icons all over Northern Europe. So there we have it – friends with water in gardens and worse, in their houses. I’m not telling you anything the TV and radio and newspapers haven’t been shouting about since before Christmas. But its got me thinking about my own relationship with water.
I was raised a mile from the Thames (in the village where J and his chums, not to mention the dog, tricked the boatman in Jerome K Jerome’s tale) and spent most of my life in various locations on his reaches – Oxford, London, villages in between. The cheese-shop at Streatley was on-Thames. My daughters spent their baby days and toddler-on-reins times walking the tow-path and feeding ducks. When the youngest cheeselette was around two someone asked me to get into a rowing boat (a competitive one not a coracle) for the first time and being tall and strong and athletic (genetic fortune not anything I had ever worked at – in fact being brushing 6′ tall I had always been self conscious) I was attractive to the club that was hosting the ‘fun’ regatta. They suggested I give it a serious go. I did and I ended up as an Olympic trialist 2 years later. I have many memories of the insanity of that time – a single mother of four young daughters takes to the highest level the sport with the greatest ratio of training to competition whilst living on social security benefits. Another time. I will tell the story another time.
I don’t do well away from water. I love the sea and rivers and lakes. I love rain and I even respond quite well to a puddle. Here I have them all. Except the sea.
Here I live next to La Tarentaine. She flows into La Rhue – one of my walks is called Au Coin de La Rhue which is a lovely play on words – coin de la rue means at the corner of the street. La Rhue in turn flows into La Dorgogne. La Dordogne rises about 30 km from here at the feet of the massif de Sancy. By the time it reaches Bort les Orgues (my nearest small town) she is already showing herself to have aspirations of greatness. So many streams have flowed off the hills and into her and she is greedy for La Rhue who has already swallowed my Tarentaine. That’s how rivers work. The strong survive, the weaker serve.
It is a myth that all rivers flow to the sea. Most do. Some, though, flow to a lake and some actually just meander to nothing. All flow downwards but there is no law about direction. I love them all. The babblers, the strong silent types. All are beautiful. All should command respect. When I am walking with The Bean we cross many streams but I am cautious of her, small as she is, stoic and intrepid as she is – some are just a little too strong, particularly when the rain has fallen for a while or the snow has thawed, and if she got it wrong she would be swept away. I sat once by the river at Wallingford as they dredged it for a teenager who had gleefully dived in and under and not resurfaced. A couple of barmy hot sunny days before, out sculling, I had pleaded with he and his mates to respect the river. When he came up his life had left him. I will never forget the anguished cry of his mother cutting the air like the sharpest scalpel on the heart.
And there are lakes here.
Formed from volcanic craters in the main but some the result of a barrage – a dam. Hydro-electric power is vital to the grid in France. And they have it right – in the UK we buy much of our power from France. Water is a powerful force and it seems that water is running amok like a badly behaved toddler in the UK just now. Perhaps the clever boffins should look at harnessing more of that bad behavior and not just for reservoirs but for its sheer energy.
For me water has shaped my life. When I walk, it is by water, through water and often with water hurling down on me from random clouds above. My sculling boat is still in the UK. I miss that feeling, that weightless feeling and the sound as the blades slice into the water, the boat gliding forwards. Actually, the reality is that often the boat is tipping from side to side, the blades enter the water unevenly and the whole damn thing is a mess. Much like the relationship of man to water just now. Untidy, unkempt and unfortunate.