Monday, July 23, 2007

Wellingtons victory

Right now, as I recline in my La-Z-Boy in a small seaside town not far from Cape Town, Sky News is all floods, all the time. I feel a strong tide of empathy with my native land at the same time as I feel a certain amount of relief that I am far away from the misery. Wellie-shod locals trudge across the muddy waters between the houses, their faces stoical. Cheery chappies paddle canoes around village streets. A home owner wades through his kitchen with a Sky reporter . "Dishwasher -- that's done. Freezer -- write-off," he explains with a hint of ennui. "Washing machine -- had it." And so on. He's sticking it out to deter looters. Amazingly, Blitz spirit lives on!

I am finding the TV hyperbole a bit confusing. "Unprecedented floods" can't simultaneously be " the worst in 60 years". Another Sky caption exclaims: "Worst floods in modern British history." Eh? 1947 is ancient history? I was five years old then.

Here in the Cape Peninsula it's just started raining, and the wind is squalling. We're getting the first of four successive storm fronts expected this week, roaring in on gale force winds to boil up the ocean, deluge the city with rain, cause rivers to burst their banks and basically be bloody foul. Not for nothing is it called the Cape of Storms.

Interestingly, a chap on Sky was suggesting the UK flooding was a hint of global warming to come. Well, around here, the approaching weather counts as extreme, but it was worse in the days of Lady Anne Barnard, wife of the Secretary to the British Colony, who recounts in her wonderful diaries that the Cape Town Castle (HQ of the British forces) was flooded to unfeasible heights one terrible night at the start of the 19th century.

Toda, with the sea having receded over the centuries, the Castle is safely on dry ground a good way from the shore, but at that time the waves all but lapped at its ramparts. Lady Anne recounts that water burst into the officers' mess, drowning numerous unfortunates. When told of this at the government house, the governor, General Dundas, had a good chuckle. "... all (the brass) had ho-hoed because the general did when the account was carried of the officers of artillery being drowned in their mess room -- a method of taking it which did not much suit the officer who had brought the allarming situation at the Castle to the General", notes Lady Anne drily.

The British were newcomers then, having just chucked out the Dutch, and when calamity struck, they believed it was a kind of tsunami. In fact, as Lady Anne explains, they learnt that the flood had rushed down the mountain on which the city perches.

I experienced a smaller deluge of this kind when a localised storm cloud broke over the mountain behind my house, basically dumping a couple of feet of water on us in a few minutes, followed by a giant wall of mud, growing and gathering speed as it ploughed down the mountain, barrelled into the suburb and right through the town. Houses built on old water courses were actually buried, with people leaping on to their roofs to safety. I slopped around in a few inches of water in the kitchen, but the mud missed my house by a yard; my neighbour's garage was filled to knee height.

Climate change, feh.