|5,000 MILES – BUT THE SAME SEA-LEVEL|
HYDROPHOBIC? – MOVE UPSTAIRS.
John Vidal writes in The Guardian today of Kutubia, an island near Bangladesh, which has been abandoned by 40,000, about one-third, of its inhabitants due to rising sea level. It’s a long way from New Yorkand London, in fact about 8,000 miles and 5,000 miles respectively – but sea-level is no respecter of distance. Short and local tidal fluctuations aside, there is only one sea-level on our planet. “We are all in this together” – Kutubia today; London tomorrow. Five billion of us live on the coastal margins.
Here is how the Whitaker family experiences sea-level rise in central London,in the novel Out of the Depths (see Amazon Kindle e-book in the right hand margin):
At home, at 17 Marylee Way, Lambeth, twenty-three feet above sea-level, the Whitakers were untouched for the first few weeks of the Spring Tides and life continued almost in its normal, dependable ways. They all bought wellies for shopping and Dad acquired a black-market home-flood-defence-pack, through a mate at the local pub, for a real knock down price – with no questions asked. The nod-nod-wink-wink flood-defence turned out to be a folding plastic wall, three feet high, fifteen feet long, the length of their house frontage, weighted down by a sealed, sand filled hem. It provided reassuring solidity and waterproof mouldable seals where it contacted the walls and lay across their front door, by the counter-intuitive process of filling the bulk of it with water. Once filled, it was both very heavy and very flexible, blocking every crevice where flood-water might creep in.
One Friday evening, just as the light was fading, the gutters in the street had quietly filled with water and a few manhole covers in the street lifted ever so slightly. Kids trickled out of the terraced houses and formed in groups, sitting and crouching on the pavements, to sail toys and paper boats on the flow – until Arnold Whitaker came by on his way back from his work on the Thames tourist boats and river buses.
“’Ere! Get yer ‘ands out of there! You kids. Get yer ‘ands out. S’filthy. Look! It’s got sewage in it.”
A five year old boy in a worn, black, padded puffer-jacket looked at him speculatively and noted Arnold’s silver jack knife on his tool belt. “That your knife Mister?”
Arnold ignored the question and addressed the wider audience. “Git up out of it, you kids. It’s absolutely bloody filthy. It’ll make you ill. Make you all sick – get away from that water…”
But the pale faced child was really focused. He tugged at Arnold’s jacket. “I said…” he enunciated slowly and very clearly, so as to leave Arnold, who might be a foreigner, in no doubt, “I said… That your knife, Mister?”
Arnold was momentarily distracted and brushed the child’s hand away. “Yeah, course it is. Yeah, it’s me ferry knife. Now you kids…”
“Then give it to us Mister! Give us your knife. I like it.” And the boy got one hand onto the Jack knife, hampering Arnold’s forward motion.
“Git orf. Git orf me. Let go me knife! …And all you kids,” he raised his voice, “Come away from that water. Come away – it’s got shit an’ all sorts in it! It’ll make you really ill!”
“Will …you …give …us …your …knife.” The child stated again, patiently, with deadly purpose.
Arnold was again forced to engage with the child. “I will ‘ell as like – No! get orf!”
The five year old considered his options. He was one metre high, weighed a little over thirty pounds and was a minor, without legal property rights, and his home location was well known to Arnold – so even if he could steal the knife, he had no hiding place. Arnold Whitaker, on the other hand, stood six feet high, two metres or so, weighed around a hundred and sixty pounds and was in the prime of life and had all the privileges his age conferred. The older mature male was however constrained by customs, protocols and various Child Protection Acts. But, a major consideration, he was also becoming agitated about something and in confusion might lash out irritably. The child had nowhere to go – no further tactical arguments to deploy.
He took a cautionary step back, his face deadpan, his eyes watching Arnold’s every twitch and body signal.
“Then Fuck-off mister!” he said gruffly and quietly, and he turned and walked away with all the dignity he could muster.
Arnold adjusted his home’s flood defence and as darkness fell and the street lights cast their prison compound orange glow, he stepped over the barrier into his open door and closed the door against the night and the sea. All the family were in – he was relieved to find – and with the door shutting out the world they settled down for their tea; Mum, Dad, the two older girls, Alice and then Alex, the youngest, ranged round the table with the television ten feet away, belting out the news of London’s stubborn floods.
“That barrier’s working, I think, Mother.”
Mother looked out suspiciously through the curtains, onto the pavement. “I hope so. The waters got onto the pavement now. It’s only an inch or two below the door sill.”
“Well they’ve just said on the telly …Even if it don’t go down, it’ll not rise more than an inch or two this month – unless there’s a bore or some’at; like a surge up river. So we should be fine!”
As he spoke, a disturbingly loud glugging and gurgling came from the downstairs loo at the back of the kitchen. It drew all their eyes to the kitchen floor. The sink pipe glugged too.
“Oh! Bloody ‘ell.”
“What is it Dad?”
He pointed at the kitchen skirting boards they could see through the open door. Just below the skirting, on the floor, tiny bubbles were popping into existence then bursting, leaving a tiny drop of water. Alice crossed the living-dining room and put her hand on the fitted carpet where it met the wall. “It’s really damp, Dad!”
A minute rivulet of water forced its way through the cross-joint of four lino tiles laid in the kitchen and strayed about, looking for somewhere to rest.
“It’s comin’ up through the floor.”
“And through the walls Dad!”
The six of them sat in silent indecision for a minute or two.
“It could get the electric sockets tonight.” Arnold warned. “And trip the fuses. Then we’ll ‘ave no lights.”
“Let’s get everything we can – upstairs. Quick now!”
And so the family had abandoned its three rooms and lavatory downstairs and took everything portable to the four smaller rooms upstairs. Arnold sealed off the kitchen lavatory door with tape and filler. Whatever the pipes might regurgitate was better not being allowed into the kitchen. Fortunately, the loo in the bathroom worked, even if it made alarming sounds…
MOVE TO HIGHER GROUND.