After the Deluge

Andrew O’Hagan

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The average mid-life crisis ends in a red sports car, but mine landed in a caravan. I bought it during a fearful rainstorm 18 months ago and moved my fishing rod in the following day. There are two bottles of whisky here and a pot of soup on the hob; there’s a jar of pencils, an old typewriter, and a nice edition of The Mill on the Floss, which contains the best written account of a British flood that presently exists. As I write, and look out at the Clyde Firth, I fear that George Eliot’s coagulated waters might be about to overtop Ailsa Craig, the craggy rock in the middle of the sea that in my childhood was called Paddy’s Milestone.

I expect to be spending Hogmanay at the bottom of the sea. I’ve just been to Sainsbury’s in Saltcoats to see what they have in the way of life-jackets, flares and oars, half-expecting to be encircled tonight by the briny deep on my sudden way to Newfoundland. Mind you, I always said to the caravan-begrudgers that it would be a vessel to a new world, where peace of mind and soup-making would do wonders for my concentration. But even I have to admit that I didn’t expect this to mean I’d actually be impersonating a whelk for a living. It happens my fellow Ayrshire molluscs are contemplating similar transport issues tonight. In Dailly, a single-decker bus was stranded when the River Girvan bust its banks, and ten people had to be airlifted to safety. Further south, half of Dumfries was under water and the taxis couldn’t make it to the pubs, and neither could the publicans, who sat at home worrying about their insurance. Meanwhile, the West Coast trains from London were stopping at Carlisle, after a viaduct north of the border crumbled. The trains can’t be diverted via Kilmarnock because the line is flooded.

Thousands of people are without electricity. It may be no time for jokes. Yet one elderly gent in Dailly got the soldiers laughing as they towed him and his wife away from their flooded cottage in a bright orange dinghy. ‘Jesus,’ he said. ‘This is great. It’s the first time me and the wife have been out together for about forty years.’ In the Lauriston Bar in Ardrossan, the boys – as they still call themselves, in their late fifties – were gathering to face the new year and the bad weather with a barrage of rum and cokes. The girl behind the bar was just reminding one of them what he said when she asked him last night if he’d no home to go to.

‘With any luck, naw,’ he said, ‘the wind and the watter can take the hoose, so lang as it takes the mortgage along with it!’ Nicola Sturgeon dropped in to Newton Stewart to pay tribute to the resilience of the local people. She’s not wrong. And Sturgeon doesn’t need her wellies to get close to the people, unlike the flood-defenceless Cameron, whose cuts to the North of England left the people there vulnerable. It isn’t nationalism that keeps the people dry, but good governance and a sense of fairness. And to see the North of England struggle for sandbags on the day Tory backers are handed knighthoods may be a signal moment. We’re not in Kansas anymore, comrades, and Cameron’s devotion to inequality will prove his epitaph. With that happy thought, and a fond farewell to the old year, I raise a glass. Meanwhile, the beach seems suddenly to have grown very short, and the landlubber’s delights seem altogether temporary. The next time you hear from me I expect to be heavily bearded and international in outlook.