THIS HAPPENS TO OTHER PEOPLE, NOT US

Take your mind to the south of France. I took mine, with the rest of me, to the village of Pezenas last week, anticipatory drool escaping at the thought of sun, food, wine, good company. I bore the slings, arrows howitzers, mortars, pikes and halberds of the short-term prison sentence that is Stansted Airport in order to pile Pellion upon Ossa and fly with RyanAir. Along with a cram-load of others who were going to somewhere via Beziers, I suffered some more. On a scale of one to ten where ten is reasonable, RuinAir owes the scale at least seven. It is the flying pits.

In Pezenas, came the rain, which should have been falling upon England, but where the sun was out, there, shining ironically. The rain, but at least just rain, went on for two more days – and then the weather gods decided that mere rain was nothing like good enough, and brought up the big guns. On Day Three, the barrage began, and far from politely letting loose in daylight, the gods’ gunners waited for dark, and what followed was tropical. Continuous thunder and lightning, with monsoon rain sheets falling on my head, or on the roof above it. It rained on my parade, because by then I was parading about the house in awe of what was going on outside.

Day Four – still raining right through to mid-morning, when a member of the family, complete with almost-two-year-old, was getting ready to be driven back to Beziers to re-fly with Flyin’ Ryan. Her mum, designated driver, took a stroll to the gate, where she saw a river where the road had been, and the ensuing disaster was something that was not supposed to be happening to us. With that terrifying, slow, unstoppable creep that characterises all floods, which never arrive in a hurry, the muddy water engulfed the front yard, then with inexorable determination, lapped over the front steps to the house, and prepared itself to be the most uninvited and unwelcome guest. We did the headless chicken dance for a minute or so (this is not happening to us, can’t be) then rushed about putting whatever we could, on beds and tables.

Now, the flood was knee-deep and rising. Two cars, one a modest 4-wheel drive SUV and the other a proudly immodest Porsche Boxster, were soon window-deep in water, and quietly writing themselves off. Wade in the water, across a stile of sorts to the neighbouring house, where the entire plot is a lake, but the house is high enough, just, to stay dry. No, no, this is a nightmare – literally. Not happening. Not to us. We don’t do floods or any other form of Biblical visitation.

Rescue comes in the form of local farmers (the flooded area, here, is surrounded by vines) in vans and cars, to be taken to a haven in town, where we are treated like royal refugees. We learn that the entire region has been on the receiving end of the wrath of the gods and flood stories flood the airwaves. A helicopter has been seen winching people from house-tops. I might have liked that. Perhaps not. Enough excitement for one day.

I am standing in a pair of borrowed grey-green very old Lee jeans. Mine are soaked to the crotch. Matching socks, sort of. Mine are destroyed. I was equipped for sunshine and strolls among the vines, not for armageddon.

We go back to the flood-house next day. The waters have receded, but mud is everywhere, and mattresses are floating like wanna-be lilos in various bedrooms, nonetheless bravely bearing various things of value. The waters have to their own amusement but not ours, left tide-marks on walls, measuring heights above carpet like some ethereal grandfather proudly measuring the growth of his watery grandchildren.

It has happened, but it still feels as though it has happened to others and other houses. Which has the odd effect of leaving us in a state of anxiety because … one day, perhaps, heaven forfend etc., it may happen to us.