The perils of living by the river

by Phil Brown

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It rained every day for a month. Mostly it was just a light moistening of the landscape, the clouds tasting the ground for a bit and, liking the flavour, continuing to lick. Then there were days of proper rain, a hacking phlegm from the diseased sky-god above, washing the lesser waters over the full drains, filled to over-brimming with the corpses of their cousins trapped in their cage of hydrogen-bondage.

Such were my thoughts as I watched from my window, a soggy panopticon over the Castle Mill stream, that bit of the river by the ice rink that can’t make its mind up whether to be the Isis or not.  Waking up and opening the curtains was like opening a Christmas advent calendar, except with the same scene behind it and a slightly different water level instead of chocolate. But the excitement was the same. “Cor! It’s really flowing,” “that’s definitely higher than yesterday,” and “Hah! The rowers will be bimbling round like drunken mosquitoes with attention deficit disorder who can’t find their house keys today” were all regular conversation starters around the breakfast table.

Then came a day and a night that made the previous precipitation pale to a perceived perspiration by post-hoc perspective (aside: and yes, that sentence got a green wavy line under it). The internet was alight with flood warnings; Abingdon road became a tidal causeway as the groundwater rose; decorative fish escaped ponds; trees fell and blocked bridges; Wellies were smugly worn; Osney island returned to the swamp from which it came and the pitiful sandbag barrier to our back garden was reassessed, reinforced and religiously consecrated with half a cup of week-old wine.

My lordly mocking of the waterway’s attempts to better itself were suddenly silenced as it jumped a clear foot-and-a-half skyward. The only suitable bodily functions I had left to continue the analogy from the first paragraph were vomiting and haemorrhaging, but I couldn’t bring myself to anthropomorphise the river any more in case I offended it.  Instead I gathered supplies in the upstairs living room: oats, bread, cup-o-soups, whisky, gin, mixers, teabags, water (it’s good to have a hostage) and a kettle (to show I mean business) were arranged on the coffee table. Milk was hanged by a string out of the window as a grizzly forewarning of what I was capable of doing to invading liquids, and also to keep it cold. I figured I had a solid two days’ worth of junk food to keep me going until the booze ran out, and then I’d have to risk wading though the six inches or so of water that would no doubt greet me if I ventured the stairs to get to the offie.

But after a restless night where every liquid noise startled me to adrenaline-filled wakefulness… there was nothing. The Mongol horde of moisture reached the Great Wall of the riverside footpath and stopped. Two inches of footpath embankment saved us from certain death. And if you think that’s over-dramatic and unrealistic then I’m sorry, sorry for your lack of faith. But when you next choose a place to live on short- term contract you’ll remember me and thank all that you hold holy that you read these words, as the voice of reason and wisdom shouting in divine demi-drunken tones in your skull: “if it has a view of the river, make sure your neighbour’s garden is lower than yours”.

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