Sunday, 22 July 2007

The 20-7-7 Floods

We've all been affected in one way or another by the amazing weather of the last few days. Some of it has excited me and some of it left me feeling desperately sad for the people who have had to leave their homes.

I left the office just after 4pm on Friday having had a look at the travel websites and detesting the idea of spending a night in Reading without really having to...

Phase 1
I got to the station and found it was not as packed as I feared and managed to get a train to Oxford. Got chatting to a couple of very nice chaps who were also trying to figure out how to get home. We agreed to stick together in a typically British way and get through the time of adversity - all very 2nd World War.

On arrival at Oxford it became clear that there would be no onward travel.

There was an amusing comment made by one of my new friends who said of one of the slightly unhelpful and bemused Network Rail staff: "He was useless - probably a bit thick. He's about 60 years old and he's still an "Assistant Despatcher".. I laughed out loud.

Phase 2
We were joined at Oxford by a decent fellow called Tony. He was going in the same direction so we pooled our resources and went to find a cab - not at the station either because there was an enormous queue there. We wandered into the centre of Oxford and stopped a black cab and told him to get us to Kingham... After some negotiation, it seems that the terms of our agreement with him were:

1) We give him all the money up front.
2) If he comes across a flood on the way there, he'll kick us out in the middle of nowhere. (His words: "If flood, I drop".

So of we went. It took a while but we got within a 1/4 of a mile of Kingham - we walked the rest and that included one of my new friends getting his brand new expensive brogues wet which apparantly helped soften them up.

Phase 3
We picked up my 4x4 at Kingham and this is where the fun really started. Getting out of Kingham was really very difficult because, having got through the flood at the station we were turned back by the villagers who quite understandably did not want:
a) lots of abandonded, flooded cars left in their village
b) did not want the wash of the vehicles going into their homes.

So we made our way round somehow or other. It turned out that 2 of the chaps I had picked up were RAF people who typically devised a system for assessing the floods in front of us on a case by case basis. There was a scale of 1 -5 Severity and we'd make a decision based on the assessment.

Severity 1 - bit of a puddle really. Nothing much to worry about. Have a quick look at it if necessary but carry on. Distance of flood - 20 feet.
Severity 2 - Maybe an abaonded car in the water. Some cars turning back, some making it through. Might be a current of water. Put the vehicle into 4x4 mode and go slowly through the water taking care to keep the revs high in case something unexpected happens - sudden dip in the road etc. Distance of flood up to 75 feet.
Severity 3 - No cars passing. 4x4s and lorries only. Water looks to be up to 3 feet deep and the distance of the flood is significant. Strong current going across the road. Some vehicles abandoned. Vehicle in 4x4 mode, high revs, slow approach so as to minimise wash and prevent water from coming over the bonnet and never let the vehicle stop moving.
Severity 4 - Tractors only. Stranded cars only just visible in the water. Turn back.
Severity 5 - Boats only. This is where you see cars being washed away by the current and there are rescue boats out and helicopters overhead.

Using this assessment tool was actually very useful and we negotiated many floods - Sadly, when we got to Moreton in Marsh where we were going to let Tony pick up his car, we discovered that the entire station car park was under water along with his BMW Z4. To be fair, if it hadn't been for Tony and his navigating and local knowledge, we might not have made it home that night.

Moreton in Marsh was a Severity 5.

There was, in all the significant floods we went through, only 1 moment when I was really worried.. We were in a Severity 3 flood and just passing an abandoned vehicle when I let the revs dip a bit so I had less speed. This also turned out to be the deepest part of the water. I think we might have been quite close to losing power. Anyway, I hoofed it out by giving it all the power I could and we made it. Brakes didn't feel so clever though - Had to dry them out a bit.

Met up with Wing Commander Chris's wife at Northleach. He and Squadron Leader Jon completed their journey via that route. I'm not kidding - these chaps were excellent and very good company. And best of all they gave me a very nice salute as I drove away.


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