Friday, June 22, 2007

Floods at Boscastle Again

You may know by now that Boscastle has flooded again. Not as dreadfully as before, but enough to scare the residents, I'm sure, and put the emergency services back on alert. You can find some on-the-spot photographs taken by residents here.

The devastation of August 16th 2004 was something I remember well, though I was on the other side of the country at the time, holidaying in Norfolk. Steve and I had checked into a small old-fashioned coaching inn in Swaffham, a few miles from the recreated 'Iceni Village' at Cockley Cley which we were planning to visit the next day, and had rung home to make sure the kids were okay before heading out for dinner. To our horror we heard from one of my daughters that our beloved Boscastle had been struck by an enormous wall of water, with many of the riverside buildings gutted by the flood, one washed away entirely. Dinner forgotten, we immediately switched on the small television set in our hotel room and spent the next few hours following the intensive news coverage instead.

We had only recently moved away from Boscastle, where we had lived for nearly a year, up near the ancient church on Forrabury Hill, and in nearby Camelford for three years before that. So we were not casual viewers, but were watching familiar streets and buildings engulfed in a torrent of mud, branches, cars and other debris being swept down the river - now occupying the main street - towards the tiny bottleneck harbour. Not only that, but we knew most of the people who were interviewed in the immediate aftermath, many of them utterly shocked and no more able to believe what had happened than we could, hundreds of miles away.

With thousands of others, we saw the television footage of that free-floating camper van as it struck the white-washed wall of the Harbour Lights shop; an instant later, the historic building had vanished into the water. And the world-famous Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft - a fascinating place we had often visited - had not managed to escape either, even though it was set back from the river bank. The whole thing was surreal, because we simply couldn't link what we were seeing with the village where we had lived and which we knew to be such a quiet, uneventful little place.

Friends, too, had been severely affected. The distraught owner of the Spinning Wheel Café, one of the businesses worst hit by the flood, had employed both my teenage daughters as waitresses for several years. If we had not moved away, they would undoubtedly have been working there that afternoon.

As we sat watching the television, I remember feeling sick as it was revealed how the large front window of the Spinning Wheel Café had been blown out by the sheer force of the water, sweeping through the building from the river which ran just behind and below the premises. The staff managed to climb onto the roof and had to be winched to safety by helicopters. As the water receded, we could see the building itself in ruins, awash with mud, unrecognisable. Just one of many livelihoods destroyed in a few hours that day. And the only consolation was that no lives had been lost.

Last year, recalling the devastation at Boscastle, I began work on what I hoped would be a long poem or perhaps a short sequence of poems about the flood. It's still 'in progress' but one of the pieces that emerged from that attempt has just been published in the summer issue of 'Poetry Review', which came out this Wednesday. It features real places in the village, including the famous old Cobweb Inn, just high enough above the river to escape the worst of the flood, and one of the many occult shops in the area, a tiny but beautiful place tucked away down a flight of steps just shy of the main bridge into the village, named after one of the cornerstones of Druidic belief, the realm of the 'Otherworld'.

I dithered over the title for ages, but in the end decided on something very obvious and prosaic: 'Flood at Boscastle'. I'm hoping that at some point in the future I'll feel able to publish the rest of the work I've done on the same subject. Whether the title of that particular poem will then have to change, I'm not sure.

So within forty-eight hours of that poem being published, Boscastle is under water yet again. Let's hope it remains a minor incident this time. Otherwise people may begin to suspect that I had something to do with it ...


Jane Holland said...

Here's what a friend of mine, Desmond, said tonight on a poetry forum, I suspect because he had read this blog entry - though it's always hard to tell for sure what Desmond really means:

"Any person who escapes a flood is of biblical proportion surely, certainly a life of poetic escape, redress and utterance balanced with a nuance for her own language, sound in new form methinks said the irishman to the manx wimmin tearing over baize cliffs, the certainty of myth behind her utterance, cuhullain, danu herself, the mist alone an airless tornado trooping through bare branches, on a frozen mid-winter night, the week of equinox and druidic banfili, gotta be ms, more poetry pleasing one sounds when the rain gods came reversing your luck overnight, astounding reality innit jane?"

Background Artist said...

Holland of the special friendship, how sweetly one sings comment box champimoany luck-out you swaery sailing wunt it a shocker, red top or wha..?

The one thing a windbag brings to the table of speech, is peroration and lengthy address, purest spacers are more silly willy than WB aint s/he the greatest, it's bluddy pissing doin, ear it can yer, soft wet tailing rain slaps down on the fibreglass and kingspan, thermal retention a must, mattress stuffed in an Attic hq, amergin and ray, shandie and Chandler, yellow papaer man typing 50 words top the page on a remington in the production office between drinks.

Just like the good aul days when he was an oilman accountant before the crash in '29, JP set for camelot, full hit paddies coming at yer, aint got a dynasty, had s/he not decided thee boudicca & co, christ..innit a soundless boundary of english uttered goidelic rayomd once dreamt, in yeats' day, wha..?

Jane Holland: Editor said...

'Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,' I cried.
'My friends are gone, but that's a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart's pride.

From Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop, WB Yeats

Good to see you here in blogland, Desmond. Raining in Dublin too, is it?


Background Artist said...

Cats 'n dogs janey woo, one is soo crazee wiv wetness today, one fears for my other pals in cyberspace, the aul gang from the good old days of western united, before the smoking ban, when hacks knew their place.

Now wiv all the e-ho's and gigolos depositing their wangst and woe, wot can one do, phwoar wot a frozen right rose tree, said uncle willy to the maudlin git, confused aristoi of utterance..ermm.not in the four way pyramid of wind s/he belongsa to sailot, strap on a sourwester and wellie up for tiffie-wet love dripping, st david's due to rise in Leek Look Love, once again, tripple bleddy L, wot a foursome of faery grace we is when it's pissing down..poetry tonight in the Winding Stair bookshop at the northern base of Hapenny bridge, Orla Martin - have you heard - hosting, and this is what one wrote last July on this brill Galwegian tribeswoman of goidelic reversal of a mindset not imperial in the far wesht..

"She speaks a superbly luscious language which investigates a space of accident, chance, heartbreak and relationships, armed with only a modern imaginative flair for spinning from the air between listener and reader, a pure poetic fabric as light as polished rose blossom billowing, moire and soft down the outline of smooth rock beds, wind drenched husks of living myth.

Martin is a prize winning poet with pitch perfect delivery and talent that shines from every pore of her being like butter rubbing in the glow of connactha's banfili verbal warrior, Scathach's golden warmth, advertising a hot and sticky existence in the summer of 07"