Save the town – flood the countryside

A year in the country

It’s been more than a year and a half since we quit the metropolis for the country. We’re integrating – and I figure that in maybe less than a decade we’ll be accepted as proper country dwellers.

I didn’t want to reflect on all this until after at least a year – but now that we’ve lived through a long hot summer and nearly two sodden winters I feel I can.

I wouldn’t go back for the world – I had no idea just how stressful and unhappy city living was (for me) until I stepped out. This has been life changing – and for the better. That’s not to say that we have become evangelists for country living – just that it happens to suit us more, much more, than living in the city. I know it’s not for everyone – if you’re at all squeamish, if you can’t abide mud, if the sight of woodlice scares you – then stay put.

The country’s different – in a good way

The sky, the darkness, the silence. Coming out of a pub in winter and realising that our torch was pathetically urban.

We can see – really see. Which is good because it rains. A lot.

10 minutes before a downpour
10 minutes before a downpour

Working (in the kind of consultant-y, advisory type of work I do) isn’t nearly as hard as you might think provided you have good technology and don’t mind trains. And I get to do the type of work that I love and simply never, ever could do whilst in the N1 bubble. That’s been a revelation. More another time.

There really is such a thing as community. It’s not a myth. It’s tight and it works. People look out for each other. In a way that I never experienced in London. Christmas, the village social, the music festival, Mayday, 12th night, wassailing, the cricket club, the quiz, the weekend – there’s always an excuse for the village to get together – and the pub really is at the heart of the community.

2013-12-26 12.47.13

And because we get to go to the big city occasionally we find we like it more. I see it through different eyes – but I also notice things I’d never seen before. Right now I can’t get over how very, very drawn and ill everyone on the tube is. Living in the city is – I am convinced – stressful. But because everyone is stressed it’s hard to notice.

And there are some odd bits and tough bits

There’s some strange stuff that goes on. The village hall is home to kid’s parties but also the morris men if it’s raining.

These boys have sticks
These boys have sticks

And the broadband really is crap. If there’s a breath of wind it conks out – and there’s no way we could even dream of streaming. I’m not sure we’re missing out though. It just means we take life slow. And that’s no bad thing.

And of course “popping out for some milk” isn’t a simple trek. Planning ahead becomes vital if you don’t want to spend gazillions on fuel.

Water, water everywhere

For the past 8 weeks it’s been wet. Really wet. Kind of “quick get Noah” wet.

looking out of the office window
looking out of the office window
"fields" seen from the train
“fields” seen from the train

Flooding the Somerset Levels is policy – not an accident or a freak weather event

And then a couple of weeks ago – shock horror – the wet spread east and encroached on London. Suddenly we were visited by loads of politicos wearing suspiciously new wellies. Chris Smith, Dave, even Nigel Farage came to have a look at the water. How grateful we were. Inevitably there was a bit of punch and judy politics – lots of hot air about what ‘we would have done’ – whilst the rain kept falling and the water kept rising.

Hapless Chris Smith  – a lovely city man and a culture vulture now inexplicably head honcho of the environment agency – intimated that flood management boiled down to a choice between town and country. And whilst everyone got hot under the collar it turns out that he is right.

Strategic flood management means making decisions about where to divert water in order to spare other places. The environment flood plan for Somerset clearly shows (p12) that it is a deliberate choice to flood the Somerset Levels – “take action to increase flood risks strategically to the benefit of other areas”

no accident - the policy is to increase flooding in the levels
no accident – the policy is to increase flooding in the levels

Flooding some parts of the country to save others really is the policy. That’s why Datchet and Staines are underwater – better there than west London.

But I can’t see where this trade off ends. At the moment it seems the commuter belt is getting it to spare the city. But there’ll come a time when the trade off is one part of the city vs another. Better to flood Twickenham rather than Chelsea?

I love the countryside – it suits me. I know it’s not for everyone but I just happen to love big sky, the nature and growing stuff. I feel for the first time in ages that I can see the real world properly. It looks – for the most part – great: full of riches that I could never see or touch whilst in the bubble.

But from here it’s also easy to see that policy, and technology, and even brands, are skewed ever more closely to the inner city. And that’s just wrong. Time for a broader perspective.

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