We went to a pub to mark the 50th birthday of a member of our community. He’s taken to a Harley Davidson motorbike of late, in a passable re-enactment of the film Easy Rider. So someone suggested we should sing the song ‘Born to be Wild’ for him. We have a rock guitarist and a performance artist among us, and we rehearsed, tweaking the lyrics but keeping: ‘Take the world in a love embrace / Fire all of your guns at once and / Explode into space…’
The rehearsal went well. Young Jazz, just into his teens, wore shades and yelled ‘Born to be wild!’ at roughly the right moment. In the pub we began confidently, but when Jazz’s moment came there was silence, followed by a high-pitched croak – we’d forgotten that his voice is breaking. Naturally, he stole thunderous applause.
But right here and now you don’t need a Harley to be wild. We’ve been hit by tremendous floods for the past week or so, and any inner pining for the wild I might have had is being fully satisfied. My home is now in the middle of a fast-flowing lake, the chocolate factory looming on the opposite bank, a mile or so away.
[By the way, workers who face the sack if the factory moves to Poland are calling for a boycott of Cadbury products, including Mini Eggs, Crunchie and Fudge Bars, which are made there.]
It’s hard to convey the special terror of a flood. Suddenly the world around you is intent on sweeping you away. Nowhere is safe. Anything might be lethal.
If you live afloat, as I do, all you have is what’s on board at the time. As it happened, this included Darren, who’d driven down from London through the deluge to install a water turbine. He’d worried that there wouldn’t be enough current to make the thing turn – now there was too much to install it. We had to launch my inflatable dinghy to get him back to dry land. Within seconds we’d been dragged a good way downstream, the little paddles no match for the current. Grasping a tree trunk, clambering up the hillside, crossing a field of Extreme Dave’s horses and finally reaching the nearest dry road, we entered a world where things went on obliviously. I thought of climate change.
That was getting on for a week ago, and I’ve been marooned here ever since, fighting off cabin fever, obsessively listening out for the next ominous sound, checking things out at all hours. It’s not that I can’t get off the barge in my dinghy – just that I might not be able to get back on, added to my reluctance to leave Wiphala to fend for itself.
Last night my neighbours appeared on the bank and asked for a lift to their boat in my dinghy. No problem; until I tried to get back to my boat from theirs, which is downstream from mine. Paddling hard against the current for a while, and beginning to tire, I wasn’t making any headway. There was nothing for it but to head for the bank, grab the only fixed thing I could find (a bramble), clamber out, drag the dinghy upstream in the darkness along the rim of the water and try again. This time it worked. Another time it might not.
Among those of us who are riding this thing out on the river a sense of wartime solidarity has developed. We text each other from time to time, asking if there’s anything we can do, knowing there isn’t. But then, having mentioned that I was about to run out of the most treasured supply of all (pipe tobacco, I confess), Dangerous Dave appeared in a dinghy a few hours later and tossed a packet on board.
One thing I have run out of is new books to read – except Dante’s Divine Comedy. The chunky cantos fit neatly into the brief spots of rest between checking out this or that, or trying to impress upon my office that I truly am hard at work. Less happily, the book begins with Inferno. I read: ‘I was in the third circle, where it rains / Eternally, icily and implacably… Thus we passed through the filthy mixture / Of shadows, and of rain, and with slow steps, / Talking a little about the future life.’
I’m there already.