At the risk of offending apocalypses everywhere, the scene that I woke up to on a December Sunday morning recently was, well…apocalyptic.
Ok, so there was no radioactive contamination, no zombies, and no feral gangs of half-crazed citizens looting wildly, but still. After some of the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in the city of Lancaster, which followed swiftly on the heels of one of the wettest Novembers on record, the River Lune had been busy showing us all who was boss.
On the basis that my house is around thirty metres from the river bank it’s fair to say that I went to bed on Saturday night wondering what I might wake up to. The scene on Sunday morning was of crowds of people gathering on the streets to survey the damage caused by the flood-waters.
The police helicopter hovered overhead, the two bridges in and out of the city were closed for fear of structural damage, and those roads that were passable were grid-locked. The river, still swollen, rushed past with menace, even as local bars and restaurants considered how to deal with the aftermath of a few feet of flood-water having swept through where tables and chairs used to be.
It was eerie.
The power was off, local radio was down, and phone signals were gone. My family and I considered our options unaware that, like the rest of the city, we were in the early throes of sixty hours and more without electricity. This is a tricky prospect to be faced with when you can’t even make coffee.
‘We’ll head south’, I concluded.
The plan was to drive until we were clear of the flood-water and find somewhere to get a brew and a bite to eat – surely not too much to ask on a Sunday morning? With a sneaky escape down the back-roads, dicing with a couple of minor floods along the way, we were clear.
“Are we all Ok?” I asked the family, thinking to myself: ‘I’m never gonna get a bike ride in this chaos’. The car was bumper deep in water.
But then they started to appear. At first I suspected a lone madman, a committed winter cyclist unaware of, or unconcerned by, the carnage that the night had unleashed. He was busy finding out puddle by deep puddle. As he rode past in the opposite direction I mentally tipped my hat to him, whilst deriding him for the benefit of my wife.
“Look at this joker. The water’s half-way up his wheels…what’s ‘e playin’ at?!”
Then a group passed; five or six cyclists kitted out in full waterproof garb and laughing and joking with the gallows humour of it. I was starting to think: ‘that looks like fun’. In the twenty miles from the carnage of Lancaster to the cup of coffee in a blissfully unaffected old market town we must have passed thirty cyclists.
You can imagine the collective mutter: “well, it’s Sunday. I always have a ride on Sunday.”
As do I. But not this Sunday. After a wild night in the pitch dark of a near disaster I thought I’d better give it a miss. Later that day we sat in the gloom listening to the now resurrected local radio news – the battery operated radio acting as a vintage stand in for Internet, TV, and smart phone.
In Carlisle – seventy miles north, in Cumbria – the city was all but underwater; Lancaster was bad, but Carlisle much worse. But I know from experience that it takes a lot to prevent a Cumbrian cyclist from getting his Sunday morning bike ride.
As the local news reporter described it: “…and…oh, hang on. Is that a man on a bike? Yes, there is a man on a bike there riding through Carlisle. The flood-water is almost up to his seat post, and the emergency services are giving him a round of applause!”
I’d like to say I’m surprised.
Maybe I was a bit rash in cancelling my ride – I could have squeezed in thirty miles after all.