English Summer Monsoon

Catherine and I lived in California for a little over 4 years. In that time I can probably remember nearly all the individual days that it rained. For example, I remember that it rained on Halloween night 2003. It also rained once in April forcing us to have lunch indoors. It rained one weekend and I took photographs out of the window. Apart from that it was basically either sunny or slightly overcast with a haze. When we left I had forgotten what damp was, clouds were a slightly strange sight, wearing anything other than a T-shirt was for wimps and the worst thing you could say would be that you were a little too hot.

Returning to England, and Manchester in particular, was always going to be a shock. It turns out that Manchester flourished as a cotton town precisely because it was damp; its climate suited the mills. Arriving in April we were treated to glorious sunny days and long evening with new growth of trees and birds singing everywhere. We even had a nest of baby birds near our window; how bad could it be? How wrong could I be. After about two week of this the weather must have noticed that we were back and identified our rain deficit. Like a soggy tax collector it decided we must pay and pay we did. The period from May until now has seen more rain than ever before - or at least since records began in the mid-1700s. It will come as no surprise that it is raining now and that if I were to drive somewhere I would need headlines because the cloud is so dark - yes it is 2pm.

All this may seem a little bit like the moaning of a Californian expat but the flooding last weekend made it all rather more serious. We had planned a family weekend in the Cotswolds in a small cottage in a lovely valley. My parents and I set off from Hampshire at about 1pm expecting a couple of hours drive up the A34 and across the M4. After our first hour stuck in traffic on the A34, with the M4 closed it became fairly clear from the local radio that the rain was ‘quite heavy’. After a detour via Devizes, we arrived at the cottage after navigating a mudslide on a 1:4 track with 40 foot sloping mud walls. Catherine left Manchester at 4pm.

Catherine was making good progress and was expected for dinner at the posh restaurant (open 1 day a week) at 8pm. It became apparent that she wasn’t going to make it when we heard in the restaurant that she was still at Birmingham on the M5. At midnight she was slightly further down the M5 and not moving. It turns out that there was a massive flood in Twekesbury, which has been all over the news since, that had blocked off the motorway completely. Over 10,000 people were on their way for the school holidays and joined Catherine for a camping expedition in the fast lane. Luckily for her she ended up not too far from a service station and was able to find some food and water. She also had clothes and other essentials in the car. She eventually arrived at about 7:30am on Saturday.

I am starting to wonder if this is the weather we can expect from now on. Having seen the Al Gore film and multiple shots of retreating glaciers, pools of water in Greenland and freak weather elsewhere it is starting to be more difficult to just shrug off the whole ‘Climate Change’ theory. With forest fires burning in Italy and water drying up in California you have to wonder where the best place to be is. Would you rather be damp or crispy? For now at least I am comforted that the rain is not restricted to Manchester: if London and the South basked in glorious sun while the North sank under floods I think I might hop back on a plane…

Some photos are available in the Owlpen Gallery.


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