A dispatch from flooded Gloucester


by Sunny
25th July, 2007 at 9:12 am    

Journalist Urmee Khan, an avid reader of Pickled Politics, sends us an exclusive dispatch from Gloucester, where she has been covering the floods.

THIS MORNING I woke up in Gloucester and it felt like the waves were going to get us. It was 6.30am and the power was dead and there was no water. BBC Gloucester had started to play D Ream ‘things can only get better‘.

Apparently Gordon Brown was in Quedgely and the army was getting ready to come into the town, perhaps for the first tme since the English Civil War. The prisoners at HMP Gloucester, opposite the Severn, were to be evacuted and 350,000 households had no water – thousands more had no electricity. I climbed over my fence and heard alarms, fire engines and police sirens. I knew it was going to be a long day.

By 7am lorries that had arrived in Gloucester town centre were being sent back to Bristol because they contained things like pants instead of water, bread and milk – all of which had run out yesterday. People started arriving in the town centre to be greeted with bowers (plastic drums filled with water) and closed shops.

Thank God though – WHSmiths in Eastgate street was open, and even without electricity, plucky staff members were selling copies of Harry Potter (Manager Karrie Ann said she had sold 6 copies and several Harry Potter torches) using change from a small cardboard box.

Staff at MacDonalds were dreading the meat going off now that the power cut had happened. Which I guess proves it really is meat. A general sense of disgruntlement ensued as the Severn overflowed on to the road. It was the highest water levels anyone had seen – much worse than the 1947 flood the more senior locals muttered.

Going into Longlevens was bad – a bride to be looked ready to break down in tears as she held up her wedding dress and she showed how her house was washed out – a giant fridge freezer lay on its side and wet carpets and sandbags propped up the wall. Stories like this were everywhere. People were beginning to wake up worrying about dysentry as toilets wouldn’t flush and no water to clean.

With physical exertion, and complete absence of clean water, the good people of Gloucester – most certainly including myself – began to smell. My feet in my Wellingtons (new) had begun to look like a wussy version of trenchfoot. Sea king helicopters were rescuing people – and the rain was pouring down. Like everyone in Gloucester we felt depressed.

After spending all day recording people’s stories, miseries and fears I realised that I was going home to no water or electricity. I called my newsdesk and threw myself at their mercy, using any emotional blackmail I could think up. By some amazing result they said they had found the only hotel room in the county. I was ecstatic – I could finally brush my teeth and get 40 winks before the next leg.

*******

*******

It is 8pm and I am in Rodborough, a little village in the middle of nowhere. In a hotel which is like a castle. There must be some mistake. No I really have a room here. For the first time in my life, I really really miss Elephant and Castle.

First things first – food. I bowled into what I thought was a restaurant, but turned out to be a dining room with old distinguished gentleman who had dressed for dinner. I smelt so bad as I trundled in my Wellington boots and hair plastered to my face. I then realised there was 20 bits of cutlery for each place setting. I became very uncomfortable and I started to dream of Nandos in Brixton.

My phone rang and it was as if I had turned on rave music – 12 diners turned and looked at me. If I wasn’t a brown skinned I would be beetroot. I stared at the bread basket – 20 types of bread – granary, the works. I started to feel sick as I remembered the bread wars of Gloucester. It was like going from the Soviet Union to Paris. How was I still in Gloucestershire.

I heard a waitress profusely apologise for not having a lemon torte on the desert menu. I hadn’t eaten for a day and my 5 course meal – 2/3 of which I didn’t order – started to arrive. Rich rich food. It was very nice if you were the duchess of Devonshire but I just wanted beans on toast. A complimentary appetiser followed by a bleeding duck. Someone was complaining about a specialist wine not being on the menu. Then the music came on, rule britannia started to play – that was the last straw – I got the giggles.

A cross looking waitress asked if I minded that there was no lemon torte. I just gaped and said – “there’s 350,000 people without water, I can live without desert.” Like a prat I ran away. I called my friend after dinner who laughed and said “they’ve probably never seen an ethnic person before, I dare you to ask for curry for breakfast – go on ask for a chicken tikka massalla in the morning.”

I called another friend on the phone and he said: “That’s great it really shows Dunkirk spirit of the British just plowing on through the crisis.”

How can this all be Gloucestershire? I’m baffled.

—————-
Image from the Guardian website.


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  1. sonia — on 25th July, 2007 at 10:27 am  

    water water everywhere and not a drop to drink

  2. The Dude — on 25th July, 2007 at 11:13 am  

    It’s just great to get a different perspective of the floods from someone who isn’t white and anglo saxon. Contrary to popular opinion, black people do live and work in the affected area’s of Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and now Oxfordshire. Mind you, I bet that the good people of Hull are looking at the present situation in the south and thinking…what goes around, comes around. The southern bias in our media really does have to be dealt with in this country.

  3. justagal — on 25th July, 2007 at 11:33 am  

    I am awe struck. The picture you paint puts me me in mind of colonial regimes in which the colonialists live in sumptious palaces whilst the subject races live in squalor.

  4. Jagdeep — on 25th July, 2007 at 11:36 am  

    Is this the End of Days!!???!!!

    We better all repent.

    When are the locusts coming?

  5. sonia — on 25th July, 2007 at 11:40 am  

    how the hell did race get involved in this??? just because someone’s mate thought the waitress said something about lemon torte! how do we know it wasn’t the mate’s own perception ( they weren’t there)

    really, some of us need to think about FLOODS, and not be so obsessed with the colour of skin. Sheesh! People are suffering, this is either bringing us together, or not.

  6. non-fiction-sequitur — on 25th July, 2007 at 1:36 pm  

    WHERE ARE YOU? OR WHEN ARE YOU?

    Please say Darjeeling or Ooty, 150 years ago.

    Sonia, I think the larger point is that regardless of what the difference was, he was treated differently because he wasn’t exactly like everyone else. WTH are people doing complaining about wine in a disaster zone? Seems like ‘business as usual’ in its extreme.

  7. sonia — on 25th July, 2007 at 1:41 pm  

    oh please people are flooding and we’re worried about the journalist’s interpretation of funny looks and their race issues? how do we know that they weren’t just looking – times like this, everyone looks at everyone else.

    maybe i should go over there, cover the story, and warble in my nation-state issues while im at it.

  8. sonia — on 25th July, 2007 at 1:41 pm  

    race race everywhere sometimes i think PP is one big dump for just race-tinted spectacles.

  9. Jagdeep — on 25th July, 2007 at 1:50 pm  

    Sonia, just be thankful he didnt bring the oppression of the Ummah into it!

  10. fiz — on 25th July, 2007 at 2:53 pm  

    not too sure myself how race ‘fits’ into this article

  11. Sunny — on 25th July, 2007 at 3:22 pm  

    oh please people are flooding and we’re worried about the journalist’s interpretation of funny looks and their race issues?

    Who’s worried about it? It’s just an observation isn’t it? No one has to make a crisis out of it… the main issue is still the floods.

  12. Roger — on 25th July, 2007 at 4:27 pm  

    ” I smelt so bad as I trundled in my Wellington boots and hair plastered to my face. ”
    In a dining room where people dress for dinner I think that is probably why people stared at Urmee Khan. It wouldn’t have taken long to change her clothes- or hadn’t she bothered to take a change of clothes?. Weren’t there enough local journalists available to cover the floods without Londoners turning up as paid voyeurs anyway?

  13. Trofim — on 25th July, 2007 at 4:36 pm  

    Ah, The Dude, you haven’t mentioned my homeland:
    up a bit from Gloucestershire, left a bit from Warwickshire, down a bit from Staffordshire, east a bit from Shropshire and Herefordshire. Hint: apples, hops, Evesham, Upton-on-Severn, sauce, England’s best cricket ground, porcelain. Even the BBC has heard of us. They sent a bloke called Rajesh Mirchandani
    out to “discover” us.

    Now how come you didn’t mention us: is it your northern bias, your eastern bias or your southern bias? Or is it just cause we is white?

  14. The Dude — on 25th July, 2007 at 5:08 pm  

    I just Laurie Lee country. I even met the man once on a school trip. What a dude! Please accept my apology for my omission. It wasn’t meant in spite. At the last count, I counted at least five black journalist covering the stories of the floods on all six networks. 20 years ago I was the only black journalist to cover the Battle of Orgreave during the Miners strike.

    At the end of the day floods don’t discriminate between black and white, rich and poor, north and south. I’m from Wolverhampton and went to uni at Sheffield. I was in tears when I saw that great city under water. That was three weeks ago. Same story, different place. Same misery!

  15. The Dude — on 25th July, 2007 at 5:10 pm  

    I meant to say….I just love Laurie Lee country (and the cider thereof).

  16. Trofim — on 25th July, 2007 at 5:22 pm  

    Blimey! I never expected an apology! My tongue was in my cheek! But people in the midlands get a bit of a raw deal – to southerners they are the north, to northerners, they are the south!

  17. sonia — on 25th July, 2007 at 6:03 pm  

    yes the main issue is of course the floods but you wouldn’t have thought that based on the comments up the thread.

  18. AsifB — on 25th July, 2007 at 6:04 pm  

    Not exactly Fear and Loathing or even Fawlty Towers is it? But as solipisistic pieces in the Guardian go these days, its mildly amusing, so thanks for printing Sunny.

    And actually in the blandness maybe there is a point…

    Britain, especially Southern England is actually quite a boring (as well as prosperous) place. Its obessession with the weather simply refelcts how bland the weather normally is by world standards. We don’t even have the theoretical possibility of savage spiders and volcanoes either.

    By the way Jagdeep your comment in No. 9 – is way off Urmee is a she as you can see in the Guardian site. I think your comment in no 9 is a very unlucky guess based on surname prejuidice! (Mind you, apart from Ghenghis and Kubla, the first six Khans I can think of are sportsmen and my fifth best mate)

  19. Jagdeep — on 25th July, 2007 at 6:33 pm  

    Surname prejudice? I sense a new political correctness minefield.

  20. Roger — on 25th July, 2007 at 6:49 pm  

    I owe MS Khan an apology. I thought she’d gone to Gloucester from London specifically to cover the floods when in fact she lives there.

    Jane austen on human empathy: “How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!”

  21. Jagdeep — on 25th July, 2007 at 6:49 pm  

    hahaha — Jane Austen was so great.

  22. The Dude — on 25th July, 2007 at 7:17 pm  

    Your’re not alone, Roger. I thought Ms Khan was a MAN.

  23. Innit — on 26th July, 2007 at 9:37 am  

    Oh this is such a silly twist on the topic.

    Race crap, there are plenty of asians/blacks/yellow people in gloucester, she was probably in some remote village in gloucestershire.

    What a great place to be doing ‘reporting’!

    Yes, there is still no running water, and people are depending on bowsers (currently 900 across the county), these run out as quickly as they arrive.

    But, these are not for drinking before boiled. I’m not sure where they come from, although someone did mention another part of the river seven).

    For, drinking water, people are relying on the truck loads that decend on supermarket car parks.
    You might be lucky and get great tasting mineral water, or you could be stuck with the one heavily riddled with harsh minerals, (ok, it’s not that bad-can hardly argue the taste in this moment!).

    Just read a few more posts, too many posts and my eyes glaze over- I see the surprise over race has already been covered.

    And oh yeah, it’s raining again today- can collect some ‘flushing’ water.
    :)

  24. Innit — on 26th July, 2007 at 9:43 am  

    Oh yeah, now read a couple more posts, firstly, Jane Austen is boring.
    I have had her collections on my shelf for the second year now, and really can’t get into them.

    As for southern England, be it ‘bland’, although I think your nuts in saying that in terms of weather, I think calm and stability is what people look for don’t they?
    Ha!

  25. AsifB — on 26th July, 2007 at 10:40 am  

    Innit, I hoped that by saying “We don’t even have the theoretical possibility of savage spiders and volcanoes either,” I was implying that blandness is not a bad thing (and that is why people want to live here etc)

    I hope the media frenzy makes people realise how lucky they are compared to other countries, but given the Southern English penchant for selfpity, its a slow one.

    By the way, I ‘m really disappointed no-one’s mentioned Dr. Foster. Apparently he went to Gloucester in a shower of rain and stepped in a puddle right up to his middle.

  26. Bert Preast — on 26th July, 2007 at 10:45 am  

    Crying with laughter here at the account of the hotel in Rodborough. Just surreal :D

  27. Kismet Hardy — on 26th July, 2007 at 12:17 pm  

    I spent four days in a tent for the Glade festival just gone in Berkshire. Apparently we were caught in the cell of the storm. And they say drugs don’t help you

    Off to Womad tomorrow. It’s not going to rain in Wiltshire. The Rah God told me. Unless Homer Simpson’s effigy washes off, the pagans tell me, it’ll keep raining everywhere else

  28. Innit — on 26th July, 2007 at 4:26 pm  

    …and he never went there again.

    Sad, isn’t it?

    And no, I didn’t get your implication.

    Kismet Hardy, I hear the Rah God is busy in Africa.

  29. El Cid — on 27th July, 2007 at 2:18 pm  

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