Treading water over global warming

There’s nothing like being personally connected to loop one into the progress of a natural disaster. I have very close friends who live between Tewkesbury and Evesham, in the epicentre of the floods devastating central England. I was going up there for the weekend, but when I received a succinct email: “We are an island”, my determination to go in contrast to the waters evaporated. I stayed in London, watching politicians on the rolling news up to their mouths in raw sewage, which they vainly attempt to stem with sandbags full of rhetoric. David Cameron in Witney, Oxfordshire, the worst-affected part of his constituency, seized the day to pour his tepid scorn on Government preparedness.

Meanwhile, Hilary Benn swam to the surface of Worcester to rebut the claim that the Environment Agency’s budget for flood defences had been cut last year. Then, yesterday, the Great Helmsman finally appeared: Gordo himself. Perhaps wisely, the Prime Minister didn’t take to the flood waters himself. He’s no Gerhard Schroeder, whose splashing about during the 2005 German floods was credited with restoring his image as the Captain of the Fatherland. Instead, Gordo performed his usual “I’m too serious for my office” shtick, and ensured there were only dry eyes in the drenched houses. Whatever the situation on the sodden ground, we don’t need a public inquiry to tell us that the determination to indulge in political point-scoring remains in full spate.

It’s all very well for Hilary Benn to say: “We just have to recognise the intensity of the volume of water that’s come down and that has resulted in f looding that even with the best defences in the world would in some cases have been overtopped.” But what he dare not do is join the dots so that Middle England has to look upon the waters of the deep, and face up to the change in our climate and its disastrous results.

We have ceased to be a country where our temperate climate is matched only by our equanimity of character. Gone are the days when we could lightly mock our light London rains and dull skies: the past few years have made it abundantly clear that we’re living in the era when extreme weather events take their holidays here. And that shows up the vulnerability of our modern, high-tech country and our ability to deal (or not) with the consequences of extremity.

The Government doesn’t want to connect the floods to global warming tributes to the dead for fear of being exposed in the itsy-bitsy bikini of its own halfhearted environmental policy. Instead, we’re doomed to more building of new homes on flood plains, higher insurance premiums and a steady drift of politicians struggling to keep afloat in midstream who continue to think it’s only aprés them that the deluge will really get bad.

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Where would we be without Amy Winehouse, the troubled soul diva whose antics are covered in one of the celebrity-gossip rags under the heading: Where’s the Wino? It may not ultimately be possible to help someone with a drink problem but you can sure as hell hinder them. And that’s what the bulk of the media seems intent on doing with poor Amy. Every skinny inch of her is being given maximum coverage, as the prurient vultures circle. Even notionally intelligent commentators enthuse about the ballsiness of her singing which they attribute to her increasing mental disintegration as if the only alternative were Cliff Richard. I’d like her to be happy, well-adjusted and carry on singing great songs, but then I suppose I’m so square I’m cubic.

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While my poor friends in Worcestershire were moving their furniture upstairs, I took my kids downstream for some mud-larking. Courtesy of the Museum of London, we fossicked about on the foreshore at Canary Wharf in the company of a proper archaeologist. We may not have found the hoard of Roman gold my nineyear-old was anticipating, but Andy the archaeologist was able to identify 18th-century glassware, a 16th-century musket ball and a shard from a Tudor pot.

I myself came up with a more contemporary artefact: a BlackBerry. Andy conceded it was an interesting discovery, but suggested I chuck it back in the river: “It’s the archaeology of the future,” he admonished me. Quite so…

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I know violent crime in London is falling, but it’s hard to see it from where I’m typing, at the epicentre of sarf London’s murder square-mile. Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube, the young woman strangled in the shower at Vauxhall, the kid shot over a crack deal at Clapham North, the woman “honour” burnt in Larkhall Park over the past few years there’s been a killing at every point of the local compass.

Now comes the doorman shot dead outside the Bell pub on the Wandsworth Road. I passed by the other morning and saw the now commonplace Cellophanewrapped flowers and a stranger funerary gift: two bottles of white wine. Are we perhaps regressing to the mindset of the Ancient Greeks? For clearly, these were carry-outs for the afterlife …

24.07.07