Every time it rains – which it does most days – I think of my friend Michael Brown out on the Somerset Levels. I want to be miserable that my least favourite form of weather – i.e. an extremely ferocious type of spring shower – has become this nation’s default on a 365-day-a-year basis, but then I remember the floodwater that has become a permanent fixture in Michael’s cottage.
We are used to seeing floods on TV news. It looks awful enough but, more often than not, the news footage shows the aftermath – when people are clearing mud-caked kitchens and slime-balled living rooms after the water has gone away.
What Michael and other residents of Thorney are living with – as you read these words – is a permanent state of wetness. By which I mean two feet of water that has come to stay.
When I visited the village by boat last week for an article in this newspaper there was a sense of novelty about the adventure. That soon disappeared when the full realisation hit me that I was going home to my warm dry cottage leaving these folk to be damp, dank and wholly miserable and uncomfortable.
When I joked that it seemed the only option was to grow webbed-feet (like the Moormen of old were supposed to have had) no-one laughed. It was a bad joke
and I could imagine them thinking: “Who needs an idiot wise-cracking journalist when all we want is someone to man the pumps…”
Or rather, the dredges.
But let’s not get into the politics of the Somerset Levels, where it is obvious – even to an idiot wise-cracking journalist – that certain powers-that-be have messed up big-time…
I want to write about that niche in human behaviour that could be labelled: “There But for the Grace of God Go I.”
It starts when we are children and we won’t eat something put before us – a regular example being Brussels sprouts. Adults growl to kids: “For goodness sake, there are children starving in Africa who’d wolf that down – eat it, and remember how fortunate you are.”
It never works. Because our lucky and spoilt children have no earthly idea what it can be like to be hungry in Africa or anywhere else. I mean, what it is really like. They may have seen news reports – but no picture on a screen anywhere can allow you to share the gnawing pain and all-embracing weariness that is the hallmark of true starvation.
By the time our children have grown into teenagers they have ignored the there-but-for-the-grace-of-god rule so completely that their clarion cry has become: “It’s not fair!”
Ironically nowadays, this state of mind is usually stimulated by watching things like Californian TV soaps where kids drive Porsches and hang out in expensive beauty parlours. I used to laugh when I watched my daughter, growing up in muddy Exmoor, drool over such dross then turn around and wail: “It’s not fair! Why can’t we live like that?”
That’s there-but-for-the-grace-of-god in reverse – a state better known as: “Other Man’s Grass is Greener.”
When we grow older we like to imagine that we are worldly wise enough to really know how fortunate we are in comparison to others. When we get a stinking cold we can shrug and think of really ill people and – just for a moment – feel almost fortunate that our throat, nose and eyes are on fire.
Just for a moment. Because, in reality, feeling better by comparison is an aspirin that works but fleetingly.
Nevertheless it is one that I’ve been taking as a daily dose over the past three weeks since someone – I won’t say who – switched off my broadband connection. It has been the biggest professional pain I’ve suffered since the days when I had my own business and was forced on a regular basis to see a devil-incarnate otherwise known as a bank manager.
Every time my rage has threatened to overcome me I have calmed down (slightly) by remembering the friends who have never adapted to the digitally dependent lifestyle – and so are shackled and hampered in so many ways.
At least my broadband will eventually be turned back on; they live forever in a world that is nowadays hugely limited by lack of opportunity.
And at least my feet are dry – unlike the toes, knees and even thighs of Thorney.