The Calm After the Storm

In which The Author sees something strange in the sky

Nearly four months ago – on October 24, in fact – I wrote a post called Take the Weather With You, about the storm which was expected to batter the British Isles a few days subsequently. Since then, the United Kingdom has experienced a succession of violent storms with barely a break between them.
Parts of the Somerset Levels have been underwater for a month, with hundreds of homes flooded and a huge area of farmland inundated. Last night, red flood alerts were in force for the River Severn in Worcestershire and the Thames in Surrey and Berkshire. Politician after politician has trotted out promises to ‘act soon’, and of course, as always, ‘lessons will be learned.’ The noted climate change sceptic, UK Environment Secretary Owen Patterson, must be the only person in the country who still thinks this is part of the natural course of events.
We seem to have got off fairly lightly (again) here in the South Wales Valleys. We’re on high ground, and far enough inland for our rivers to be protected from the tidal surges which have engulfed coastal regions further south and west. The French newspaper Le Monde has published a rather sobering image of what the British Isles could look like if sea levels rise in line with some predictions:


We’re fairly safe here as you can see, but it looks as though one piece of satire may come true. Jasper Fforde’s tongue-in-cheek novel The Eyre Affair is set in an alternative universe where Wales split from the United Kingdom and established its capital city in Merthyr Tydfil. If it’s not in Merthyr, it might well be in Brecon or Llandrindod Wells. If this prediction is right, by the turn of the century Cardiff will be dangerously close to becoming part of the new Atlantis.
It was a pleasant surprise this morning, then, to see something unfamiliar through the glass in my front door. It was the shadow of the telegraph pole on the opposite corner. The sun was actually out, for (I think) only the third time since Xmas. I decided to walk into Aberdare through the park, and get some fresh air while it lasted.
There was a scattering of snow on the mountainside towards Merthyr Tydfil, and some rather bemused squirrels were scampering around on the waterlogged ground. They’re probably wondering when they’ll get to hibernate, as the seasons seem to be all to hell at the moment.
A flatbed van was circling the park road, and its occupants were collecting the branches which had fallen over the last couple of days. There’s a large patch of standing water adjacent to a stretch of perimeter wall which was rebuilt a few months ago. I wonder how long it will take before it collapses again.
A few stands of crocuses are already close to opening, and the daffodils don’t seem far behind. It’s just over a fortnight to St David’s Day, and by then the daffodils should be in full bloom.
When I got to Aberdare, my usual short cut through St John’s Churchyard was closed as well. A team of workmen were cutting up the fallen branches and loading them onto a van, and shredding the smaller ones for mulch. I haven’t heard any reports of structural damage locally, so we seem to have escaped the worst again.
Unless the weather changes again, of course, as it did two years ago, and we get a sudden heavy fall of snow. On Tuesday, Rhian and I walked to Aberaman to take some photos and to have a pint in The Rock. As part of an ongoing project, we were trying to locate the thirty or so pubs which once stood between Aberdare and the bottom end of Aberaman.
It’s hard to believe how many there were in the Valley’s industrial heyday. Since then, the number has been in steady decline and continues to fall. In the last decade or so, The Full Moon, The Kings Head, The General Picton, The Castle and The Blaengwawr have all closed – although it sounds as though the last of these might be reopening in the future. The Plough doesn’t open in the afternoons, so that left us with The Rock and The Temple Bar. It obviously doesn’t pay to get banned from one of the pubs in the village. You’re not exactly spoilt for choice.
We walked to The Rock and the sky was bright, but it was still cold when the clouds covered the sun for a few minutes. We left there and walked to The Temple Bar, a few minutes away. We’d only been in there for a minute or so when snow came pelting down. When we left about half an hour later, it was starting to stick on the hillsides. By the time we got to Aberdare, the inbound buses from Merthyr and Bridgend had quite a covering of snow. There’s no doubt that if it had fallen onto dry ground and kept falling at that rate, motorists would have real trouble getting home from work.
By the night, needless to say, it had turned to rain again. The wind picked up as well, and I discovered at the crack of dawn that I’ve got a leak in my roof. It doesn’t seem to be very serious at the moment, but I’m going to have to try and sort it out before the damage spreads. Still, if that’s the worst effect the storms have had on my house, I’m not especially worried. At least I’m not wading through the living room in wellington boots, with my ruined possessions piled up in the bedroom for the insurance assessors to look at.
I haven’t seen the weather forecast for the weekend (not that they seem to be very accurate anyway), but it it stays bright and dry I might call and see Mother. I want to go to Hirwaun anyway, so I can combine business with pleasure. Of course, if the snow comes with a will, I’ll forget any plans to go anywhere. It only takes about a quarter of an inch of snow for public transport to stop running altogether.
A few years ago, we had a sudden fall of snow during the daytime and into the evening. Shanara, Naj and I were on the train home from Cardiff (where, needless to say, there was nothing.) We got to Cwmbach, the penultimate stop, and the conductor stepped onto the platform as usual, to make sure that everyone got on and off safely. He slipped on the fresh snow and fell flat on his back. Everyone laughed to begin with, but after a while it was apparent that he’d really hurt himself. The driver got out and checked him over, then phoned 999.
Of course, without a conductor, the train couldn’t go anywhere. By this stage most of our fellow passengers were setting off on foot, or phoning home to see if they could be picked up. Naj didn’t fancy the long walk to Trecynon (and neither did we), and the girls’ father’s car was in for a service, so that ruled out the obvious choices.
We decided to pool our resources: I’d taken some money out in Cardiff before setting off; Naj had a signal on her mobile; Shanara had a taxi card which I’d given her a couple of months earlier. We made the call, and were able to get the last car in Aberdare to pick us up and take us to Trecynon. The girls headed for home and I headed for the pub.
That’s why Saturday’s agenda is going to depend very much on the weather conditions. I don’t fancy being stuck in the back of beyond – especially given the rapid manner in which the village pubs are closing.

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