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Mud On the Road

Coming to this page in 2017: the perils of loose cows and my expert advice on how to break down in multi-storey car parks, nurture your tiger worms, survive your inner poet, manage your alter egos and wear your black rimmed spectacles with pride. Plus, shaggy dog stories, boxer dog stories and the appalling state of the nation's teeth.

Good Bad Ugly Bags



     The sandbags are gone.
Line of duty
Crack troops

     For months they were stationed in their hundreds, the length and breadth of the High Street.  Suddenly, last week they disappeared - collected in a single day, removed to some mass sandbag repository or wherever sandbags go to die.

     Oh dear, I think I'm missing them.  

     I'd got used to dodging them on my way to work. They moved those sandbags: they moved in mysterious ways. A sandbag you might have seen curled hard against an air brick one day, would reappear the next, slumped in a flower bed or parked on a grassy verge.

     The image of a lumpen sandbag wedged between the nodding, bobbing daffodils had become, in recent weeks, a familiar if incongruous sight; a grim reminder, amid the froth and frivolity of Spring, of the Winter that has passed. Like rationing, long after the war is over. Like the pursed lip of a teetotal aunt at a knees-up, warning of the price which must be paid tomorrow.

        The sandbags were marched into town and shouldered into place with military vim and alacrity. It was an all-hands-to-the-deck-there's-no-time-to-lose kind of a Dads' Army emergency.  But though it became clear that Stockbridge would not, after all, flood,  let alone disappear Atlantis-like, beneath a tsunami of groundwater, the sandbags remained stubbornly in situ on a just-in-case basis.

     At the height of the Winter's excesses the sandbags were our bulwark against fate. The sandbags were our riposte; our way of saying to the skies, to the Mighty Rain God and the Fierce River God:

Deserting their post
Gone walkabout
      'Hah! Throw what you will at us Mighty Rain God, Fierce River God. We are not afraid. We shall not accept your torments lying down. See! We shall fight your storms and your ceaseless water from the sky and your rising waters from the earth with...with... our Sandbags. Ahem! Yes, our many, many, many sandbags.'

     Clearly it worked. In Stockbridge at any rate.  Clearly the rain god and the river god were deeply afraid because, after all,  Stockbridge did not flood.

     And so when the sun came out and Spring sprang, the sandbags remained. On a just in case basis. Just in case the groundwater rose and swallowed us whole. Which the groundwater did not. Instead the sandbags themselves became the threat with their tendency to materialise in unexpected places.

     But the bid of the more independently-minded sandbag to up-sticks and relocate its hefty bulk in the general direction of freedom and the road was ever destined to be short-lived.

     Yesterday, I watched a man drive the wrong way around the large roundabout in front of the White Hart pub, but, by and large, it has to be said, Stockbridge is a mild mannered sort of town and the daily round is markedly free of tension and suspense. Which sandbags, used as they are to high drama inevitably find tedious and stifling.


Come adrift
     In this mutinous spirit, several sandbags attempted to desert, to abandon the doorstep where they were initially wedged and make for the kerb. But sandbags are slow and prone to snagging. The majority of escapees met with trouble half-way and came adrift, their sad passage marked by trails of sand. And there in the middle of the pavement they came to a full and very cumbersome stop; posing, in death, a maximum trip hazard to all passers-by.  

      Further up the High Street near the Town Hall and opposite the new eaterie, 'Woodfire - Pizza & Mezze,' a most particular troop of sandbags lined the river's edge. Unlike their wayward brothers, these sandbags remained neatly stacked. No dereliction of duty here. These were the crack troops, the committed élite. Placed there by professionals who knew what they were about, these bags entertained  no thoughts of fresh start, a new life. They were honour bound to perish at their post if the parish council wished it.

 
Cocoon...
By the trout pool, ready to hatch any day now...
   These sandbags maintained  a low protective barrier against the river which, having been channelled under the road, emerges to form a sort of man-made flowing pool and is the place where Little Niece and Mighty Nephew like to linger  and feed the trout. 

     I found myself thinking about these sandbags quite a lot. Probably I've  watched too much TV in my life: I have long suspected that the surface scene of Stockbridge is a Truman Show style veneer beneath which there creeps and crawls a more sinister reality; that the sensible tidy small town hum seethes with palpable menace, like in David Lynch's Twin Peaks or Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

     Seen from this perspective, the sandbags around the trout pool became ever more ugly and ominous. Suppose, it occurred to me, as I passed them one day, they were not sandbags at all but a nest of of giant pupae; their rough hessian sacking actually a cocoon protecting some gross and jellied life form armed with bristling mandibles and glaucous compound eyes and about to hatch any day now and set about eating the town...

      As Spring got underway the good and more enterprising sandbags busied themselves with an alternative role, that of attracting and repelling and thereby attracting more tourists to our town. Tourists, it must be said, have expressed a curiosity in our near brush with flood and inundation that is tantamount to rubber-necking, a fascination which borders on glee.
Gone now but not forgotten
'Actual sandbags'


     'Oh my, it's sooooo awful and ghastly. Just how bad did it get?' One American lady demanded to know, her face struck with horror, her mind teeming with images of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the levees in New Orleans.

     It seemed a bit lame to disappoint her desire for catastrophe by saying:

      'Well, round here, not that bad really. Not bad at all. Some ultra big puddles in the high street and one or two houses did get very wet. Oh, and I had to wear my  wellies to get to the Co-op...'

     They stopped and stared these tourists. They took pictures of our sandbags and then they took pictures of each other standing alongside our sandbags and pictures of themselves and their friends pointing at our sandbags.   

     One can only imagine the fun times they will have when they go home and show the folks how they braved the by-ways of England's undrowned towns.

    I guess it's human nature. The word 'selfie' might be new but all portraits and photographs since the beginning of time are selfies. Cave paintings  - interior design for prehistoric man - just selfies.      

     You can imagine the rows when Mrs Caveman woke one morning to find  that Mr Caveman, had staggered in the night before, blind drunk on Monster Cockroach Juice, and set about redecorating the cave. In the dark and very badly and without consulting her.
Very slow getaway
Setting off 

 People routinely take photos of themselves in the sites of Cambodia's Killing Fields where human bones and teeth and pieces of clothing apparently still surface after a heavy rain. I have photos of myself looking genuinely shocked and sombre next to the remains of the World War One trenches,  munitions and blasted trees in Ypres' Sanctuary Wood.

     For now our sandbags have faded into history but their final stand will have been snapped and captured forever by the hundreds of tourists who have been able to go back to places like Baltimore and Melton Mowbray and say:

      'Look, I was there. Stockbridge 2014. Seems it very nearly flooded. And you see those ugly brown things I'm pointing at, those are actual sandbags.'

15.04.2014









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