Tuesday 9 September 2008

Is your journey really necessary?

So where were you during the great Biblical flood of September 2008? And, much more importantly, who do you blame for it?

Normally I would have been sitting smugly in my hilltop home; a location which causes occasional palpitations during severe gales, but is blissfully comforting in torrential rain. I just watch the water gurgling merrily down the road, not greatly caring where it might end up.

However, on Saturday I found myself in Morpeth for lunch; just about the worst possible place, at the worst possible time. I had tried to excuse myself, but my aunt had gone to a lot of trouble in the kitchen, the occasion was a seventh birthday party, and I was bringing the guest of honour.

Yes, it would be a brave man indeed who would deny a seven-year-old his or her birthday treat. Only this was a party for a dog, whose appreciation was confined to hoovering up the scraps, howling along to “Happy Birthday” and receiving a present of a marrowbone rather larger than he is, which he has been regarding with total bafflement ever since.

I spent much of the tortuous return journey, in which we took two and a half hours to cover 25 miles, wondering whether any of the other vehicles jammed onto the blocked A1 were making a more pointless trip than ours. Since the throng included a large number of motorcyclists out for a jolly Saturday rev-up, I concluded that even this prize was probably beyond my grasp.

Still, it was good to be reminded of the awesome power of Nature and our own insignificance in the greater scheme of things. Now I just need to show more determination when cancelling future travel plans in the light of adverse weather forecasts. It would not harm any of us to spend more time posing that old question from the wartime posters: “Is your journey really necessary?”

I used to be so good at it when I worked in London, and regularly cited blizzard conditions in Northumberland as an excuse for failing to get to the office on Monday morning. Having been snowed in for several weeks in aggregate during the 1990s, I was a bit miffed when a Tyneside client let slip to my colleagues that he had not seen a heavy snowfall in years.

As for blame, was it all the result of global warming, a sign of divine displeasure over recent events at St James’s Park, or a slightly mistimed 60th anniversary tribute to the great Border floods of August 1948?

Even before the waters reached their peak, some unlucky fall guy from the County Council was being given a hard time by the BBC for failing to protect Morpeth from inundation. But should the local authority really take the rap for what we used to call Acts of God? All I will say is that the weather definitely seems to have got worse since Gordon Brown took over.

In any case, a bit of rain may be put firmly in perspective by this week’s switch-on of the Large Hadron Collider, the largest and most expensive scientific experiment in history, which is designed to aid our understanding of the Big Bang at the start of the universe by replicating it, albeit supposedly on a smaller scale. Unsuccessful legal bids to block the project have argued that it could re-start Creation from scratch.

So if your life ends in a flash tomorrow, to the sound of a divine voice mumbling “Oh no, not again!”, or Dr Evil cackling, do remember to look on the bright side. At least it will be quicker and cleaner than being flooded out. While in a tunnel under the French-Swiss border, a lot of scientists will be perishing ever so happily as they mouth “Eureka!”


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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