One of the earliest dreams I can ever recall having featured me in a rowing boat alongside future ‘Countdown’ host Richard Whiteley as we cruised up Kirkstall Road in Leeds while it lay submerged in water; we bypassed a skull positioned on a pole, as if to indicate we had reached the apocalyptic landscape of JG Ballard’s ‘Drowned World’ forty years before I even read it. At the time – the early 1970s – Whiteley was a household name only in the Yorkshire TV region as presenter of the station’s teatime magazine show, ‘Calendar’, and Yorkshire TV HQ was on Kirkstall Road, a location familiar to me as it was en route to my paternal grandma’s house. There was an ice-rink next to YTV, the neon logo of which was unmissable when evening fell; it also doubled-up as an occasional music venue; Bowie played there on the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour. But I digress.
The only reason I mention this infant voyage into the realm of the subconscious imagination is that Monday saw it finally realised in reality, bar the skull, rowing boat and Richard Whiteley (who passed away ten years ago). Kirkstall Road really was underwater; although I didn’t see it in person, I did on the TV news, and it was rather unnerving to witness something happening that I had inadvertently visualised four decades earlier.
One becomes accustomed to freak floods devastating rural areas. We’ve all seen the images over the years – OAPs being ferried in dinghies by firemen/policemen/soldiers; residents escorting film crews around their homes, wading through the dirty water and holding back the tears; sandbags piled-up outside houses whose gardens are cluttered with damaged furniture; sheep stranded on islands etc. – but unless we reside in the areas affected, it always seems as detached from the experience of British urban living as a similar disaster in Bangladesh. When the levee breaks in a big city, however, the surreal awfulness of the scenario is enough to inspire a thousand amateur auteurs to click ‘record’ on their mobile phones, relieved they can capture a genuinely startling sight for once.
The current torrent of floods have travelled down from Cumbria, through Lancashire and into Yorkshire, following consistent rainfall over several days. Such conditions are not entirely unusual this time of year, though they tend to follow the melting of heavy snow. As we haven’t had any heavy snow in the winter of 2015, the forcefulness of these floods seems to have caught everyone by surprise, both authorities and people. That the water has also flowed from the countryside into the town is another development that has belatedly alerted the population to the weakness of Britain’s flood defences.
Cumbria has been especially vulnerable to flooding in recent years, with 2015 added to 2005 and 2009 as a good reason for relocating from the county; in previous years, Devon and Cornwall have been particularly prone to Neptune’s wrath as well, with 2004 and 2013/14 joining 1952 as notable low points. In Yorkshire, the southern part of the county has traditionally suffered more, most so in 2007 and way back in 1864, when the Great Sheffield Flood claimed 270 lives, making it the worst flood in the nation’s history, even if human error rather than Mother Nature was to blame, caused as it was by the breaking of the Dale Dike Reservoir while it was being filled for the first time.
The opening of the Thames Barrier in 1982 was a long-overdue response to the vulnerability of the capital and its surrounding counties to the threat; the 20th century had seen 14 London deaths in the Great Thames Flood of 1928 as well as the North Sea Flood of 1953, which led to 58 deaths in Essex’s Canvey Island. However, the latter disaster caused damage all the way up to Scotland, with a total estimated death toll of 307. Although the floods of 1953 impacted mostly on the East Coast of the country, only Humberside responded on the same scale as London, erecting the tidal barrier at the mouth of the River Hull in 1980.
The inadequacy of Britain’s other defences when faced with the kind of weather conditions that are to be expected in an island nation has been highlighted over the past decade, whereas coastal erosion is a centuries-long problem that led to the disappearance, amongst others, of Ravenspurn in the East Riding – immortalised in Shakespeare’s ‘Richard II’ – and the reduction of Dunwich in Suffolk from a major port to a minor village.
On one hand, the prospect of rising sea levels courtesy of Global Warming is cited as the potential cause of future floods in the British Isles and the probable cause of current flooding; on the other, it is possible this scepter’d isle is undergoing one its perennial assaults from the stormy elements of the silver sea in which this precious stone is set.
Whichever factor is responsible for the apparent upsurge of flooding lately, neither serves as any form of comfort for those afflicted by it nor does it offer a solution. If the north of England is to be prevented from becoming a modern day Atlantis, it’s time to properly attend to the problem once and for all – or do Tory Ministers only really get their fingers out when the Home Counties are affected?
If ever a grizzled old rocker embodied the spirit of a musical genre that refuses to relinquish the mantle of rebellion even when it has reached the age where it now qualifies for a bus-pass, Lemmy was the man. Former Hendrix roadie, resident of the London hippy underground, bassist for legendary stoners Hawkwind (for whom he sang lead vocal on their sole big hit) and founder, front-man and only permanent member of Heavy Metal power trio Motorhead, the man born Ian Fraser Kilmister 70 years ago checked out yesterday, decades later than his once-prodigious chemical and alcohol intake initially indicated.
Like Keith Richards and Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy seemed destined to outlive us all, and a world without him is hard to envisage. That crusty countenance with its distinctive warts and handlebar moustache looked like it was carved from the same stone as Mount Rushmore and possessed the same permanence. But mortality has finally, if belatedly, caught up with a man whose considerable commercial success in the early 80s and regular ‘Top of the Pops’ appearances made him as familiar a face on the UK music scene as those figures such as Adam Ant and Boy George, who continue to monopolise memories of the decade.
Motorhead were unashamedly rock ‘n’ roll, yet never wallowed in the flaccid clichés of 70s Hard Rock; they had an amphetamine-fuelled edge to them that had more in common with Punk and helped establish what was known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal as a potent chart force. Without them, the likes of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Def Leppard could have been written off as irrelevant throwbacks to an outdated era, yet Motorhead gave the genre the kick up the arse it needed and also helped revive it across the Atlantic, culminating in the colossal success of Guns ‘n’ Roses in the late 80s.
Lemmy was one of those increasingly rare musical characters, a genuine one-off. Intelligent, witty and simultaneously faithful to the old-school totems of Rock, we won’t see his like again because the context that created him will never happen again.
© The Editor