Clodagh, Desmond, Eva, and the Case of the Missing Ear
It was like an episode of Thunderbirds in Bury when the most perilous disaster the town had ever seen was averted – a hundred lives saved – after the fire brigade sprang into action to face their greatest challenge during the brunt of an unnamed storm outside the local Wetherspoon’s pub which had taken up residence in the old cinema building.
The newspaper headline in the Bury Times, which reported on all the action, sensationalised the events with the headline: “DANGLING LETTER REMOVED”, referring to the giant teetering letter E in the Art Picture House sign – literally almost twelve inches tall – which threatened to tumble, at any moment, onto who knows how many pedestrians walking along the main road.1
A quote from the story read: “The letter was safely removed before it could fall to the pavement below”, whilst it seemed that the Wetherspoon’s staff’s greatest fear was that the old sign’s letters: “might have been metal”, and not the bit of Grade II Listed bit of wood as it turned out.
Following on from this the lead up to Christmas was seemingly a month of heavy rain, leaving everywhere sodden, and during the brunt of Storm Clodagh (pronounced Clo-da, we were told) the local weather forecasters, with their satellite forecasts, finally promised me a break in proceedings; going stir crazy I was counting down the minutes to get out the house and, to give them their dues, half an hour late the rain did stop and the blue sky appeared. I couldn’t have got out the door quick enough.
The River Roch just down the road looked unusually like white water rapids and I thought that I’d never seen it so full or so fast and imagined that it would’ve washed away a lot of the banks when they re-emerged. This afternoon out for me was an aberration in the weather’s plans but what did shortly emerge when the water went down was much more sinister that the local river banks as, described by local newspaper, the headline this time read: ‘Severed ear’ found in river in Bury.
It turned out that a man had discovered the human ear washed up by the River Irwell, just outside the town centre, following the surge brought about by Storm Desmond (pronounced Desmond) and he’d immediately alerted the Police who immediately began their investigations. Their greatest fear, no doubt, was that teenage knife crime has claimed another victim or, even worse, that Vincent van Gogh was back.
On Christmas night I was up late enough to hear the torrential rain start at about 1am, brought in by Storm Eva (pronounced Eva), and over the next day it just didn’t seem to stop which led to every river in Lancashire attaining its record height. The great Boxing Day floods of ’15 that followed, which will long be remembered by a generation, were unprecedented and caused footbridges to be swept away and gas mains to explode in Radcliffe; they swamped the fields of Goshen just down the road or, more pertinently, just down the hill; they swept away a massive 200 year old pub in Summerseat; and they pretty much wiped out the town of Hebdon Bridge.
The town centre of Rochdale was also completely flooded and it was almost with a sense of pride that I saw the River Roch making it on the primetime national news. The irony of Rochdale was that the river flows underneath it, as the town was built on the widest bridge in Europe, and for aesthetic reasons – to make Rochdale more like London, or Paris, or something – the council planned to “uncover” the river in the town centre once again and restore café society, or something.
A job now done, it seemed. Visitors are warned that they might require armbands.
This remarkable flooding only led a plethora of local wags to comment about how when the council said they were working to reveal the river in the town centre they were pretty sure that this wasn’t what they’d meant; whilst others, without a firm grasp on proceedings, questioned whose idea it was to open up the river in the first place and asked when they would be closing it back up again?
I went on to discover that there’s a hardworking robot lurking somewhere in the River Roch at Blackford Bridge, with its own Twitter account, who measures the river depth every day and posts the information up on the internet for all to see. Consider the facts: anybody would have had a problem if on Christmas day you had a water depth of thirty centimetres with a further three metre tsunami heading your way. What a difference a day makes.
All this bad weather and flooding didn’t seem to start until the UK public were allowed to start naming the storms and with Abigail, Barney, Clodagh, Desmond, Eva, and Frank to start with that’s mostly naming them really badly. I had a sneak peak of what’s to come (CONTAINS SPOILERS) and this year we can apparently look forward to a Storm Gertrude, a Storm Katie, a Storm Nigel, a Storm Rhonda, a Storm Tegan, a Storm Vernon, a Storm Wendy, and the worst of all: Storm Steve.
Speaking as one myself I despaired how they couldn’t have just put an N on the end of it to allow it some sort of dignity as instead, addressing a stranger so informally, they’ve let an anthropomorphised bag of wind sound like an open-shirted mobile disco operator who operates out of pubs in the Oldham area most weekends and fawns over Lambrini girls.
Storm Steve: Coming 2016.
As for The Case of the Missing Ear the Police at the riverbank crime scene were baffled and called in for forensic back-up. The boys in the lab carried out their tests, DNA and the like, and made a startling breakthrough: they ruled out that the severed human ear was a symptom of local gang tensions bubbling over, partly because it was made of latex, mainly because it was part of an old Halloween costume.
1 – The rest of the headline continued: “from 40ft-high Bury Art Picture House sign by fire crew”, because they only go in for pithy crash-bang-wallop headlines around here.