Stephen Grant

Flood Brothers

People like living near water. That’s just obvious. What’s not obvious, is why.

Sure, looking back over history the advantages were huge – with the earliest mass transport mostly limited to boats and barges, a riverside property would be the modern day equivalent of living just off a motorway junction. And going back to prehistoric times, it would fulfill the most basic life requirements. Drinking. Bathing. Sewerage. Even when those three were performed simultaneously, it was still a fair few rungs up from ‘cave’.

However, as the world became more industrialized, so did our use of water. Rivers became every factory’s favourite power source, cooling apparatus and toxic toilet; beaches became concrete ports, and lakes became a handy alternative to municipal tips.

So with that in mind it’s puzzling as to why, 100’s of years later, and with some of the worst floods in living memory having ravaged the country, the British obsession with waterside living is still at a frenzied high. If you don’t believe me, check house prices for coastal properties versus a mile in-land. Your surcharge for being the frontline defence against hurricane winds and destructive tides is hard to comprehend. “… However, this house, just three roads down on the seafront, is certain to flood, erodes at 5 times the speed, and will have its windows blown in twice a decade. You’ll take it? That’ll be £250K more. Kerching!”

This is not just a British obsession, but elsewhere in the world, it still makes sense. If you live in Brazil, the beaches are a must. If you live in Greece, it’s the cleanest air away from their overpolluted cities. If you live on The Isle of Man, it allows you to leave as quickly as possible. Look at Australia – everyone lives on the coast. The middle is this featureless, pointless, desert. It looks like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle.

So I can’t have been alone in noticing that a large chunk of those personally affected by the flooding were from the affluent middle classes. Some slightly hair-brained observers felt this was nature’s way of reducing economic imbalance; a purge of the middle classes, as if nature had to choose between this and surreptitiously poisoning large reserves of mineral water. But from my perspective, there’s no schadenfreude. I’m not revelling in their misery at all; loss at this level is a great leveller. It makes little difference if you are in a two bed maisonette or a 7 bed country pile when the property’s main feature is raw sewage meandering leisurely through the ground floor.

The only person I never feel sorry for is the cast-iron tit in a canoe who pretends that’s how he’s commuting to work, when he clearly hasn’t had gainful employment since graduating in Travel & Tourism. When avoiding him, the media took a perverse glee in stopping residents midway through their frantic efforts to save their livelihoods, in preparation of a morose ‘before and after’ when they returned a week later to show how it made no difference anyway. For a fortnight, my TV was chock-full of posh people in waders, sporting waistlines so high they made Simon Cowell look like a gangster rapper.

I’ll admit, there are some lovely features of beach living; the air. The walks. The near-nudity on non-overcast days in August. And the view isn’t just ‘nice’. Apparently, being able to focus onto a horizon improves your mental state. Though probably not enough to counteract the depression of dodging 80mph roof tiles while rescuing your cat from a garden knee-deep in your neighbours’ poo.

And will this be the economic leveller everyone predicts? No – I’d say; quite the opposite. The riverside dwellers of the future will have to be people so wealthy they can not only afford the beautiful homes there but the revised insurance payments, which will be eye-watering (and carpets, furniture, and brickwork-watering too, obviously). For the rest of us plebs, there’s only one option. Head for the hills.