Let there be no mistake about it, we need the press and television. We need them to investigate on our behalf abuses and incompetence in public life, we need them to reveal scandals that would otherwise be safely squirreled away by politicians and civil servants, we need them to alert us to the excesses of the politically motivated enthusiasts and jobsworth apologists for global warming, political correctness, elf'n'safety and unbridled immigration - yes, for a thousand reasons we need them. Without the media our lives would be ruled even more completely than they are, by shadowy, untouchable, self-seeking officials in town halls up and down the country.
But God, can't they be a bunch of w*nk*rs sometimes?
Newspapers and the telly this week have been flooded (ha! "flooded", get it?) with pictures of cute babies being carried to safety, grateful pets saved from the deep, elderly people being tenderly cared for, fraught young women bursting into tears (but only when the camera's pointing their way) and indignant citizens telling their stories of plucky endurance, official indifference and lack of information.
"They" should have done something about it, is the cry. "They", presumably, is the government. Or the local council. Or the emergency services, or the weather forecasters, or the Flat Earth Society or whoever. Just what "they" were supposed to do is not clear. Warn people? But we can all look out of the window and see it's raining. We can all (nearly all) walk down to the local river and think "Hmm, water's getting a bit high" before having the forethought to go home and fill the bath with fresh water.
Or perhaps "they" were supposed to stop the rain? Or somehow miraculously siphon billions of water away (let's face it, only Thames Water can do that)? Or tour the streets with fleets of water taxis, ferrying the helpless populace to luxury hotels where they can stay free of charge while "they" clean up their houses for them and fit them out with new carpets and furniture?
What kind of cloud-cuckoo-land do these w*nk*rs live in?
And the language! We've had 3,214 uses of the word "torrent". In 478 cases it was linked with the word "raging", and in 269 cases was accompanied by a picture of six inches of water flowing placidly by. The word "deluge" has occurred 451 times, "burst its banks" 987 times, "panic" 1,212 times, "over-topped" 243 times, "danger" 2,603 times, "terror" 680 times, and "peccary" twice (oh no, sorry, that was something else).
What? You mean there have been floods before?
Surely they didn't have Global Warming in the olden days?
There's been no shortage of advice - that's something we're terribly good at in this country, advice. Mostly it's been things like "make sure you're insured to the hilt", "keep some bottled water and cans of food" and "don't attempt any heroics". The old granny over the road can drown, just so long as you don't get your feet wet and inconvenience the emergency services - who seem to have done a pretty good job, by the way, mainly by ignoring their instructions and using common-sense instead.
The GOS would like to offer his own Grumpy advice for those living in low-lying areas …
Don't live in a low-lying area.
If you must live in a low-lying area, don't buy a bungalow.
Swap your house around: have the bedrooms downstairs, and the kitchen, living-room and bathroom upstairs. When the floods come, you'll have a better view.
When it starts to rain, fill the bath with fresh water. If you only have a shower it serves you right for being a cheap-skate.
Buy a boat. People in Venice have managed very well for centuries.
Make strenuous efforts to develop webbed feet. If you can't manage it yourself, give your children a sporting chance by having sex with ducks.
Of course it hasn't just been the media who have behaved stupidly. We've sat and watched with amazement the interviews with the white-van man stuck on the motorway, complaining about the lack of information. What he actually means is that nobody came and gave him the information he wanted, which was that the road was miraculously clear and he could go home. Did he really think a police helicopter was going to come and deliver messages to him personally? Get over yourself, mate, you aren't that important.
Then there was the lady who lost her old dad. He was in a sheltered flat, and instead of going round there or phoning to make sure he was all right she called the police and reported him missing just in case he was. He wasn't.
And the bemused householders, telling the reporters of their shock and fear when six inches of water suddenly appeared in their gardens. And the hysterical girls weeping and hugging each other to impress us with their distress; we'd be the more impressed if we didn't suspect that once the cameras were switched off they just went back to talking about clothes, or drugs, or whatever young girls talk about these days.
They're just giving the media what they want to hear, I suppose. The vast majority of people have just soldiered on, donning their wellies, sweeping the mud away, lifting the sodden carpets, giving each other a hand, talking to their neighbours for the first time in years. The older ones will have been droning on about the blitz - and they're probably the ones who have the best attitude of all. They were brought up in the days when if something went wrong, you just tightened your belt and did something about it, instead of waiting for the big helping hand from the sky.
Make no mistake, floods can be dangerous
Mind you, the press aren't all bad. Here is the text of an excellent article by Alice Miles from the Times …
If this is a national disaster, I'm a tomato
You could almost hear the sighs of disappointment echoing around television and radio studios yesterday morning as the threatened flooding of a power station in Gloucestershire failed to occur. One reporter for the Radio 4 Today programme was embarrassingly corrected by the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, Tim Brain, as she breathlessly reported that hundreds of thousands of people had come within two inches of losing their power supply. Actually, the chief constable gently corrected her, the river was three feet away from flooding at the power station: it was only where she stood, farther along the river, that the water was two inches below the quay.
I hate to intrude on the British love of a disaster, but haven't the emergency services done brilliantly? Far from the "1m victims of the deluge" promised in a Daily Mail headline yesterday morning, there are 350,000 people without tapwater, but not without drinking water, 50,000 were without power for 24 hours, and 10,000 have been moved out of their homes. As I write, we do not know of anybody who has died as a direct result of the floods. Strenuous work overnight by the military and the fire service saved the power station from flooding.
Properties have been ruined, and it is miserable for those who have been hit, but they will be fixed. Insurance companies will cough up; a government emergency fund will have to be established to make up the shortfall. Ministers have some hard questions to answer about who will bear insurance risks in flood-prone areas in future - but those questions were there before this summer. The cost of flooding in areas susceptible to it is already shared among nearly all household insurance policies, at risk or not.
I suspect that farmers with devastated crops and presumably dead livestock will bear the brunt of the real financial damage. But without in any way demeaning the nuisance and misery caused to hundreds of thousands of people in Central England; if this is a disaster, I am a tomato.
The Government has proved itself calmly competent. Those of us (myself included) who feared that Gordon Brown might lack the necessary "feel your pain" contortions of Tony Blair in an emergency have been proved wrong: the pragmatic, unhysterical approach of the new Prime Minister has suited the country well. No soundbites; no grimaces; no posturing.
The temptation to halt the government programme for a few days was impressively resisted. Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, has appeared plausible, measured and reassuring. It has been hard even to drum up a real chorus of disapproval at David Cameron's decision to go ahead with a long-planned trip to Rwanda. What good could the Leader of the Opposition do here? Stick his finger in the dyke?
It is with increasing desperation that reporters around Central England have sought people to attack the emergency services. One journalist was even reduced to reporting on the rescue of a couple who had previously, stubbornly, refused to be rescued, and their pet budgie. But everyone who wanted out seems to have got out in time. Even in the areas without water, families were being "confined" to nine litres of bottled water a day. There is more in the emergency bowsers, and yet more on its way.
One mother complained that her husband wouldn't be able to wash; if that is the limit of the discomfort in what are quite exceptional circumstances, then I think we can heave a sigh of relief. Perhaps someone might like to hand out water purification tablets. If water purified by a pill is good enough for even sanitised Westerners to drink in the more disease-ridden parts of the Third World - and it is - then surely we in England could manage to wash our bodies in it.
These floods ought to remind us how very fortunate we are. The rarity of the situation, and the impressive response of all the services, shows what a fine country we live in, and at what a fine time. Who would have believed that a government body, the Environment Agency, could have successfully predicted with such impressive detail, the minute variations that might cause waters to rise at a given point many hours hence? I take my rainhat off to them.
It was striking, watching report after report from the flood-hit areas on Monday night (in, admittedly, the comfort of my nice, dry sitting room), that the young and the elderly were the most sanguine about the rising waters. For the young and able-bodied, without small children to worry about, it is an adventure, of course. They were out there, helping or playing. But the elderly, whom you might expect to be frightened and upset, were the toughest of the lot. It'll pass . . . we've done what we can downstairs . . . someone brought me a nice, hot meal. I sometimes shudder to think what my overpampered generation, accustomed to no real material deprivation, with no experience of war or tragedy on our doorsteps, will be like when we hit old age.
Perhaps it is trite to point out that people around the world are not so lucky. I hope not. Hundreds of people have died in flooding in Asia in the past few weeks: 750 in India, 150 in China, 350 in Pakistan.
Millions are homeless. Flooding in Bangladesh kills hundreds every year and displaces millions more. No insurance company is going to rebuild their homes. And we in the UK do not generally care very much.
According to the World Health Organisation, 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases; 90 per cent are children under 5, mostly in developing countries. Nearly nine in ten of those are attributed to unsafe water supply, inadequate sanitation and hygiene.
I say again, with apologies to those flood victims to whom it might sound flippant: how very lucky we are.
Finally, as I'm sure we've mentioned before, The GOS keeps a boat in his garage. He's spent the last week filling it with as many pairs of animals as he can, but with the floods only 45 miles away from his home things are getting a bit tight. He's managed quite well, but is having trouble locating a second aardvark. Also just two ants doesn't seem quite enough, does it, and what should he do about wasps? And no way is he taking any bl**dy crane-flies.
The GOS says: Talking of the press, did you know that there are special newspapers and magazines for fat, stupid, working-class people who have no partners, no jobs, several children by different fathers, a medical condition and live on benefits? Go to W.H.Smith's and buy a copy of "that's life!". But be warned, by page five you'll have lost the will to live.
P.S. I've nothing against working-class people. I used to be one myself. Mind you, I was a bit of a sham. I actually worked.
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