As I’ve noticed before in this blog, it rains an awful lot in some early Morris poems – ‘The grey rain driveth all astray’ in ‘The Little Tower’, for example – and Morris was also mightily moved by Richard Jeffries’s post-apocalyptic novel After London, in which the blocked river Thames backs up and creates a great midland lake or sea in the heart of England. Well, we have ourselves had unprecedented levels of rain this winter (which has not really been a winter at all, in any recognisable seasonal sense), and sizeable stretches of the north of the country have turned into lakes before our very eyes. Here in Lancaster we recently had three feet of water in the city centre, power cuts for several days and nights, and the university had to abandon term a week early.
There is an immediate political point to be made here, but also a longer-term apocalyptic speculation worthy of the Jeffries novel itself. We know that this Tory government, and its coalition predecessor, has shamefully neglected flood defences in the north, in contrast to the south-west and the midlands. Commentators like Owen Jones and George Monbiot have powerfully enforced this case in their recent columns. No wonder David Cameron has been heckled on his patronising ‘green-wellie’ trips up this way to inspect the damage, and the Chancellor’s ‘northern power-house’ rhetoric has been exposed as the sham it is.
The longer-term point here resides in the fact that climate change is on us much quicker and more radically than we ever thought it would be; it’s not going to get any better, and may well accelerate further. In which case, we may just possibly be seeing the beginnings of a process whereby certain areas of the north of England may ultimately have to be abandoned as uninhabitable. That’s a thought we are already used to in terms of British coastal erosion – we may now have to get used to it for certain inland territories too. Morris himself depicted a truly watery world in his late romance The Waters of the Wondrous Isles, but even its heroine Birdalone doesn’t want to live amidst water all the time.