It’s a dull December Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting in the kitchen with my sewing machine in front of me. Yards of pale blue Toile de Jouy fabric lie in folds around me and the log burner is crackling away merrily.
I haven’t had the time or the inclination to sit down with my sewing basket for a long time – I haven’t really got the time now – it’ll be Christmas in three days and there is still plenty to do, but I’m motivated. Oh, SO motivated.
“What are you making that is so important?” I hear you ask. A Christmas gift? Some curtains for the room soon to be occupied by relatives over the festive period?
Nope. I’m making sandbags.
Yes, you heard right. I’m making bags from old duvet covers to fill with sand to stack across the doorways.
It was only to be expected, I suppose – living on the river. When we bought the moulin we looked into the risk of flood and were quietly confident that we wouldn’t have a problem. The occasional crues, high river levels, run in cycles of 12, 15 and (major flooding) 100 years, Madame Arnaud, the technicienne de la rivière, from the river authority had explained. The 12 and 15 year highs meant the island that is our garden behind the mill floods, but the house stands a good 2 metres above the island and has never flooded. We verified the information against the public records and she was right. The last 100 year flood happened in 1999, so we wouldn’t be around for the next one.
Maybe – if it wasn’t for climate change.
The first two years were fine then one morning, in February this year, we got up and discovered that our garden had disappeared. Nothing but a boiling torrent of murky orange water swirling around the bend and off into the distance. It caused a bit of excitement, I can tell you, but the water was nowhere near the level of the living accommodation and after a couple of days it went down, the island popped out looking fresh and green and everything went back to normal.
The first thing that happened was that, while we were away for the weekend, a large lump of tree came floating down the river into our leat and bashed its way through the steel grill which protects the entrance to the wheel, smashed the wooden vanne, sluice gate, and disappeared down-river having removed the axle casing from the water wheel. With the vanne no longer controlling the flow of water from the main river,we arrived home to find ten thousand litres of water a second, crashing through the tunnel under the house, roaring out the other side and smashing into the river bank of the island. I jumped on the phone to Madame Arnaud and she arrived within the hour to open the sluice gates on the main weir to divert the water away from our millstream and lower the flow of water into the millpond to a trickle. Phew! All we had to do now was to wait until the river level dropped in the spring so that we could fix the vanne and get everything back to normal.
The following week France was hit by the first of a number of storms. The biblical deluge resulted in our river level rising by 0.97m to 2.4m overnight. OK, still nowhere near the level of the house, but it was a bit of a shock as we weren’t even into the rainy season yet. The island dutifully reappeared but then the following week it happened again – this time reaching 2.5m. And again the next week.
By this time, the local papers were speculating about a recurrence of the 1999 floods and the mairie, town hall, in the main town was sending out leaflets to local businesses and residents telling them to jack up their furniture on breeze blocks and prepare for the worst. The level of the river outside our window reached a record-breaking high and before it could subside the next storm was forecast. The whole area went into orange alert for flooding.
Today is Saturday. Tomorrow everywhere in the area will be closed. What if the river rises tomorrow, before the last crue has had a chance to subside?
Ever the optimist Colin is convinced that the moulin will be fine. Me, I like to plan for every contingency. There’s nowhere within 2 hours that actually sells sand bags, so he agrees to go into town again and buy some bags of sand from the DIY place.
And here I am, re-purposing old duvet covers…