Monday, 29 April 2013

Saying Thanks: For The Generosity Of Friends and Neighbours

This is the last time I’m going to mention our flood; it’s all water under the bridge now (both pun and cliché definitely intended) and I realise many people, both in UK and elsewhere, suffered far more than we did. But before I finally move on, I’d like to say thanks to the wonderful people in the town of Chudleigh who showed us what it’s like to live in a small community (a novelty for this pair of city folk).

When we arrived home and found our house sitting in the stream, rather than picturesquely on its banks, I texted a couple of friends with whom we’d spent the evening. As we sat in our neighbour’s house drinking tea and trying to take it all in, there was a knock on the door — and then another. Groups of friends arrived, knowing there was nothing we could do at that point, but just wanting to give us a hug. They left behind flasks of hot water, coffee — and, bizarrely, a couple of novelty pens presented to us by the town’s local comedian.

First thing the next morning, with the water subsided, the mop-up brigade arrived. I found one friend on his hands and knees scraping up the red Devon mud covering everything; he called in his mate, an electrician, who sorted out the power supply before joining in the mud bath. Another couple of friends, with two children in tow, formed a human chain to move the entire contents of our ground floor up to the spare bedroom. We put one of the children in charge of stacking everything neatly on the bed and the floor. He did a wonderful job, bless him, although I’m still finding things now that were neatly hidden away that morning.

Someone arrived with a dehumidifier, piles of old towels — and advice on where to buy decent mops. One brave soul spent two days in our kitchen, drying soggy papers in the oven.

My two sisters visited from afar the following weekend and helped us clear the mudslide from the garden. They also recognised our need for a nest, somewhere we could go and hide when it all got too much; sitting on the landing with a picnic table just wasn’t good enough. They sorted out our attic library, installed the TV, and made sure we had comfortable chairs to sit on. It was so homely, we’ve decided to keep this nest, even though the house is now back to normal.

And then there was the food: people arrived on our door-step with cake, quiche, a beef casserole; and offers of meals out. If anyone so much as breathed the words “you must come round for supper one evening”, we would grab our diaries and start reeling off the dates we were free: “tonight, tomorrow, in fact any day this week!” The owner of our local sweet shop gave us free chocolate. We spent many evenings eating with our neighbour who lost much more than we did, but still had a working dining room. Her wonderful brother spent the day after the flood clearing her basement on his own and then cooked a huge curry for all of us. We took pickles, poppadums and dessert — plus a bottle of champagne to celebrate the fact that: nobody died; nobody got hurt; and it’s only stuff!

Maybe it’s the British reserve, the desire ‘not to be a bother’, but when someone offers to help, the natural reaction is to say “no thanks, we’re fine, we’ll manage”. We learned very quickly that there are times when that is NOT the right thing to say; times when every offer of help is accepted with open arms. We lost count of the text, emails and phone calls we received in the days after the flood, but I wrote down every offer of help and called on people when we needed them. Clearing out the garden room / office / writing room at the bottom of our garden was a task I’d been dreading; we had to wait three days for the water to disappear but then, another group of friends formed a human chain and we shifted everything in less than an hour.

For a couple of months afterwards, every person we met wanted to know how we were getting on and give us a hug. Sometimes we were able to respond; sometimes it was one explanation too many and I’d ask them, eyes welling, to change the subject. For weeks, every time it rained heavily, we would get texts asking if we were OK, if the stream was behaving itself.

And finally, we were heavily involved in preparations for the town’s Christmas Fayre, held just ten days after the event we christened Chudflood. My wonderful organising committee took the whole thing away from me and just got on with it.

So to our friends and family, especially the people of Chudleigh: a huge thank you for your generosity and support. Now, shall we change the subject? 


  1. Lovely people of 'Chud' thank you for looking after Elizabeth :) x. I had cancer in 2007. I know a lot of my neighbours through childminding their children, or being on the PTA or looking after them( doing shopping etc) when they were I'll. one couple had been our best friends when the children were young, going on holidays together and sharing christmas? I am godmother to their daughters, I childminder them and slept in their house when her parents were so ill in hospital with cancer that they were on bedside watch. Did they even knock when I told them I'd lost my job through needing an op and chemo... No ... Never saw them. They have early retired and I thought they would at least phone or knock for a coffee. They know I don't dwell on the morbid and would enjoy a chat and laugh but I haven't seen them since. Strangers were kinder, and I value my friends from further afield more than those neighbours, who made the effort to phone or journey to me or meet me half way to meet up for a laugh. The neighbours who did phone or stop in the lane were the elderly who I have always had a lot of time for . I have some better online friends who I have never met, but share the same interest and have shown enormous support on fb, and I love them for being there. What a great community you have In Chudleigh :)

  2. What a lovely tribute to your friends and neighbours Elizabeth. So glad you are now installed in your writing room. I'm sure great things will emerge from there!

  3. Arwen, thanks for sharing your thoughts; I'm sorry your experience has not been as good as ours. Some people find it difficult to deal with other people's problems, but it must be very upsetting when friends behave like this.

  4. Hi Pauline. It's wonderful to be back in my egg yolk and melted chocolate room (now there's a title for a book: Egg Yolk and Melted Chocolate). The sun has shone every day since I came back in here, I've not needed the fire most days - and the only distraction is the loud chirping of the birds.

  5. I'm pleased to hear that good things have come out of your experience, not least a lovely-sounding attic room! What I've learned from the last year is that we do need to make the effort to say something or do something when friends are in trouble. It's too easy to let it slip, be embarassed or tongue-tied - I don't know why people are frightened of saying or doing the 'wrong' thing. The most important thing is to know that they are there, as then you can ask for help. You might not, but you feel you can.

    And you're right, there's a point at which we have to turn our backs on the cr*p and take a step forward. One-Two-Three: March!