Further along in 2016: 2000/02/3: Coolton Ascent

It was worse than 2015, more devastating than any of the other storms. Sedge Beat, the politician,  was away. The people noticed.

 There was a nationwide alert. The small stretch of coastline became famous overnight and asked for help.Support was strong, initially. Military, Services – everyone concentrated on the task at hand. The homeless were given temporary shelter, strangers from the conurbations opened their hearts and homes to the dispossessed, and, under the spotlight, compassion flourished, the community thrived, witness to a new humanity borne of disaster.

The press from other areas hoped to learn from this and gave lavish coverage. These floods must be taken seriously, and here, in this small Town, hadn’t people coped? Bonded? Gul was right. Amazing what a bit of weather can do. Sedge returned and New Britain was born again. Renaissance.

The press left – moved their cameras like conscience, away. Actions when not recorded, players when not performing, rapidly revert to private scripts. Support shrank away as a smile withers on a face, when it realises no one else is smiling, and self-interest took over where selflessness left off.

Visicom links stayed down, communications halted. Neighbours once allies were now the foe and after their food. There wasn’t much left. It belonged to them. They had more mouths to feed. Food trucks were diverted. Certain people found them and named their price. No one could agree. So a little murder here, a lynching there. Barter. Democracy. MEJA found out, and turned up at the crucial time. The wicked entrepreneurs had their pictures taken, and unless they made other arrangements, their photographs would hang in the Town. And so would they.

 Eventually, the rains stopped and rivers subsided, but community was gone. Another kind of damage emerged: exclusion, genuine hunger, genuine anger. And then the sewers: effluent rising, disease, fevers, more blisters, a new plague rising from the filth of ages, an unclean spirit abroad. Homes were lost in the turmoil, families un-moored – the certainty of generations slipped from grasp. Once again, the Services couldn’t meet the needs. People coped as best they could. And those who  couldn’t …?

 Along the Coast once elegant villas had been inundated, their owners fled. Museums, civic centres submerged, records of lives consumed in the chaos, waters drifting in, history floating out, and some folks were beginning to doubt their heritage. If you don’t have a past, don’t understand your place in it, how will you know how to treat the future? A little clue, at least, would help.

 On the hill all was secure, as if protected by the gods. Deep country remained safe too and was left alone.The fire in the little cottage flickered throughout the day, but the fuel was going and soon there would be nothing dry left. One night, Bug collected the three of them in his truck, and installed them in the barn for a few days. Glastonbury took a chair, Foddly and her son the bed. It was so warm no one could speak. – not that there was much to say anyway – and Bug stayed awake for two nights, drinking Blujah flickering with a new malice at the old man.

 Spring came. Willing heat lifted the skin off abandoned interiors, the bones of lives bleaching in an early sun.Foddly and her son survived, cared for by cottage and allotments, by years of someone else’s foresight and frugality. While Bug thrived by scavenging, taking what he saw, trading away the spoils of devastation. And Coolton Ascent did well. Rare books and prints slipped into its possession. Fine furniture and paintings arriving in truckloads – conservation, it was agreed, was not theft. Who else would look after these treasures? So the House became a cache, bestowing upon itself the choice pickings from catastrophe, while the Town, bereft of opportunity, sank into destitution. No one from down there came up and no one from the hill invited them.

Sedge Beat could almost be described as moral amongst such skulduggery, and for some hallowed time he was – giving direction, strong, clear guidance. As if being visited by conscience, he was seeing beyond the material to another dimension, a duty of care, to some at least. Even the Policy Makers were becoming useful at last, sorting out the squabbles in the Town, agencies keeping tabs on the unruly, the wily Gul collecting names for future reference.

 By the summer the Services were back and some communications restored. Everything really did now balance on that mythical knife-edge Sedge had told Foddly of, all those years before. He was the one walking the line. The merest quiver of breath carried on an unfavourable wind, the faintest doubt and he could fall. Don’t look down. Don’t look at all.