Sometimes you are not prepared for events because you don’t know what to expect. You have a plan in your mind and then it gets blown away in an instant. My plan was simple, I didn’t have one. It’s not as though you have training courses on what to do in a house after a flood. It’s not a regular event in my life so it’s a one time lesson. There was ooze that definitely shouldn’t be there and furniture and books that had seen better days so I suppose the general plan is have a look at it and chuck or keep. Sounds good to me. You have to have a plan.
Well one short telephone conversation changed that plan. Bryn rang me about 8.30am on the Saturday morning – day five, “people are in your house throwing stuff out”. I am not sure even now if the call was a news update or a warning I must ask Bryn next time we catch up. What was for sure, is that call certainly stuffed my plan.
I had some offers from some friends to come and help look at the house and that’s the only way I can put it since I didn’t know what I should be doing. I was planning to start cleaning Sunday after putting together people and gear. Important gear like gloves and brooms and disinfectant and “wellies” and important people like Pete. More about Pete later but I just needed somebody from my family and Pete was the nearest – well only 1000km away so that’s relatively close.
When Bryn’s call came I was in the local hardware store stocking up, except they had no stock. No brooms no disinfectant and above all no “wellies” I was obviously way behind in my planning and the shelves had been scraped and scraped again. All that was left was lurid red waterproof gloves, something you might use to apply hydrochloric acid to stonework or use in a horror movie to add the creepy edge. And, a sign saying “wellies” due in three days. Fat lot of good that was, what on earth did they think a sign like that would do, “no wellies” would have been much more useful.
On the phone to Bryn was a bit surreal, people were in my house chucking stuff out and I was not there! I had no thoughts of outrage or even real concern. There were just people in “my” house playing with “my” stuff. All I remember thinking is I need to be there to list what gets thrown out for the insurance company. What a strange line of thought?Why was I concerned for the insurance company’s welfare? I will never understand that thought process given subsequent dealings with the company.
Well the long and short of it was a plea to Bryn to delay the house chuck out before I got there and a hurried visit to the cashier who confirmed no”wellies” no disinfectant and just “wimpy” house brooms – no real mens brooms with tough hairs and rough handles. I slunk out with four pairs of the lurid “chemical” gloves and an overwhelming desire to get to the house. That was another plan that went astray that morning since the roads around the shopping centre were now in absolute gridlock. Why is it when you have an overwhelming desire to do something it gets stuffed up? Everybody was trying to get across the bridge to implement their smart well laid out plans and I was trying to get across with no plan. I think I should have been given right of way. Society should look after people with no plans.
Suffice it to say with a bit of “rat running” I was across the bridge and heading down Leybourne an hour later. One whole hour of frustration. It’s like trying to get to the airport to catch a flight and every set of traffic lights and every car is seemingly against you.
The street was absolutely chaotic. The water had gone overnight but the ooze had forgotten to follow and all the road rules were being broken now. Cars nose to nose and tail to nose, double and in some cases triple parked, angle parked and just parked where there was a space. I joined the throng. People, hundreds, literally hundreds of people all with a plan.
The place was deserted so Bryn had done his job well but out the back two “mud skippers” were shovelling ooze. I had no idea who they were but they were in my space helping me. This was a little unnerving since I am a pretty independent individual and just don’t think of asking for help but here they were helping me. Actually when I reflect on this they were shovelling ooze from Pete and Anita’s place through a gaping hole in the fence where pickets had been removed so I ended up with lots of friendly ooze on a transient journey down my path. It was still grey – brown and still overwhelmingly depressing.
This was the day I learnt one of the most important lessons of my life. Something I will never forget and I am really, really glad it happened to me. As I said at the beginning of this journey
“I now know what it really means to accept help – willingly offered with no conditions”.
Not too many people have the opportunity to experience what I experienced over the next week and I cannot thank enough those individuals that just walked in off the street to help. I will always be indebted to you. Sometimes known as the “mud army” they seem to pop up almost magically – turn around and there was another clutch with broom and gloves in hand “do you want any help”? More about these fabulous people later.
All I can say about the crew that had been in my house when Bryn rang was that they were stunningly efficient. By the time I got there all the furniture in the lounge had been relocated to the growing pile out the front on the verge or had been unceremoniously dumped on the back deck. Many people have asked me since about how I felt about my “stuff” being dumped while I was not there. To be honest I did not and still do not mind. These were total strangers that had chosen to help me. I will always treasure the company I kept over those few days so there was no contest between that very special personal experience and my useless “stuff”.
The kitchen was still looking a little sad to say the least and books that had been hastily put on the bench had doubled in size.
The apples and oranges were still in the fruit bowl and the Christmas cards were still hanging off the blinds on the window. It was the detail that was catching my eye again.
Outside Bryn was way ahead of me as per usual and his pile was growing by the second, plaster and insulation mixed with timber and household goods with a smell that was a cross between a rubbish tip and a sewerage farm. It was a smell that grew over the next few days and no doubt will trigger some challenging memories in years to come.
My pile was tiny in comparison but at least the ooze had gone from the driveway to join Anita and Pete’s on the way out my back gate. I did salvage the wheelbarrow and some other stuff but my control over the situation at that stage was not great and that in itself was disturbing.
So back to my plan of “keep or chuck”. By this stage the volunteers were starting to pour into the street and the call “need any help” became the catch cry. I had to accept that this task was too big and I did need help. That first “yes” changed me forever and probably has changed so many other people as well.
Saying yes obviously got me away from the camera since it looks like the next image was taken about two hours later in the garage. That period, like so many was a blur and all I can really remember is people everywhere moving ooze or unrecognisable stuff from one spot to another. When you are by yourself and there are two levels to a house and multiple rooms, it is impossible to control things so there was stuff that was thrown out that probably should have been saved. On reflection I really do not care about that stuff anymore it was bits and pieces of a past life and the future is where I want to be.
Back to the garage.
One of the first things I did when I bought the house was to install an automatic door opener. Great stuff no more hopping in and out of the car. All wireless and easy. Well it’s not so easy when there is no power. I remembered that there was some type of lever that you had to disengage before you could slide the door up. The problem was access to the garage was through a back door that had “garage stuff” piled up against it, that’s what garages are for – you relegate stuff you don’t want in the house to a lower position in the hierarchy. I had to kick in the door to what was a black hole with no light and a jumble of ooze covered, relegated stuff that I literally slithered across to reach the door. Swearing always works and with a few choice words the lock was released and the door opened – spilling its guts in a cascade onto the drive. The image below is obviously taken after the contents had been further relegated to a lower position in the household hierarchy but you get the idea that it was not a pleasant place to be.
And my plan was working! Stuff was not being chucked but being sorted into jumbled, ooze covered piles.
By this stage it was a real competition outside as to who would have the biggest pile of useless things and Pete and Anita had really surged in the last hour.
That was Saturday morning and I had no inkling that this was going to be a long, long week.