Saturday, 21 November 2009

PROJECT 8: a dry interlude in Cockermouth

On Thursday morning I had the kids in the car taking them, as every week day, to school.  But today, when I left the house I forgot my phone (again!), it was raining heavily and the road was already a river.  The small road below our house was flooded.  I got to the main road and thought 'today is not the day to leave without a mobile phone'. I turned tail to get my phone.  On returning home and picking up my phone, my phone was flashing - there was a message from school informing us it was closed due to flooding.  The kids faces looked at me disbelievingly and rather excitedly.  Since then, we haven't left the house, keeping safe, dry and out of harm's way. The weekly shop would have to wait.

At first, Thursday was just like every other rainy day in the Lakes, of which there are many.  However, as the day progressed, the volume of water was clearly causing problems. 

We live on a hill in a village, a five minute drive from Cockermouth. It was wet here, but the water tends to just stream down the hill along the road and through the sodden fields.  However, images of Keswick seriously flooding started to come through and then I was glued to the news bulletins.  I watched in disbelief as the images of oh-so-familiar Cockermouth high street started to filter through.  Water half way up the windows of the shops - unbelievable.  I texted to offer help to several friends who I knew had houses that would be in danger. One was already sheltering at a friends house.

Friday morning we wake to hear that the flooding had worsened significantly overnight and had become a one in a thousand year flood, a policeman missing, bridges collapsing and the flood water having risen to the top of the shops and hundreds being rescued.  A shock is an understatement.  I could not quite comprehend the shocking images on the telly and the fact they were a stone's throw away.  My natural instinct was to get my bucket and help - not that I would be much help.  More sensible, stay at home.  Another friend rang, the flood waters overnight had reached 1.5m around their house, pouring in through the cat flap.  And it had receded enough for them to start the clear up.  So Friday, we looked after their little girl.  All day on Friday I could concentrate on nothing, news24 was on all day and we watched in horror. PC Bill Barker so bravely doing his job. I can't stop thinking about him and his family.  Strangely, the weather on Friday was lovely and from our window it seemed impossible that all the emergency services were still rescuing people, the high street still under water.

Today is Saturday,  we were completely out of milk, bread and other supplies.  I also knew that another wet weather front was on its way (it's here now as I write) so this morning I got up early to get to Sainsburys and maybe take the opportunity to take a few snaps.  Sensibly the whole of Main Street was cordonned off (although I admit I was a little disappointed) so the opportunities for snapping were limited. 

So this morning is my first attempt at recording a sequence of shots.  The sequence is cut short by the lack of accessibility but over the next few weeks and months it would be nice to record how Cockermouth rebuilds itself, which it undoubtedly will. The lights are due to be switched on at Cockermouth tomorrow night which of course will now have to wait.

I don't know why but I feel very self-conscious and uncomfortable taking photos in public places.  I sort of feel I'm invading peoples privacy and being nosy.  I don't want to be one of the 'paparazzi' or 'the crow attacking the roadkill' metaphorically speaking.  I do need to practice this as it is inhibiting.   Recording an event seems less important when so many emergency services are providing so much help.  Anyway, these are my shots.

RNLI rescue boat in Sainsbury's car park

Rescue Service: free hot soup and drinks

dozens of emergency vehicles line the street

Cockermouth fire station becomes the base of the emergency services
The clean-up begins. Wordsworth house and Main Street is still closed
an emergency centre is set up

There are some phenomenal images that have been taken of the floods.  These are pretty feeble in comparison, but I stuck tight when the floods hit.  I have to say, there was a really small part of me (the photographing and inquisitive part) who wanted to see it.

Anyway, to finish this, I am not satisfied with any of these images  so will return another day to continue with this project. Praying now that the rain passes quickly . . .


  1. Hi Penny,
    It's a difficult one, isn't it - by photographing it you'd be recording a historic event and, if you did it well, could use it to bring home the shock and horror of it all, as well as all the other effects it has on the people who live there. With every disaster it's possible to find examples of compassion and caring and even - sometimes - humour. But I do sympathise about feeling like the paparazzi - I would too. There's a sense that you're taking advantage of other people's misery. That's one reason why I know I could never be a photo journalist, although I'm glad we have them and I'm grateful to them for doing a difficult job. Hope the people there get dried out and back to their homes soon.

  2. Thanks Gilly for your comments and thoughts - you've crystalised perfectly what's been concerning me.

    As a photographer you are an eye-witness recording an event rather than being involved in the situation you're photographing - I think my natural urge is to get stuck in, as this seems more helpful!

    But, I think you've convinced me to have a go at recording this historic event without feeling so guilty next time!