A two-part four-hour drama shown on UK ITV in early May, 'Flood' explored what might happen if a huge storm surge funnelled down the North Sea and arrived at the Thames estuary at the same time as the highest tide of the year. This was, of course, more or less what happened in 1953, causing widespread flooding and hundreds of deaths in England, and thousands in the Netherlands. I even have a vague childhood memory of that, as at the time my family were living in an East Coast town which suffered considerable damage from the storm.
The plot of 'Flood' assumes that the resultant surge from storm and tide combined would be high enough to overwhelm the Thames Barrier and inundate much of central London, with heavy casualties. There was a cast of stock characters: the hapless Meterological Office man who got the forecast wrong, delaying evacuation plans; the professor who had always argued that the Barrier was in the wrong place leaving London vulnerable to just such a threat; the divorced couple forced to work together because of their expert knowledge of the Barrier; the Metropolitan Police Commissioner trying to co-ordinate the response to the threat and subsequent disaster while worrying about her own daughters trapped in central London; the Deputy Prime Minister saddled with the responsibility of making very tough decisions in the absence abroad of the Prime Minister; and for contrast, the two workmen on the Underground system who found themselves trapped in the tunnels.
There was some interesting material in this. The CGI of the great wave travelling up the Thames and flooding one famous landmark after another was gripping. The operations of the government COBRA Committee, the difficult issues they grappled with, and the response to the disaster were all fairly convincingly, if somewhat patchily, portrayed (although I can't comment on their authenticity). However, for my taste the programme was over-dramatised and over-long: too much hysterical screaming and panicking, too much time spent on the various "human interest" sub-plots.
A pity really, because this is a genuine threat which needs to be treated seriously. When first built 25 years ago the Thames Barrier, which rises up to block the Thames when sea water levels threaten to flood London, was used only once or twice a year. As SE England continues to sink by a few mm a year (isostatic recovery from the last Ice Age still going on) and sea levels gradually rise, so the threat is increasing and the Barrier is deployed more often – 14 times in 2003. Furthermore, we seem to be on the receiving end of more frequent violent storms. The plot of the drama came too close to reality for comfort on 9 November 2007, when the Barrier was raised twice due to a storm surge and high tide combination, but fortunately they didn't quite coincide.
I would have welcomed a shorter, calmer and more realistic drama-documentary. In fact this subject has quite enough drama on its own, so I'd be happy with just a "what-if?" documentary, examining the growing probability of the threat, the likely consequences if it happened, how the authorities would respond, and what we should be doing to minimise this risk, since the Barrier will eventually become inadequate. They could retain that CGI of the floods, though – definitely worth seeing!
Something of a disappointment on the reading front this week. I had read lots of high praise for Geoff Ryman's 'Air', concerning the impact on a small and remote Asian village of a test to beam the internet right into people's heads. So I bought a copy and got stuck in. However, I stopped reading after four chapters. Nothing wrong with the author's writing style or ability, it was just that the story wasn't to my taste. And I have so many books lined up waiting to be read that I don't persevere for long with one which I'm not enjoying.
A curious trend in the sales of my alternate World War 2 novel, 'The Foresight War'. Up to the end of last year, after three years of sales, more than twice as many copies had been ordered from the UK printers as from the US ones (it's Print On Demand, so copies are only printed as they are purchased). This didn't surprise me, as the principal character is British and the plot is very much focused on Britain and Germany. Since January, however, sales in the UK have declined while those in the USA have increased, to the extent that in this year so far US sales are 2.5 times higher than UK ones. Perhaps I've just run out of Brits interested in alternate WW2 stories!