Me and Dad save the day in the ’81 floods

At the moment rain is bollocking down over Jo’burg, from where I write this column. A glance out the window show Randburg wreathed in grey, with a black lump of a cloud depositing lashings of rain on that wretched suburb.
But no suburb has been spared. I don’t think I’ve seen the blue of the sky for about a week. It’s living proof that God has a sense of humour that the moment someone said, “drought” it began raining like it would never stop.
And motorists were treated to the ironic sight of newspaper posters warning, “Water restrictions loom” while actually dissolving on the lampposts from the amount of rain that had lashed own upon them.
And every time I see that starting to happen, every time it rains for more than three days at a time, I find myself guiltily wishing my guilty wish upon the land: “I hope it floods!”
It’s terrible. I can’t believe I actually wish such a terrible thing upon the poor people of the country, but I do. I know where my urge to curse the nation in such a manner comes from too. It is traceable to the 1981 floods in Port Elizabeth.
Anyone who was around at that time will recall that they were the biggest floods to hit the city since the 1968 ones, which are acknowledged as the worst. If I’d been alive in 1968, perhaps I’d have witnessed some extreme drama and destruction and been put off floods for life. Sadly I did not.
The reason for my psychological imbalance, my unhealthy love of floods can be linked to the fact that for me, the 1981 floods were the biggest jol ever.
It turns out that the Latin words for flood are eluvies or inundatia, so let’s call it eluviophilia, or inundatiophilia, whichever sounds best to you. Either way, I contracted it back in 1981, when my sister and I awoke to the sight of rivers of brown, muddy water surging down our street in Lorraine like it was a river.
We were unable to get to school – hell, we were barely able to get out of the house – and I started to like it already. Then the pool overflowed. Ours was your standard suburban yard, surrounded by precast vibracrete walls on all sides. So naturally, when it buckets down, your yard fills up like it was a bucket.
It was quite entertaining looking at the yard through our window and seeing it as a small brown lake, with the bright-yellow kiddie slide parking forlornly in the middle of it, suddenly completely meaningless.
It rained and rained, and the muddy water level rose and rose. It seeped beneath the steel lounge doors and flooded the lounge. It was a sunken lounge, so luckily we were able to drag most of the furniture up the two stairs to higher ground. We had to abandon the sideboard to its fate and the lounge carpet would rot steamily over the next fortnight.
Then the floodwaters began licking at the top of the stair which led to the rest of the house. The surface tension was bulging over the sill of it as a couple of Family Radio & TV mags floated around, when my dad decided to take action.
He went in the garage and emerged carrying an axe. “Come, my boy. I need your                help,” he said, donning his jacket. Bursting with excitement, I ran to get my school raincoat and my yellow plastic Wellingtons.
Like intrepid guardians of the household, we waded across the backyard. The water was just about waist-high to me, so my dad held my hand as he led me across the muddy lake which our yard had become. “Don’t fall in the pool,” he warned, but it was easy to see where the pool was thanks to the swamped kiddie slide, which served as a handy marker.
Our house was immediately adjacent and down the hill from the local park, so all the sheetflow from the park had seeped into our yard, as well as all the rainwater bucketing down upon us directly. Dad obviously felt we were getting more than our fair share of the water and set out to relieve it.
We waded to the vibracrete wall across from the house and I held Dad’s belt to keep him steady as he hacked away at the lowest slat of the wall with the axe.
When the slat gave way there was a whooshing sound and the yard began to drain into our neighbour’s property. The water level began to drop, and the house was saved!
I fancy dad gave me a sly wink as we waded back to the house.
To this day, floods evoke the very spirit of being swashbuckling. As I look out the window, it’s still drizzling a little, I’m still hoping it floods.

Writer for television, print and digital, corporate and editorial. Editor and writer of books. Musical performance, spoken word as Inspector Ras. Guitar/vocals for The Near Misses, (Worst Band In JoburgTM). The last whitey at umsebenzi. Latest book 415 Action-Packed Neighbourhood Marketing Tips with Basil O'Hagan, out now. @hagenengler

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