Occasionally we receive articles which are too long to cover in the Lynx.
Where possible, such items will be featured here, including, right, a personal account of the December 2013 floods, and below, the address from the funeral of John Bean.
JOHN BEAN (1940-2012)
Funeral Address, All Saints' Morston, July 16th 2012
by Godfrey Sayers
“In appearance; slight, weather beaten and tough; in manner, sharp, generous, mischievous. His physique, like his language, compact and wiry, capable of reach and strength. Physically, whipped tight, made of hawser and halyard wire, but his character full of flex. On the water passes in and out of moods of intense concentration, moments when you cease to be with him…(one of them captured on the front of the Order of Service)…whose endings are marked by a quick grin, a register shift, or a sudden impiety. He doesn’t take well to fools or frauds. At first meeting you would be gauged, appraised, quickly read. Eyes moved up and down over you. Giving the same sense of apprehension as when stepping through an airport scanner. Then - clear. Green light. No improper goods. Nothing falsely hidden. A test passed; well for the moment at least.”
That in part is Robert Macfarlane’s description of a Hebridean seaman, but it’s a perfect fit for Beano. I was tempted to add the word fearless, because in his everyday life Beano was quite fearless; but of course fearless seamen are reckless seamen and he certainly wasn’t one of those.
1. Slight, weather-beaten and tough, his physique, like his language, compact and wiry, capable of reach and strength. Whipped tight yet full of flex. Characteristics shaped by and essential for survival in the harsh and unforgiving environment we have here. But of course Beano did more than survive, he thrived, this was his element, his world and he was master of it.
On the water, on The Point, on the marsh, on the shore, through all of these he moved with a sure and certain grace. Actions and manoeuvres that for most would require a deal of mental rehearsal, and preparation, he executed with a smooth, almost casual unselfconscious ease. Seemingly without thinking, second nature; which it of course it was, but that tells only part of the story. That oneness doesn’t just fall from the sky. To be in harmony with such a complex and unpredictable environment needs some very particular skills.
Natural ability; a talent if you like and if you’ve been to sea with someone who doesn’t have it; someone who always seem to have their backside in your face at the wrong moment, you’ll know how important that is.
An agile intelligence; to be able think a way through a confused and frightening situation that you have never been in before. And no matter how much experience you may have you will still get those. Then of course experience itself, experience, which in Beano’s case extended back to childhood. These attributes are rarely matched, there are plenty who have some of them, but only a few who have them all; and even fewer who have them to the degree that Beano did. There are one or two in this Church who do. But I know only one or two.
2. Mischievous.This was more difficult as the best Beano mischief isn’t repeatable here.
The music you heard earlier, Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre, Beano used to often play in the workshop at Stiffkey, so I told Carole that I would get it back to her so she could return it to them. ‘Oh they won’t be in any hurry to have that back’ she said, ‘they didn’t like it’. He only played it to annoy them.
Another recollection from a few years ago, a short film report on local television about a young couple that had been trapped by the tide in their car. After answering all the usual questions Beano just couldn’t resist adding a little detail to the report which was ‘We thought they were down here for a dirty week-end’ and then rather disappointedly ‘but apparently they were married’.
3. Passing in and out of moods of intense concentration, moments when you cease to be with him, the endings of which are often marked by a quick grin, a register shift, or sudden impiety.
These lines brought back a host of memories, but one in particular fits these lines. I had been gathering cockles on the flats on the east side of Wells Harbour opposite The Lifeboat House, high up under the lee of East Hills; but the trek back to Warham chalk road with them on an old bike was time consuming and arduous. But there were cockles and orders enough for two, so Beano joined me and we got them back using a little 10 foot, flat bottomed ply dinghy that belonged to Kitch. On this day, which was cold with a fresh North East wind, we got across early to get the dinghy and gear up close to where we were working.
The wind steadily increased during the day bringing with it snow. By the time the tide returned we had gathered 18 pecks of cockles, that’s 3 CWT, and by then the wind was blowing hard. We dragged the cockles and the dinghy as far as we could to meet the tide, and in retrospect there is no doubt that doing that saved our lives. But we were still left with a long and by then frightening crossing. Beano insisted on taking the oars and I didn’t argue. With us, the cockles and the gear the dinghy was well down, and with so little freeboard we knew that once we pushed off we were committed; there would be no coming about, we would have to press on.
We quickly lost the shelter of East Hills and were in seriously rough water for such a small craft; and in a situation that turned entirely on Beano’s rowing, our position relative to the waves had to be kept perfectly balanced, pull just a little too hard and the bow would have buried; too slow and the next following sea would have been aboard. As we progressed and the seas got bigger and the margin for error got smaller, me frantically baling and he pulling with the wind and snow in his face; when suddenly he looked straight at me, grinned, and said’ Whatever you do don’t look behind, if you do you’ll …. ……! I’ll leave the impiety for those of you who can, to fill in. Clobbered up with doppers and thigh boots we wouldn’t have stood a chance if we’d sunk, but we didn’t, and hitting the shore we both leapt clear and as we did so the next wave washed in and filled her up to the gunwales. For those of you who know the sea, that tells how well Beano hedged the inevitable.
3. Little tolerance for frauds or fools. Gauged, appraised, and quickly read. Like stepping through an airport scanner. Then the Green light. Genuine. Nothing hidden.
I suspect that most of you at some time or other will have faced the unwavering stare of the John Bean scanner; and only you know if you got the green light or not. Beano’s judgment of people was second to none. He fielded the best prat-detector you’ll ever come across; he could spot what he called a half-sixer a mile off. A half-sixer being someone who isn’t what they pretend to be, or is not what they think they are. For the fools, well that would be the sort of person we see more and more of these days, who out on the water set themselves very low standards of seamanship, which they then fail to live up to, usually just in front of you and when there is no time for you to stop.
And the frauds of course wouldn’t just be detected; often they’d be exposed; I think Doris Temple schooled him in the last bit.
But as with the wind and the water, his astuteness went beyond people. I relied on his judgment many times, he was the one person I knew who could give me an inside track; he could always see through the smoke screens of bureaucratic gobbledygook thrown up by the agencies who have now assumed the authority to determine how we live here, to get at the core of what was being hidden or planned. No one pulled any wool over Beano’s eyes. Thinking of this and how consistently good at it he was, I tried to come up with a word to describe it, wisdom? Insight? Prescience? Whatever it was he was never wrong.
So those of you here today who got the John Bean green light, might want to sit up, stand up, a little bit straighter; feel a little better about yourselves? Because, there is no doubt you were never more shrewdly judged.
COMING UP CHERRIES
The Tidal Surge 5th December 2013
by Godfrey Sayers
Well it happened; we’ve had the biggest tidal surge since 1953. Then I was a child running the village streets with a wooden sword and dustbin lid shield, now I am the Flood Warden for Wiveton. The results this time were very different, no loss of life and no structural damage to property although plenty of flooded homes and businesses. I had made predictions for the chaos that I thought might ensue when the next surge came, they were not fulfilled, but only by the narrowest of margins did they miss coming true. The sea defences put in by the Environment Agency over the years held up ‘just’ and there was less flooding, EA dodged the crying wolf bullet by putting out an unprecedented 48 hour warning which I think woke everyone up, and to their credit they did see the big one coming.
The big difference between 53 and 2013 was the wind. If you think of the elements that come together to produce a tidal surge as reels on a fruit machine you would need at least a dozen to all come up cherries to generate the worst case scenario; on Thursday the 5th of December one very important cherry did not come up. In 1953 the centre of the depression tracked down the North Sea into Denmark and Northern Germany dragging its fiercest winds down England’s east coast. This time the depression moved away into Scandinavia taking the strong winds with it, so as the evening wore on they began to drop and at the crucial moment fell light. That is why this flood took no lives and left buildings standing.
The following is my Flood Warden’s account of that evening.
Although there have always been a few locals able to predict them, many tidal surge events in the past have come out of the blue, today satellite based weather forecasts and digital media coupled with local knowledge offer opportunities to look a little further into the future and as early as the 2nd of December there was a clear indication that a very big tide was in the offing for the evening of Thursday the 5th. On Tuesday the 3rd this email went out to the Wiveton Flood Wardens team – ‘John, Peter, and Steve, Thursday is a long way off but if the current timings for the arrival of the ‘wind change’ on Thursday remain in place there could be a very big tide and a possible breach of the Blakeney bank. Which of course is our cue to think about evacuations etc. I will keep you posted.’
As the days went by and the wind strength predictions increased, and crucially the timing of the wind’s change of direction from SW to NW remained at 5 hours before high water, the likelihood of a major surge event increased. For Blakeney tidal flooding is a ‘relatively’ gradual process, but for Wiveton, Cley and Glandford sitting behind the Glaven bank a much faster moving spectre lurks, because should it fail these three villages would go from dry streets to 20 feet of water in as many minutes. The first Glaven bank erected shortly after the 53 storm is a few feet lower than the new one that runs around the front of Cley Mill, a fact that was to become significant as the night wore on.
By late afternoon of the 5th most of those in Wiveton who might need to be evacuated had been informed that this might happen. The Flood Wardens came together at 6pm and, equipped with torches and hand held radios, went to look at the state of play at Blakeney. Pulling up over the rise we were not surprised to see the Carnser deep under water, waves crashing against the Community Centre and the tide visibly flowing over the road toward us; not good with another 2 hours to high water, and that was assuming the peak of the surge wouldn’t come later than that. We then went back to check that the Environment Agency had shut the main sluice at Cley; they had and we were able to go into the control room and see for ourselves the spinning gauge that showed how rapidly the water was rising, one of the EA team was standing in front of it as if hypnotised.
At this point two of us went back to monitor the situation at Blakeney and as we arrived could see water flowing over the Blakeney bank like a weir. That it had come up so far in such a short time was alarming, so we quickly returned to Cley. Getting back we immediately checked to see if anything had changed, we stood by some Environment Agency steps of which there were 12 spanning a height of about 14 feet and decided that they would offer a very good gauge of how quickly the water was rising when it eventually arrived. We met the others where the old bank coming round from Blakeney joins the new one to see that the salt marshes were completely covered and a torrent of muddy water was pouring over the old bank into Blakeney Freshes. At this point they were still mostly dry with just the ditches filling and giving off a powerful rotten egg stench of sulphur, but then quite silently as if welling up from the ground a dark mass of water appeared, spreading fast, first through the lower areas but in seconds all was covered by a fast moving, foam covered surface that in the light of our torches looked like a mighty river.
Hastening back to the steps we saw that four of them were already submerged and the fifth disappeared just minutes later. At this point I needed a pee and not wanting to add to the problem I retreated to seek relief. On my return another step had - without any help from me - disappeared under the water. By this time the wind had died the stars were bright and it was a lovely night. This calm gave the whole scene an eerie feel like watching a train crash in slow motion. As we swung our torches over the water we picked out a hare swimming for its life, it was about 200 metres from safety so we shone our lights so that it could see the new shore. It took it a long time but it finally made it, then frightened perhaps by our torches it cowered down so we let it be. A bit later when we looked it had gone. We then reflected for a while on the thousands of small creatures, including all the fresh water fish that would have died while we had been standing there.
Within a very short time it was three steps from the top and still 45 minutes to high water. We asked the Environment Agency men who had retreated back to their vehicle if they could get us an update on the timing of the surge’s peak, they contacted their coordinators and came back with the rather frightening news that it was thought it had another hour to go. With the water still rising so fast they endorsed our decision to evacuate. Our evacuees, particularly those from bungalows were taken to the Parish Room, once we were certain all were safe we went back to the scene to find that the water had covered all the steps and had reached to within a foot of the top of the bank and in a spot where cattle had worn the surface down was slowly creeping over the top.
If the wind had not eased there is no doubt that bank would have been overtopped, or worse it could have breached like the Blakeney bank; if that had happened a 20 foot wall of water would have rushed up the Glaven Valley and all the low lying properties in Wiveton would have been inundated, bungalows submerged to the tops of their roofs and the main part of Cley flooded with an almost certain loss of life.
First thing next morning I went to Blakeney to record the damage and mark the height of the tide. On the north gable of the old coal barn at the bottom of the High Street are three plaques recording the flood levels for 1897, 1953 and 1978, my chalk mark sits at the top of a line of bricks that corresponds exactly with the mark for 1978. I then went to look at the damage elsewhere to find the same bizarre redistribution of things as in 1953, where playing cards and cigarettes had been scattered all around the quayside: a large clump of reed bed perched on the top of a fence post, flights of steps leading nowhere, dead animals strung on barbed wire like a game keeper’s gibbet and where it wasn’t breached, giant bites out of the sea bank, some even looked to have teeth marks. It is almost as if at the height of nature’s assault on the works of man a gate opens and the devil comes through to play in the chaos. There have been the inevitable comparisons with the 1953 surge and claims that this one was more severe, mostly I note by people who were not alive in 1953.
At Wells those claims may have some justification because in 1953 the west bank broke allowing an enormous volume of water to spill away into the reclaimed Holkham mashes, this time that bank held. So mixed blessings in that the west end of the town stayed dry but at the east end the flooding was worse. Having witnessed both events ‘here’ first hand, I can, without in any way diminishing the scale of this event, tell you that for us there was no comparison. In 1953 there were hurricane force winds, it was snowing and the wave damage was colossal, boats thrown through walls and houses knocked down. On this occasion the failure of the Blakeney bank saved Morston just as their bank was about to be overtopped and certainly reduced the flood level at Blakeney by about two feet; which somebody pointed out might have stopped it from reaching the 53 level. But of course the same bank also broke in 1953. The significant difference between the two events was the wind, sea defence are now very much better - EA have done a good job - but had the wind been blowing as hard as it did in 53 I believe the damage and loss of life would have been just as great.
The flood defences put in over the years by EA did their job and prevented many homes from serious flooding and undoubtedly saved lives and they should be congratulated for that. But what is clear from the above report is that they only did this by the narrowest of margins, Morston bank (rebuilt this year) would have breached if the Blakeney Bank hadn’t broken and both the Glaven and Stiffkey Valleys would have been inundated had the wind not eased.
Between the lines of the descriptions above lies a device that could save serious flooding for many communities along this coast. ‘Pressure Release’ for want of better words; the deliberate release of water into reclaimed areas to take the pressure off property.
During the years I was a Harbour Commissioner at Wells I served on the Client Steering Group for the most recent Shoreline Management Plan Review for our stretch of coast. The object of the plan was to put in place secure and sustainable defences set against a projected sea level rise of one metre for the next century. It quickly became clear that very few of the current areas of ‘reclaimed salt marsh’ could be sustained against such a rise and that plans for managed realignment would have to be put in place. But what would be seen as giving land back to the sea was never going to be easy to sell, particularly to those living nearby, even if the end result would mean that they were better protected.
Some of us argued that such controversial plans should be carefully explained before being put out to public consultation. The plan for Wells, put together by the Harbour Commissioners was for new sea defences to be built on a north-south line protecting Wells’ east flank, these would have the advantage of being sheltered from northerly fetch (the wave action generated over a large expanse of water) and provide long term security. The bonus to doing that was that a lowered sacrificial section to the current (North Point) east bank could have been installed. Its height to correspond with an agreed damaging flood level to property so that when the water reached that height that section of bank would give way taking the pressure off the town. The large low lying area behind North Point would swallow up enough of the flood during the height of the tidal surge to save all the properties that were flooded this time. The idea was accepted by the CSG and could have become a part of the plan had it been explained carefully to the general public first, this didn’t happen and subsequently when it was mooted the public threw it out.