Only 329 shopping days to Christmas!


I saw this when I got back from my overseas jaunt. If I had any self control I’d save it up and post it in December, but, well, I haven’t. Thanks SEPS!


Great expectations


I’ve been away for a few weeks on an important study tour, comparing the drainage systems of Newcastle with those of Cumbria. Unfortunately, my companion Jambo couldn’t make it to the UK. As I walked over the fells and sandy headlands of my old home I kept thinking how much he’d be enjoying himself. Instead, we hooked up with some visiting Kiwis, John and Val. We presented the opportunity as a house-sitting arrangement with the added extra of caring for a dog, when in truth it was caring for a dog with the added extra of having a house.

I got back on Saturday, and that afternoon the two of us returned to the drain.


The big rains of December had scoured the bed, and the follow-up rains meant that there was barely a polystyrene cup or fag end to be seen.


I was thinking, as I rounded the bend towards the railway bridge, how little had changed. There was a new roll-up next to the WORLD PEACE one. WORLD PEACE next to GODLESS seemed somehow … something. Not ironic; in fact, quite the opposite. The state things are in at the moment we’re more likely to see world peace in a Godless world.


A black-shouldered kite swooped and heckled a grey goshawk, something I’d never seen before. I’d always considered these little kites to be quite delicate creatures but it really gave it to the goshawk.


Here was something different though. As we arrived at the weir by the TAFE we saw a group of people with a dog and an electric remote-controlled boat. Jambo was fascinated and in he went. There was a time when he’d have swum over to find out was going on. If it weren’t for his incessant curiosity I’d never have got to know Old Mate and might never have written A Year Down the Drain. But this time he was content to stand and watch. Is he getting old? He did turn six on Boxing Day but that’s hardly old for a terrier.

Maybe things are changing around me more than I’d realised. What will 2016 bring? What will I think about the year when I re-read this post, in January 2017?

Which is perhaps a rather maudlin way of wishing you all a happy new year. I think!

Water, water everywhere


My son has long loved those riddles, the ones that go “Would you rather be deaf or blind?” or “Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?” or “Would you rather know the date on which you’ll die, or what you’ll die of?” (Answer: neither.)

This week it’s been: would you rather be defending your home from a raging bushfire or a surging flood?

I’m in Cumbria, UK, at the moment, a part of England that has suffered its worst flooding in decades: roads and bridges washed away, tens of thousands of houses inundated, and me forced to watch hours of crap English telly.


So imagine my surprise when Lachlan popped through a link to these photos of the Styx in full churn. What is going on? When I left it was stinking hot and people were predicting the worst bushfire season since … well, the last one.

But the question that’s vexing the UK’s media, now that the water is going down a little bit, is that of flood defences: why didn’t they work? Successive governments have spent millions of pounds on engineering solutions, using thinking similar to that which created the Styx (i.e. get the water away ASAP).

A story that’s slowly emerging is the success that involved engineering of a different kind: revegetating hillsides, and creating organic dams and bunds to retard flow. The Yorkshire town of Pickering – refused flood defence funds some years ago – turned to alternative solutions and, unlike much of the region, localised flooding was negligible.

I know that the Hunter Valley isn’t Cumbria, or even Yorkshire, but there are many lessons we can learn from the people of Pickering.