Miles Kington: Mankind beware - nature will have her revenge

'All our attempts to curb our environment are self-defeating,' said Susan gloomily

"Think it's going to going to rain today, Uncle Geoffrey ?" said Robert, as they sallied forth into the country.

The sky was blue. The heat was hot. The thermometer said it was over 20 degrees. Uncle Geoffrey was wearing his panama hat.

"I think we can safely say that we have another glorious day ahead of us," said Uncle Geoffrey.

"I don't think you can ever say anything safe about the weather in Britain," sighed Susan. "Even in these days of global warming, we still have changeable weather, situated as we are on a small island between an ocean and a continental landmass."

"That's the real reason the British talk about the weather the whole time," agreed Robert. "It's purely practical. It changes so often that it affects what we wear, how we travel and our daily schedule. If we get it wrong, we find ourselves in the rain in thin summer clothes, or freezing to death in a frock.

"I've never seen you freezing in a frock," said Susan.

"Of course not," said Robert. "I only wear sensible warm tweedy frocks."

"They're called skirts," said Susan.

"They're called kilts," said Robert.

Uncle Geoffrey sighed as he listened to the pair of them. He found it very hard to follow their train of thought sometimes.

"And yet, you know," he said, "however much we talk about the weather, we still find ourselves unable to forecast flash floods and awful tragedies like the Boscastle flooding."

"Ah, yes, Boscastle," said Robert. "The Lynmouth de nos jours."

"I think I know why those floods occur," said Susan.

"Because we concrete over so much of our land, is it not?", said Uncle Geoffrey, who had read an article in The Guardian about it.

"No," said Susan, who had heard a programme on Radio 4 about it. "It's all to do with river formation. In the old days rivers took their natural course and formed little deltas and channels through which the water flowed when the river rose. But then man decided to tame the rivers. He restricted water flow between two solid banks. He cultivated where the channels had been. He dredged the rivers to make them navigable. They were enslaved. But they were also cut off from the landscape. So when the rains came and the water came over the banks, the old channels into which they use to escape had gone, and we had floods."

"So it is all self-inflicted?" said Robert. "We have brought this all on ourselves?"

"All our attempts to curb our environment are self-defeating," said Susan gloomily. "The building of sea walls only increases the sea's appetite."

"We alter the water table at our peril," said Robert.

"We undermine the earth with pits and quarries, and are surprised when it falls in," said Susan with relish.

All this time, unnoticed by the trio, huge cumulus clouds had been rearing up in the sky behind them, and with a sudden crack of thunder the skies opened and rain came deluging down. The children had both brought lightweight rainwear in their pockets and were soon safely ensconced inside their transparent protection, but poor Uncle Geoffrey was not so lucky. The rain landed on his panama hat, ran round the channels on either side and described an amateur cascade down the back on to his summer jacket.

"For a while Uncle Geoffrey was cut off from the landscape," said Susan.

"And all his old channels were dried up," said Robert.

"But now the forces of nature have reunited him with the natural world!", said Susan.

"Welcome back, Uncle Geoffrey!", said Robert.

Uncle Geoffrey opened his mouth to say something acerbic, but just then a little waterfall from his hat flowed down his nose and into his gaping mouth. He decided to wait till later.

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