Rain camera

It might be a little perverse to write about rain when I look out of the window and see brilliant sunshine, but on the other side of the world they are thinking about building arks! They have had more than their fair share of rainy days recently, maybe more than forty of them perhaps.

In the West of England. south of the Mendip hills is an area I know quite well. It is known as the “Somerset Levels” and is essentially a large are of low lying land that would be either under water or marshy if it were not for the drains and pumps that keep the area relatively dry.

Map of the Somerset Levels, UK (and surroundin...

In the current few months torrential rain has fallen on the whole of the UK and in the Somerset Levels this has caused problems with the drainage systems. The rivers are full and overflowing which means that there is nowhere to pump the water from the low-lying areas, and large parts of the Levels have been flooded.

Some locals complain that the reason for the flooding is that the rivers have not been dredged by the local councils and so can’t carry the amount of water that they should be able to. Even if this is true, which it may well be, it is hard to see how the rivers could cope with the vat amounts of water that will have to be pumped off the levels.

Blagdon Pumping Station

North of the Mendip Hills is another low lying area which I am not sure can be considered part of the Levels. However this area has (so far as I know) been pretty much untouched by the floods. It is interesting to note that the village of Nailsea was originally on an island though it would be hard to tell that now. Besides the village has expanded vastly even in the time that I’ve known North Somerset, so most of it would probably be flooded if the waters came back.

English: Steam pumping engine Curry Moor Somer...

Most of the roads in the Levels follow the rivers and drainage channels and tend to be pretty straight, most of the time. Many of them date for Roman times or earlier and they were built over marshy land. The original road builders made causeways of bundles of reeds as foundations for the roads and new roads were simply built over the old roads. Over the years the reed bundles have not all rotted away equally, and as a result in some places the road level varies. As a result if you drive fast along some of the straighter roads it can feel like a gentle rollercoaster and can induce motion sickness in susceptible people.

Floods On The Levels - 3

It can also cause drivers to lose control and end up the drainage channel or rhyne, as they are known as in Somerset. This happened to a friend of mine, who then had to get the farmer to drag his car out of the rhyne. This obviously was not the first such happening at that spot (which was on a slight bend) because the car came out with someone else’s number plate hooked to the back.

My friend took another friend to show him where the accident had occurred and, in reversing the car onto a little bridge over the rhyne, missed the bridge and the car ended up in the rhyne again. The farmer, who towed him out again, grumpily mentioned that if this happened much more, he’d have to start charging.

English: Edmund, OK, June 15, 2010 --A car lie...

I should not give the impression that the flooding issues recently (2013-2014) were only in the West of England. I’ve seen reports of flooding in many areas of the UK, including low lying areas around the Thames and in places in the Weald, south of the North Downs and north of the South downs. There were even floods near my old school, in an area that I would not have thought to have been prone to flooding. These are only the places that I recall being flooded and I’ve remembered them because I know the areas. Other places were also flooded.

The River Mole Bursts Its Banks In Leatherhead

The recent heavy rain in the UK is unprecedented or at least very uncommon. It could be that this is merely a conjunction of unusual events that have happened by chance, or it could be that the cause is global warning, or at least global change. If it is caused by global warming, this could be caused by human activity or it be caused by something else, such as changes in the sun.

Global Warming

I tend to think that the increases in temperature and the changes in climate are undeniable and probably due to the activities of humans. I say “increases in temperature”, but the recent very cold weather in the USA probably a result of the warming too, as the changes in climate are all linked. As you raise one end of a balance you cause the other end to dip. Or it may be simply that the climate variations are becoming more extreme.

Since at the end of January and the beginning of February 2014 is close to a new moon, tides will be higher than usual. As result the storm swell which increases the height of a tide is going to cause flooding in coastal areas. While this is not directly related to rain, already sodden coastal areas can expect even more flooding.

IMGP7820-king tide over footpath

As a side note, the “king tides” caused by lunar conjunction have caused minor flooding in some areas in Auckland, New Zealand. However the weather is fine here, and it is mid-summer so people have been out and about observing and even enjoying the high tide. A recreational area has been partly flooded by the tide and provided some safe fun for children in canoes and on boogie boards.

Auckland residents have all headed to the beach to experience the super high tides, but because of the high tides there was little beach to see! Still, people had fun riding through the shallow water in the cycle lanes beside the motorway with other canoeing alongside them!

Wild Wild West

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…for Christmas comes but once a year (Southern Style)

The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas,...
The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas, (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“At Christmas play and make good cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year” said Tomas Tusser. Many people would rather it didn’t. Christmas is a time when stress levels go through the roof. People eat too much, drink too much and spend too much, meaning that January, a time when people traditionally go on summer holidays in this part of the world, is a time of dieting and financial restriction. Without careful planning the later part of the year around Christmas and the New Year can get very messy.

Another area of stress is in the receiving and giving of presents. Trying to decide who to buy for and what to buy for them is always difficult and many people resort to providing cash or vouchers or gift cards, and it still doesn’t remove all the issues. A card for a department store may be just what someone wanted, or it might languish in a drawer until it expires. Apparently by some estimates $2 billion of credit on gift cards goes unredeemed. But then again, a tie or socks might also be banished to the back of someone’s wardrobe.

20091226 - Christmas presents - misc - gift ca...
20091226 – Christmas presents – misc – gift cards – GEDC1240 (Photo credit: Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL))

The religious aspects of the holiday (“Holy Day”) are often ignored, and though thousands may gather for the “Carols in the Park”, few of those attending will go to church during the holiday. These aspects also exclude those of different religions, nominally, but many non-Christians celebrate some aspects of the holiday anyway, and gather for family time and exchange presents.

Christmas parties are a feature of the period before Christmas, and again, while one might think that those of other religions than Christianity would be excluded, office and private parties do not exclude non-Christians. In fact parties around this time of year are an opportunity for people to eat and drink and socialize and religion seldom figures.

English: Christmas is over 1 It must have been...
English: Christmas is over 1 It must have been some kind of party in Gillingham around New Year’s Eve 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The secularisation of Christmas is both good and bad. Good, because it is not exclusive, but inclusive, and bad because it hides the traditional reasons for Christmas. But even within Christianity the reasons for Christmas are being lost – Christians buy Christmas trees and Christmas lights, and exchange presents, eat turkey and drink alcohol, all of which hark back to times before Christianity, to times often loosely called pagan.

Sunrise over Stonehenge on the summer solstice...
Sunrise over Stonehenge on the summer solstice, 21 June 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Indeed it is often said that Christmas is when it is simply to align with the so-called pagan festivals of mid-winter that celebrate the solstice. The winter solstice marks the time of year when the sun reaches its lowest point of the year and is closely related to the shortest day. Of course in this hemisphere the solstice is the summer one, and the sun is at its highest, so the day is the longest one. This usually happens around 21st of December.

English: Musicians on Sydney Harbour during 20...
English: Musicians on Sydney Harbour during 2001 Xmas holidays. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The traditional northern hemisphere Christmas is in mid-winter, more or less, and the traditional fare is heavy mid-winter fuel of turkey with stuffing, vegetables including potatoes, with gravy and followed by heavy fruit pudding and mince pies.  In the southern hemisphere the solstice is, as I said, the summer one, and, really, the traditional fare is probably unsuited to the climate. The southern hemisphere is developing a tradition of holding a barbecue for Christmas dinner, thereby replacing the turkey with steak and the heavy root vegetables of the northern hemisphere with salad and the Christmas pudding with ice cream. The heavy room temperature ales favoured north of the Equator are often replaced by lighter chilled beer and lager.

New Years 2010-2011
New Years 2010-2011 (Photo credit: russelljsmith)

Some of the more modern symbols of Christmas northern hemisphere style have received a southern hemisphere make-over. Santa is still a fat old man with a beard, but his clothing is often changed to, more suitable for the climate, board shorts, though they will still be in the “traditional” Coca-Cola red, and even on the surfboard he will likely retain the floppy hat. The reindeer are, at least in Australia, replaced by kangaroos.

Santa Claus, Christmas Parade, Lambton Quay
Santa Claus, Christmas Parade, Lambton Quay (Photo credit: Velvet Android)

Southern hemisphere cities tend to put on “Santa Parades”. I don’t know if this happens much in northern cities, though I do see a website for a Santa parade in Toronto. It seems to me that the weather would be better in the southern cities! Strangely the big man, who always brings the end to the parade in the last float, usually wears the full regalia of red suit, boots, and cap. He must swelter!

This has been a rather unstructured look at Christmas with an emphasis on the southern hemisphere celebrations where they differ from the northern version of the same. All that remains is for me to wish anyone who stumbles across my blog a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Ngā mihi o te wā me te Tau Hou.

Pohutakawa (Photo credit: StormyDog)