Living on the Thames Estuary means that I’ve lived with the idea of flooding my whole life. For as long as I can remember, people have been worrying about a tidal surge racing up the Thames and drowning the surrounding towns before hitting London and submerging it. I remember the weird-looking Thames Flood Barrier going up. My grandparents talked about taking in refugees from Canvey Island during the “great flood” of 1953. (Small towns put the word “great” in front of any climatological freak. The Great Storm of 1987 (and the smaller one a year later, which doesn’t have a name but in which someone died outside my shop and I cracked a rib) the Great Snow, etc.) Flooding is a bit of a fascination for Londoners. I’m the first generation of my family on my mother’s side to be born outside London—that whole side of my family is out of Stepney, inside the sound of Bow bells—so I guess I retain the fascination too.
(South east Essex, where I live, was sort of The Promised Land for a few generations of the East End. London gangsters worked so they could send their families to live down here—the Kray twins have relatives dotted all over the area—and Southend seafront used to be called, without irony, The Golden Mile.)