I watched as the rains poured down. My thoughts turned to how much water would the flood gates hold before they yielded. My thoughts got interrupted by a phone call. A call I expected all week. “Bob, can you get to the gate house? The water’s rising too fast and we need to release it,” the call came from lock keeper, Joe Clark.
I replied over the clap of thunder, “I’m on my way, Joe. I don’t when I’ll be with you. The bridge is down and I’ll need to take the back road.” I looked out of the window and thought. “If the main road is awash, the back road will be a mud bank.” Needs must as the devil drives’ the saying goes. Mud or no mud, getting to Joe was the most important thing.
I donned my heavy weather gear and went down to the garage to get the bike out. My old AJS had seen better days, but he is built for these conditions. The thick tyres can grip the clinging mud and the low gear ratio could pull me through. I had faith that if any machine had the ability to do the job, this is the beauty.
I kicked the engine into action and felt the familiar surge of power. I pulled out of the drive and headed to a lane which went over the hills. The main roads had been washed out; this route took me via the old stone bridge. I hoped the bridge remained in tact; otherwise I had no way of getting to Joe.
Months in the garage hadn’t done too much damage. My worry was my damaged leg. This was the first time I rode since I damaged my knee when the car side-swiped me. Pain shoot through my knee as damp made the damaged joint throb. I needed to put the pain out of my mind and ride like a demon. Lives depended on opening the gates.
I knew if we didn’t release the water, the houses on Fisher Road would be flooded. Worse still, not only would thousands of gallons of water rush down out of control. The water would carry the remains of the gates with it. The wood and iron segments would travel through the houses like torpedoes and lives might be lost.
Despite the gear my hands began to get cold as the rain soaked through and welled in the finger tips. If the slippery conditions didn’t making life hard enough, I had to contend with frozen fingers and a slipping clutch.
I turned off the main road. I almost slid into a crashed lorry as the AJS lost traction for a second or two. With a heart pounding thump my back tyre hit he roof as I swerved. The jolt from the accident sent vibrations through the frame and into my aching arms.
The climb to the top of the hill was hard on a good day. Today it was almost impossible against the rain and mud. Time after time the bike ground to a halt in the cloying mud. I reached the old stone path across what had been a small rivulet. Now it was under a foot of surging water.
Without a thought of what might happen, I jammed the gears and made a dash for the bridge. No sooner had I started than I thought “This is stupid!” I was right, the poor AJS stalled and slid off the bridge as the swell drowned the engine.
I was thrown into the freezing water. When I fell I rolled and this saved me from a serious injury. However, my leg had got badly shaken and walking became painful. I dragged myself out of the water and started the climb to the gate house. With the bike lying in the water, engine sizzling despite the rain. I came to the realization, I needed to cut across the hill and hope I didn’t lose too much time.
I started the long climb across the hill. My wet clothes were heavy and many times I would have given up, but I kept saying to myself. “You can’t give in! Joe needs you to open the gates. The people in Fisher Road and praying you can get to the gates and release the water in time.”
The thick, cloying mud clung to the soles of my riding boots like iron to a magnet. I drove myself through the pain of the aching limbs and freezing body. I walked for another ten minutes before I saw the light of the gatehouse.
Through the rains I saw Joe desperately trying to open the gate single-handed. We both knew it was impossible. He had to try. He was unsure if I would get to the house, and the water needed to be released.
I pushed ahead, the rains made seeing more than a few feet in front of impossible. Above the thunder claps and the pounding rain, I heard the water hitting the gates. The sounds made me realise if I didn’t get to the gates soon. Fisher Road would be under water in seconds and peoples lives would be changed forever.
I had worked with Joe for years and I had an idea what he would be doing. On my arrival, he nodded to his left and I started to push on the gate handle. We had a hard job, even with the weight of the extra water. The gates hadn’t been designed in times of heavy floods and the hinges were straining.
We gave the locks all we had. Wet and frozen fingers kept slipping off the handles. Our tired and frozen bodies ached for warmth, but we had no option. We needed to release the water. The rusty hinges held firm against our pressure, as I noticed Joe glance at the water, then to me.
His look told me more than his words would ever do ‘All or nothing’. With a final, desperate lunge, we dragged the last of our strength out. With a huge push Joe gave his all before he slipped and fell as he lost traction. Moments later I lay on my face. I glanced across to him, as he raised his head from the mud.
Time stood still as he waited for some reaction, then it happened. We heard the creak as the gates started to release their load. After this the water flowed into the river. We had saved Fisher Road.
We raised ourselves, and Joe nodded to the gatehouse. I needed no further encouragement. I crossed the lock and entered the gatehouse. The aroma of fresh coffee filled the room as I entered.
Joe offered me a cup of the well deserved drink and we sat in silence for a minute. After the warmth had sunk in he said, “I bet the sea front took the brunt of the water.”
I nodded my agreement and replied, “We saved Fisher Road. That is more important than a few hundred feet of tarmac.”
He took a sip and commented, “You are right. I’m glad you got here, Bob, I couldn’t have opened the gates without you.”
I glanced across and said, “The only thing which would stop me, is having a serious accident. On that subject, I need to get my bike out of the river once the water runs off.”
He glanced out of the window, “The boats in the harbour will be wrecked after this storm. I haven’t seen so much rain for years.”
I put the cup down on the table and finished his thought. “Matters were worse by the spring full moon causing a high Neap tide. The tide brought the sea water in too.”