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This evening, [livejournal.com profile] kaz_pixie, [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours and I were all supposed to go swimming in Kidlington when the two of them had finished work. The plan was declared a failure. But I did get very wet...

Around 4pm, I was happily drawing plans of Roman cities for the-book-of-my-thesis, listening to a Book Club discussion of Terry Pratchett's Mort on Radio 4, and feeling all cosy at being inside while a downpour was happening outside. Around this point, [livejournal.com profile] kaz_pixie texted me to ask whether I still wanted to go out for swimming, given the weather. 'Have umbrella, will travel', I replied, adding, 'I expect it'll have eased off by the time we go anyway.'

Far from it, however: when I left the house at 20 past 5, lightning was sparking all around, and the closeness with which claps of thunder followed suggested that the storm was pretty much right overhead. The road just in front of my house was 4 inches deep in water (something I've never witnessed before), and Becket Street was totally flooded from side to side. The latter floods if someone spits in it, but even so I've never seen it quite so awash before. I was glad I was wearing platform boots, but water still found its way inside them all the same.

I found Kaz sheltering at the front of the Blackwell's building on Hythe Bridge St., gathered her under my umbrella, and we splashed towards the bus-stop on George St. On the way, we had to negotiate a small lake which had formed on the pavement at the end of Hythe Bridge St., the water from which was then cascading, Niagara-style, into the car-park below. And once there, we witnessed the unusual phenomenon of two drain covers pushed up out of their holes by the force of water surging up from the flooded drains beneath them, and swirling off to join the rivers in the gutters.

Finally, we got a bus, having squelched over to the bus-stops by Sainsburys after 20 minutes of waiting on George St. We set off, but ten minutes later had still only just reached the far end of St. Giles. At this point, [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours, on another bus ahead of us, texted Kaz to say that apparently Summertown was completely underwater: hence the utter traffic standstill.

I finally decided that the gods did not wish me to swim today, bid goodbye to Kaz and got off the bus to go home.

By this time, the rain itself has eased to a steady drizzle, and the drains had started doing their allotted task of draining the streets again, but it was obvious from the mud and debris all over the pavements where the flood waters had been. On the Eagle and Child side of St. Giles, it had clearly been right up to the door of the pub: an impression which was confirmed for me by a woman coming out of the pub and saying to her husband, 'I can't believe we saw it right up to here' (indicating the step at the door).

I used the opportunity of being in town with unexpected time on my hands to go home via the smaller Sainsbury's, and then tramped home to wring out my socks and the bottoms of my jeans. Whether poor old [livejournal.com profile] kaz_pixie and [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours have even got home at the time of writing (7:45) is uncertain...

Ah well, we will swim some other time. Just perhaps not when the weather is so self-evidently against us!
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By the way, while I'm posting, may I also extend my thanks to all the kind people who responded to my pleas for entertainment yesterday, and sent me cheery texts while I was stuck on the M25 - you all made me chuckle, and helped the time to go by just that little bit faster. I think my favourite offering came from [livejournal.com profile] edling who first asked:

'What goes clip-clop, clip-clop, bang?'

And then on further querying revealed that the answer was 'An Amish drive-by'.

In the end, we were stuck in solid traffic for 1.5 hours, and then spent another half hour slowly crawling past the site of the accident (a car turned onto its roof) on the hard shoulder and outside lane. The result was that I got back to Oxford 2 hours later than I'd hoped, which was a pain in the butt.

It was nice to see how all the people in the jam started striking up impromptu friendships in the midst of it all, though. People were getting out of their cars, chatting to one another, walking up through the traffic to see what was going on and reporting back to others as they returned. Our coach was virtually empty, but there were 4 people down the front plus the coach driver who were practically bosom buddies by the time we started moving again: I kept hearing them laughing wildly like they were at a party rather than in a traffic jam. Meanwhile, me and this other guy at the back of the coach struck up a more sober acquaintance based on where we'd been, where we were going and how the jam was going to affect our plans, but mainly sat and read instead. Even once we all started moving (slowly), people were waving and smiling to one another through their windows as well: plus generally being more thoughtful in terms of letting people change lane etc. than you normally get in slow-moving traffic.

It all reminded me rather of this post which I found at random on somebody's live journal, about some people bringing a half-dead Xmas tree onto a tube train. Us English may seem like a load of dour bastards to some when we're travelling, but it only takes a small thing to burst the little bubbles everyone constructs around themselves and get fellow travellers talking to one another.

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