Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Flood

When it rains it pours. Never was that more true than March 1989. It was the busiest week of the year in Redmond Hall and the weather was horrible. Constant drizzle interrupted by massive down pours. It was race weekend and the hotel was chock a block with customers. Every night the dining room was full to bursting. The function room hosted private parties all week. Jockeys, trainers, horse owners and punters all rubbing shoulders. The thing about a small place like Redmond Hall is only a few staff do nearly everything. When it's so busy for so long it really takes its toll.

I had already done six days and nights straight when Saturday rolled round. We had a dinner booked for Tommy Tobin, aka big tommy,  in the function room. He was a legend in racing having trained several national champions. Tommy and 40 of his cronies had also wanted a free bar for the night.

I spend most of the morning setting up a mobile bar with the help of a French exchange student called Marc. Help might be stretching it a bit. Marc was older than me and already had two years of catering college under his belt. As far as i was concerned he was a numpty. He spend more time fixing his hair than working. The waitresses were all mad about him and that did him no favours in my book. Who needs the competition. One way or other I was stuck with the frog for the morning. He was lugging beer kegs up the steps to the store room. I was thoroughly enjoying the way he was struggling. Outside the rain was coming down in buckets.

" Iss thiss ze last" he said, throwing back the hood of the yellow rain slicker he was wearing.
"Yea that should be enough. We can get a start on the glasses now" I said.
"Jezz Squid, Iz hungry cant we get zom lunch first" he moaned. sticking out his bottom lip like some spanked toddler.
"Your always hungry Marc, we only finished breakfast. You will be lucky to get dinner never mind lunch" He stomped off to get glasses for polishing while I finished stocking the shelves and fridges with beer and wine.

Outside the rain was getting heavier. Soon a fantastic flash lit up the sky followed by a deafening roll of thunder. The wheels of god's chariot charged across the clouds rumbling away into the distance. Flash after flash of blinding electricity crackled through the air while I worked on in the bar. Slowly the storm moved away to the north. Sixty feet below the level of the house the river surged angrily, already swelled to bursting.

No sooner than I had my day duties finished when it was time to get changed for the night service. It was hectic all evening. Constantly running from the main bar to the private dining room. Making sure the wine orders were being filled in the restaurant and even helping with food service where needed. Maura and Mary were looking after the VIP dinner. They were like two adopted mothers to the younger staff.

"Squid will you give me a hand with the sweet and coffee" asked Mary as she passed the bar loaded down with plates. It was tough serving the function room because everything had to be carried the whole length of the building and back again. These women worked really hard just to keep food on the table at home. For me it was just pocket money for them it was life.

After helping with the sweet plates I went to pick up coffee in the still room. Maurice the game keeper came hurrying down the corridor leaving puddles of muddy water in his wake and followed me into the kitchen.

"Have you seen Mrs O" he asked
"She is in the restaurant" I had said as she walked in the door. That woman must have radar. She always knows when someone is looking for her or up to no good.
"Hello Maurice" she said "Nasty night out there."
"Mrs O I think we are in a bit of trouble." he said not bothering with a hello
"Oh Yes?" she said arching her eyebrows
"The river is rising fast. All that rain in the mountains earlier is just flowing into it. The ground was so wet already there is no soakage." he shook the water from his jacket and filled a cup of coffee for himself from my pot. "I have no idea how high it will get but I think we should get people that have to leave out now. It's nearly to the gates already"
"I see." was all she said but her smile had vanished.

I knew how important the money from this week was to the hotel. She was counting on at least another 3 or 4 hours solid drinking, all top shelf. She pulled her smelly green wax jacket from the peg and headed out to the patio. A few minutes later she came back dripping.

"Your right Maurice, it's over the first steps by the lawns." she agreed "Squid can you let people know in the function room and I will tell those left in the restaurant"
"Right you are Mrs O" I said and hurried off, coffee in hand.

While making my rounds filling cups I let everyone know the situation. Soon most of the non residents had either called cab's or made for home in their car's. All but a few staff were sent home, I stayed as I had a room upstairs. We still had a full hotel of guests that needed looking after. Their was no way the main building was going to be affected. Only the gate to the main road stood danger.
Even so the last dozen people waiting on taxies were left stranded as the water surged higher cutting off all access to the house.

What is the best thing to do in a crises? Serve more beer, that is what. We kept things going in the main bar. The fact that we were cut off made it all the more exciting. It was like the blitz or something. Maura and Mary had not left in time either and were trapped in the hotel. They had stayed on to make sure the function was properly cleared away, never leave a job half done they said. At half two in the morning they were sitting either side of Big Tommy on a massive leather sofa, sipping glasses of champagne and having a great time. The room was packed with people, talking, laughing or trying to get a few winks of sleep. I had given out some blankets to those that had no rooms so they could make them selves as comfortable as possible on couches.

It was just about then the bar door swung open and in breezed Margo, Mrs O oldest daughter in years but most immature by a long shot.

"Hello Every one" she slurred in her best Dublin four accent " this looks like great fun, should never have bothered going into town at all"

"You just come back from town?" asked on of the group that had been waiting for a taxi.

"Absolutely Darling, went in for a few drinkey's in Club 92" She said as she threw herself into a high back chair.

"Is the taxi gone, perhaps he would take us" one English man said making for the door.

"I drove back myself" She called after him "after all Ii only had one or two". One or two buckets by the look of her.

"If she made it in, we can make it out." the man said to his friend putting on his coat. The two men  left the bar and headed for the front door. I followed them out to the drive where they were getting into a brand new Golf GTI.

"Gents I really don't think this is a good idea. Why not wait till morning?" I asked

"Don't worry yourself" the driver said slamming the car door. Cocky git. Half an hour later he was feeling a lot less cocky but a hell of a lot more soggy. Ding Dong went the door bell. When I opened it they were standing on the step soaking from head to toe.

"Jeasus, What happened" I asked still holding the door open.

The driver said nothing just tramped past me into the corridor. The other fella at least had the manners to answer."We must have gone off the road because the car sunk. We had to swim out of it"

They were cold, wet and making a mess of the furniture. I locked up the bar and got some clothes from my room. The guys got changed in the toilets while I went out to the staff quarters to wake Maurice the Game Keeper. I explained what had happened. He gathered together rope and a hunting torch. I got the hotels tractor and a rain coat before heading to the gate.

When we got there we could only could see the roof of the car. They had driven off the road into the field beside the river. The water was as high as the head rests inside the car. What a disaster. We had though we might be able to pull it out with the tractor but that was not going to happen. Maurice stripped to his y fronts and swam out to the car. He tied the rope to tree and got the other end around the hitch. Making sure it did not float out any further into the flood.

"That yoke is fucked" he said when he got back on dry land "what a waste of fifteen thousand pounds".

Back at the hotel, Maurice went to make some tea while I went to give the English men the bad news.

"We got the car tied off to a tree but we will have to wait until the water goes down before we can get it out" I told them. At least this time the driver said thanks, but he was still a cock. The other man dipped his hand into his sodden suit pocket and produced a £20 note.
"Thanks for all you did" he said palming me the money. For a full weeks work  I would only get about £90 as well as my food and board. Twenty quid was a fortune. I went to the bar and split the note in half giving ten to Maurice and keeping ten for myself. It got me thinking I could make a bit more if I put my mind to it.

People were getting sleepy but with all the noise no one was able to drift off. I went to the kitchen and made a big pot of tea and mugs of steaming hot chocolate. With a trolley load of cups I started to make the rounds.

"Would you like a nice cup of tea or some hot chocolate?" I asked as I went

To a person they said "Oh God that would be lovely, how much do I owe you?"

"Your fine, its on us." I said. Just about every second person slipped a little something into my hand. Eventually I ended up at the couch where Tommy was snoozing under a blanket book ended by Mary and Maura. He had a room upstairs which he had offered to the two women for the night. No way would they put him out of his bed, but Tommy was a true gent and would not leave them sleep on the couch when there was  a perfectly good bed going. They were as stubborn as each other until in the end they all settled down where they were snuggled into a few blankets.

"Want a cuppa girls" I asked.
"Ahh thanks Squid, your the best" they said taking the cups, adding milk and sugar.
"You must be hungry ladies, did you get any dinner?" asked Tommy
"Were fine thanks Mr Tobin" said Maura but we both noticed she did not say she wasn't hungry.
"I'll see what I can find in the kitchen" I said and went away pushing the tea trolley.

By now it was close to three thirty in the morning. The only thing I could find that was ready to go was a big pot of seafood chowder and a cold joint of roast beef. I put the soup on to heat and made open brown bread sandwiches topped with roast beef and horseradish sauce. I ate some myself as I was starving and they were delicious.

I dropped bowls of soup and a platter of sandwiches to Tommy Maura and Mary. It is alright giving away a few cups of tea but I had to charge for the food. Tommy did not even have to be asked just held out a note when I dropped the tray on the table. That is class for you. I put the takings in the till and went back to Tommy with the change but he just waved it away. I left them contentedly munching as more people called me over to order "What every they got."

In the next hour I sold all the food I had in the Kitchen and made the hotel a nice bit of money. The change was filling up a half pint glass behind the bar. I reckoned I had just about made two weeks wages in tips.

Soon a hush settled over the hotel, people slept where they could. I decided to stay up as there were so many strangers around the hotel they might need something.  By now the rain had actually stopped so the flood might start to recede soon. I sat behind reception desk and grabbed forty winks.

It was six thirty when I was shaken awake.

"What are you doing sleeping there" asked Lizzy the youngest of Mrs O's children.
"Hi Liz" I yawned "I stayed in case anyone in the bar needed anything"
"Are people still drinking at this hour" she said. I noticed she was wearing her riding gear.
"Of course not, they are sleeping" not really getting this conversation.
"Why are people sleeping in the bar?" she said making a big show of holding hands in mock exasperation.
"Because the river flooded"
"Oh my GOD!!!" she said dashing off in the direction of the restaurant. I jumped up and followed her.  When I went in the restaurant she was staring out of the picture window at the torrents of dirty brown water running over what was lawn and woodland yesterday. " Oh my god!" she said again holding her hand to her mouth.

"Whats wrong with you" I asked. You would swear she never seen a river in flood before.

"I tied up the goats beside the river last night before bed" she said. Lizzy had two pet goats. She kept them in an old gardeners hut in the woods sometimes. This must be were she had tied them up before going to bed.

"Come on" she said running towards the kitchen. I was still wearing my bar service clothes, bow tie and all as we dashed along the trail through the wood. Soon we could see the little derelict shed which had been built into the hill side. You could only get in the door from the river side. Normally not an issue but now it was a surrounded by swirling river water. It did not look too deep.

"Billy!! Betty!!" called Liz

An answering bleat came from the small shed.

"Go and get them for me Squid, Please Please Hurry" She pleaded. She did not really have to ask, I was already stripping my shoes and pants. I waded into the water up to my waist edging around the corner of the little building into the strong current. Twice I nearly lost my footing. The ground sloped sharply away into the raging torrent. I had made it to the far side of the hut near the door when what ever I was standing on gave way. In an instant I was under the water. Now the pull of the water was way stronger as I struggled to get my head over the surface. Filthy water clogged my nose and eyes. I coughed and struggled to stand. One hand still had a hold of the corner of the shed but it was slipping. My fingers slid along the mossy surface and eventually lost their grip. I felt the current suck me away when my hand closed around something solid and narrow. I held on like my life depended on it, which it did. I hauled my head over the surface and gulped a big lung full of air.

"Squid, Squid are you ok" screamed Lizzie. I waved because I was  coughing up filthy river water. I was holding a rope which disappeared into the door of the shed. Finally I got my feet under me and pulled myself inside the shed. The two terrified goats were straining at the end of the rope in the far corner. Wild terrified eyes and up to their flanks in dirty water. They must have had a horrendous night. I got the collars off their necks but no way would they go towards the door and the raging river. I used a old piece of timber to break through the window of the shed facing up the hill and lifted the goats out. They took off like lightening into the woods.

I carefully climbed through the window myself perfering to risk cuts over going down in the currents again.

"Thank you, Thank you" said Lizzy giving me a huge hug. I put back on my pants and shoes but they were soon sodden. The sun shone for the first time in weeks as we walked back towards the the hotel. It was going to be a lovely morning. Lizzy was twittering on about how scared the poor goats must have been. I did not tell her that I though my number was up when I went under. If it was not for the goats rope I was a goner. In the end they saved me more than I saved them.

Mrs O was up and around when we got back. She was in the kitchen with the breakfast chef, Maura and Mary.
"What on earth happened to you!" she said seeing me covered in muck and water.
"It's a long story Mrs O, we were just letting the goats out."

I was looking forward to a hot shower and a fluffy duvet but the thought of how close I came to slipping away in the current stayed with me. I like to think I am a strong swimmer but when the river gripped me it was like steel. I know I had no chance. In the shower I started to shake and eventually what little I had in my stomach came up. I nearly lost it all for two goats. I slept badly that day and even now the memory of the ground sliding away from under my feet is the scariest thing I have ever felt.


Lavan Yohan said...

As real as it can get

squid mc finnigan said...

Thanks Lavan I can say with my hand on my heart every word is true