The day the water rose and cut us off from the mainland we knew it was coming not because of the amount of rain (the Thames is fast flowing and able to cope with most weather events) but because you forewarned us of the impending danger. We have flooded only a handful of times over the last nine years and you have sensed the rising water each time, even before the Environment Agency, with all their data, issued us with their warnings. So famous were you during the 2007 floods that the local radio station asked after you. You became known as Lolly the Flood Predicting Cat!
Your first warning came in 2004. You led me to a puddle in the car park but I did not know what you wanted so I pointed at the puddle and said “yes, puddle. Well done,” before walking away. Again and again you led me back, and to the gate that leads from the premises, but still I did not understand what you were trying to tell me. Twenty-four hours later there was no car park and we were left watching cars wallow in the water. They were ruined. The river had risen four foot before dawn and there was nothing we could do.
We understand your ways better now. On 25th December last year you seemed agitated again, an unsettledness that only precedes flooding. When you tried to escort me from the premises I knew it was time to sound the alarm. In the post-Christmas-dinner darkness, I knocked on neighbouring boats and told the occupants that it was time to move their cars to higher ground. Those that know you were swift to act, but those new here seemed a little befuddled and insisted they waited until morning, that their vehicles would be safe until then. A cat, they argued, does not know the way of the river. “No,” I had urged them, “a flood is coming. You must move your car now,” and so they did, begrudgingly, wrapped up against the chilly night air. I think they secretly cursed us both for disturbing their Christmas revelry. By morning access to the site by road was lost, the water was too deep. You had got it right, yet again, much to the amazement of those that doubted.
For three months we waited for that water to recede. Three months of wading through river water that reached my thighs, of bringing groceries in by dinghy, and carrying you out so you could roam dry land. A day came at the beginning of March as the water was receding when a well-wisher phoned to enquire after us. “I think we’re going to be okay,” I said as I watched you play in the car park. “The water is only belly-high on a cat.”