I work in the East Anglian Fens. What? Never heard of them? OK, take a look a a map of Great Britain. See the large rounded bulge stuck on the right-hand side opposite Wales? That’s East Anglia.
Now follow the curving coastline over the top of the bulge to the top left corner – see the rather squared off inlet there? That’s called The Wash and it’s the place where King John is supposed to have lost the Crown Jewels (in case any of you thought that story meant that he left them in his jeans pocket and they were mislaid in the laundry!).
Now, imagine The Wash about four times its present size and spreading out mainly to the South and West. The extra space you have imagined is the area known as the Fens and it is like an enormous flood plain that in this day and age you would be ill-advised to build houses on! EXCEPT that because they were drained by efficient Dutch engineers several hundred years ago using an amazing series of artificial rivers, pumps and dykes that work incredibly well, the Fenland area is, actually, one of the least likely places in the UK to suffer flooding.
There have been numerous “extreme weather” incidents over much of the UK in recent years and scenes of Emergency and Military services helping people cut off in the upper floors of their houses by flooding. Not here though, and that’s despite most of the area being BELOW Sea Level! Bit of extra rainfall? Open a few lock gates and away it all goes out to sea. Easy!
The main feature of the Fens is that they are FLAT! I read somewhere that the horizon seems to be about three miles away when you stand at sea level. Do that in the bit of Cambridgeshire I work in and you can see a lot further than that because Sea Level counts as quite high here! Mind you, it is a bit disconcerting to drive along some of the roads hereabouts and to realise that the high ridge towering over you on one side or the other is, in fact, the bank of the local river!
Now while East Anglia has the lowest rainfall in the U.K. the Fens have never, despite all that drainage, really forgotten that they are, at heart, one big bog and even on the dryest of summer days there is still an all-pervading air of dampness about the place.
This means that when we get a nice warm day at this time of year, some parts of the country experience a little mist; other parts get a bit of fog. We get FOG!!!! Not only that, we get fog that lays on all those flat damp fields with absolutely no motivation to roll away or otherwise disperse.
I drove to work today through such a fog (he wrote, FINALLY getting to the reason for starting the article in the first place!) and was appalled at the behaviour of my fellow road-users. Modern cars all have at the very least a single bright red fog-light. Many have two and some have front ones as well.
Does anyone want to take a stab at guessing why they are called FOG-LIGHTS? No! Not because they cause fog! Stupid boy! Anyone else? Yes! That’s right! They are extra bright lights put there to enable other drivers to see us better in bad visibilty!
I saw two contrasting forms of idiocy today. The first is the driver who seems to think “Yes, it’s foggy but the sun is out above me so I don’t need lights on”! There were quite a number of these who appeared out of the gloom JUST in time for me to avoid going up the back of them! No lights of any sort!
Now I have to be a bit careful who I call an idiot here because some of this group MAY be victims of their own car’s technology.
A friend of mine had this experience. Many vehicles now have light sensors that automatically turn on headlights if it is dark and if you set out in the dark, come across fog and turn your fog-lights on all is well. Until, that is, the light above the fog (which can be quite bright) reaches a level that trips the sensor to turn the headlights OFF! At that point (possibly still in thick fog) the fog-lights go off too! In the UK this is an offence and my colleague (who hadn’t, of course noticed that his lights were no longer on) was pulled over and on-the-spot fined by a couple of policemen who weren’t remotely interested in knowing WHY it had happened.
The other nutters about this morning were the “Manager-in-a-tearing-hurry” types in their Company owned BMWs and Audis. This lot had all of their lights, both normal and fog, on but seemed to think that because they were brilliantly illuminated so that everyone could see THEM – they must also be able to see everyone in the first category with no lights on at all. Because of this they seemed to think (with what, I don’t know!) that speeds well in excess of the 60m.p.h limit were both acceptable and somehow required! It’s a shame that the coppers who fined my friend aren’t ever around when you really need them!
To round off this little rant on driving and useful instruction on UK Geography I would like to share with you a story emailed to me a few years ago by a lady I used to work with.She was in an office somewhere near Manchester and one of her colleagues (apparently blonde, although I don’t understand what that has to do with it!) had to drive several junctions up one of the local motorways in order to get into work. One extremely foggy morning she arrived at work a little later than normal (which was not surprising given the extremely foggy weather) and asked my friend:
“What do all those “Warning eff-zero-nine” messages on the motorway matrix signs mean?”
Think about it!