Take a trowel, open up a hessian sack and fill it three quarters full with sand. Secure it with a tie wrap, and load it into the arms of a neighbour. Repeat.
One day late in June 2007 I spent the first half of the morning filling sandbags until the handful of sacks left at the end of our street were used up. The second half was spent building a makeshift fortification across the front of the house while the rain hammered down and the nearby river rose.
You quickly learn that water will always find a way. It will bubble up from the sewers before it comes gushing down the street, and it will rise up through the floorboards before it comes pouring through the letterbox, no matter how high you stack your sandbags. Once it’s trickling in, you turn your electricity off, carry everything upstairs and pack your bags. For my family and the residents of my street in Barnsley the following months were marked by hotel living, temporary accommodation and industrial dehumidifiers drying the house out – not that they can ever get rid of the stench. We were fortunate enough to have insurance; many were not.