An eventful Christmas to say the least - for all the wrong reasons. It started on Christmas Eve as you all know, or the day before to be accurate, when a major storm arrived with high winds, dumping goodness knows how much rainfall, (we think about four inches) in the night.
The power went off, and when we all gathered on the yard on Christmas Eve morning, we found that we had a major flooding incident on our hands.
Luckily, the cow sheds were not affected, but the underground pipes for the first time ever could not cope with the flood water from the woods, and the pressure blew a six foot high spout of water out of the ground where roof water is meant to drain away.
This had been running for hours and the low spot was the new underground tank on the AD site, which is under construction and parked around the tank were all the machines used by contractors, left where they were (foolishly) over the Christmas period.
By torch-light I could see the roll-hoops of a dumper and roller, the top of the cab and the arm of a mini-digger and the pipes which were attached to a six inch water pump, totally submerged. It has taken three days to pump all the water out, slowly revealing the various machines which are quite probably dead or seriously ill, and surrounded by silt.
I think it may take a crane to lift them out in January when the contractors return, and new machines will be needed.
The water was only an inch or so from coming over the bank in the woods which seems impossible when I look at it now, and had it done so it might have run into the big shed where we have cattle.
Every stream on the farm turned into a river, even three foot culverts which normally look excessive could not cope as water flooded over carrying wood and debris with it.
Back at the dairy the lads had got the tractor on our large three-phase generator which runs absolutely everything, but although the lights were on the vacuum pump would not start.
The big electric motor just jumped up and down and made a horrible rattly sound. It was obviously not getting its proper supply of electricity on each phase, so I had to ring our parlour engineer (in Kent) at 5.00am and ask him to come over and see if he could fix it so that we could milk the cows. The first group of cows in the collecting yard were returned to the shed much to their dismay whilst Tim went around the sheds with the feed and Adrian and George wet back home to wait for things to be fixed.
I started off for Tillington as Gwenan had been on the phone to tell me that the electric fence system was down, and since there was nothing to be done at Crouchlands, I thought I would go and help out. It took six attempts to get there with the river Kird flooded at every bridge and abandoned cars at each point where motorists were overly optimistic!
In the end I had to come back to Plaistow and drive through quite a lot of water in the Jeep before making my way around to Northchapel and then Petworth. By the Time I got to Tillington (two hours later) Gwenan had found the fault and fixed the fence and fed all the cattle.
When I got back home Philip Bridges had arrived (having driven from Kent) and the generator was indeed faulty. We then had to borrow the generator set from the AD plant and wire that into the dairy.
At 11.00am we started milking, over 6 hours late with some very uncomfortable cows heavy with milk. Philip Bridges found that the power cut had blown the PCL on our bulk tank and the control box on our brand new backing gate; a problem associated with modern electrics which are extremely sensitive to voltage and especially low current.
Milking did not finish until 2.30pm and the decision was taken to only to milk the high yielders and fresh calvers that evening which would at least get us back to some sense of normality, and as Adrian starts extra early on Christmas Day, he would milk the low yielders first next morning.
Meanwhile we needed to run an armoured cable from the generator back to the AD plant as without power, the small compressors which hold the roof up and maintain the seals around the tanks could not work. This took an hour or two and everything was under control.
The AD plant shuts down automatically if there is a power cut and the gas, which continues to be produced, is flared off. It’s a real shame as we could run and power many of the villages around here if the system allowed. With the power back on Christmas day, an engineer had to be called out to start the engines as they were being temperamental and would not start as they were ‘cold’; fortunately they run a complete service 24/7 365 days of the year.
Christmas day was back to normal on the dairy as we had full power and mains electricity. Communications is a big issue with power cuts as widespread as this. Our telephones in the house are remote units and therefore dead if we have no electricity.
Even the mobile phone service was disrupted as masts were without power, and whilst I could ring my engineer at 5am, by 8am everyone else had joined in and the limited network could not cope and we had poor coverage until the power came back on.
Driving back from Tillington I followed the A272 out of Petworth towards Billingshurst and only those of us in high vehicles could drive through the water outside Petworth, and in Wisborough Green the road was flooded but I got through, but noticed that there were houses flooded by the river.
My heart goes out to anyone who was flooded, and there were many; I can’t imagine anything worse especially at Christmas time. Many were left without power on Christmas day, and travel was badly disrupted on both the railway and of course Gatwick airport.
I only hope that people did get to their destinations and that most had power on the day and that the damage done by the floods is not too bad, although watching the television I fear the worst in some areas; Godalming was particularly badly affected and Guilford was flooded too. A leading local supermarket was in turmoil on Christmas Eve as customers arrived to collect their turkeys, but were not allowed to have them as the chillers had been without power. This caused a lot of anger, but they were adamant that no customer could have the birds. I found this bizarre, as the birds would have been fine and would be taken home to prepare for Christmas lunch the next day anyway. We live in a peculiar world these days.
My thanks to all the engineers who worked so hard to get power back on in such terrible conditions. A Happy New Year to all West Sussex readers.