So here I am in Budapest, preparing to revolutionise meetings for a group of high powered corporate lawyers and enjoying the view of the Danube as it passes by the terrace. Only I don’t remember the hotel being on the banks of the river. And that’s because usually it isn’t. Usually the river is hundreds of yards away, obediently flowing down the same prescribed channel it has followed for centuries. But this isn’t ‘usually’. This is June 2013 when the ‘extreme weather events’ the climate change experts have been warning about seem to be upon us. Freak droughts spark unseasonal forest fires. Furious tornadoes scrunch mid western suburbs into matchwood. Millions of gallons of unexpected early summer rain deluge Central Europe. You hear the description, but somehow the reality is hard to process. The human race doesn’t ‘get it’ until it’s ‘in it’.
And I am feeling humbled by the elements for the second time in a week.
Rewind to last Sunday and the gratingly wind-blasted beach of Dover harbour. We were there to support six young girls who have decided to swim the channel to raise money for their school and other good causes. 6 Girls No Buoys, they call themselves. Again you can read the words – “swim the channel” – but the reality is hard to comprehend. Until you see these amazing young women stumbling out of the surf blue with cold, shivering uncontrollably after a 30 minute ‘warm up’ (never was a description less appropriate) in the English Channel. And the full crossing to France is 12 hours long, through the busiest shipping lane in the World, which the girls will be doing relay-style in one hour shifts. This isn’t a major city reluctantly dealing with an elemental onslaught. This is 13 year olds, sticking their chins out and daring Neptune to ‘come on if your hard enough!’.
An hour later after some parental coddling, hot chocolate and curling up in sleeping bags to warm up, they were back in the water again. Again! So what else could I do? I tore off my day clothes and plunged fearlessly into the brine alongside them. Or that’s how I like to remember it. In reality, I peeled off my socks and stood in the freezing water up to my ankles long enough to take some pictures and then scuttled to the nearest shelter, fearing frostbite.
It takes a live experience to remind us of how elemental the Elements are. We read the newsprint and see the disaster reports but somehow we don’t appreciate the humbling realities until we actually experience them and see our frail human endeavours pitched against Nature’s mighty backdrop.
There are those who think it’s global wake-up time, a moment to reassess our relationship with Nature. And those who’d prefer not to wrestle with the huge forces affecting our world, but concentrate on the more metropolitan, human scale, daily realities.
Either way, I have a feeling that one day we may all be swimming for it.
If you feel inspired, then follow the girls heroic progress on Twitter @6Grls0B, or you can donate via JustGiving.