How To End a Drought

Some of you may remember that, barely one month ago, Western Europe was on the brink of collapse. Not the economy this time but drought – the worst since 1976. Reservoirs were less than half full, rivers were drying up, hosepipe bans were being introduced, aquifer levels were dangerously low, ducks were packing their bags and farmers were being encouraged to plant fields of cactus.

And this was in March when the ground should be at its wettest. We had a long hot summer coming up and not a drop of rain could be found on any long range forecast.

So we decided, with lambing out of the way, that this looked like a good time to do the roof. We’d need at least ten consecutive dry days to strip the roof and re-slate. And, we said jokingly, if stripping the slates off the roof caused the drought to end, it would be good for the vegetable garden.

Three days later the heavens opened, and no one’s been able to close the doors since. Which just goes to show how much influence I have in the world these days.

Luckily we’re used to having the unexpected visited upon us and had a contingency plan. When the weather forecast changed – about three hours after I removed the first slate – we moved to plan B – doing the roof in stages. We’d strip the slates off part of the roof, add new battens, slates … then cover the gap between old and new with black polythene, and wait for the next dry spell.

It was a long wait. Then the forecast gave us a two-day window. The picture shows day one of the two-day window. Note the shiny new slates to the left of the roof window – shiny because they’d been washed continuously for a week by driving rain – the dusty dry slates in the middle that I was adding that day, and the old diamond slates on the right. The red terracotta tiles cover the chicken house. The chickens don’t believe in re-roofing.

Halfway through day one, the forecast for day two changed from dry to wet. Which meant we had to fit two days work into one and sprint slate across the roof to close the gap, fix the black polythene in place and anchor it with the roof ladder and ropes.

Another week of rain passed with no hint of any dry days on the horizon. Then the forecast changed… We were going to have a storm. With high winds.

We spent the day before the storm adding extra bits of rope to hold everything down. We backed our car up to the wall and tied ropes between it and a tree on the other side of the roof. I climbed up and down the ladder in the pouring rain, carrying ropes and battens.

Then the storm hit and for twelve hours our roof ladder bucked and danced, but held. The black polythene billowed like a sail and threatened to toss the roof ladder off the roof. Threatened, but didn’t go through with it.

Until late that afternoon … when it picked up the roof ladder, unhooked the metre long spars that clipped over the ridge and smashed it down (with the help of the ropes) onto the new roof.

What followed was two hours of panic as, in the middle of a storm, we tried to get the heavy homemade roof ladder (by the chimney in the picture) off the roof before it took out the phone line and landed on the car. That didn’t work. And then we decided that it would be better to manoeuvre the roof ladder back in place. Because if we took it down the black polythene would have ripped, the wind would have got into the roof space and taken out the slates on the back of the roof.

So we pushed and pulled and hung out of roof windows and eventually put things back into place. Then I climbed onto the roof and fed more ropes through the ladder and down the other side for Shelagh to tie to various trees. It was a nervous night – listening to the wind flap the polythene and lift the ladder – but everything held.

Now we’re waiting for the next dry spell. I think there are easier ways to stop a drought.


Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals.

An Unsafe Pair of Handsa quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?

Medium Dead – a fun urban fantasy chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.

What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth.

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How To End a Drought — 11 Comments

  1. Or Texas. You could come out here and set up shop in one the towns where the aquifer is about to run dry. Set a price for roofs and negotiate a deal on the side as a rainmaker.

    Though I gotta say, “worst drought since 1976” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “worst one-year drought since 1783.” Which is what we had last year. (Nobody was keeping records back then, since the Commanche didn’t see the point, but we know because of the trees rings, and we’ve seen the tree rings because we lost so many trees.) And reservoirs under 50 percent? We’re thrilled that ours have finally crawled back up to 49 percent, as a result of good rains between December and March. However, it’s almost May and the rain seems to have disappeared again.

  2. The 1976 drought was quite famously ended by the Labour government appointing a Minister for Drought. The next day it started raining and didn’t stop for a month.

  3. There’s a reason we never wash our cars west of the Cascade Mountains.
    Last month me next door neighbor washed AND waxed his spiffy new car. Next day we had 10 inches of rain.

  4. The other way to guarantee rain is to invest heavily in outdoor activities. An expensive set of deck furniture, with fragile and luxurious cushions in some impractical hue, would do. In desperate circumstances, replace and upgrade the entire deck.

  5. Chris, I agree. If you could just pull off this trick in Texas, you’d have seed money for the farm for several years!

    I remember you roofing when BVC started up. I thought slate roofs lasted longer than man-made shingles. Is this a different section of the roof, or do they need constant maintenance?

    • We have a lot of roofs:) I’m doing the south-facing roof over the main house at the moment. The old slates were second hand and were posed in a diamond pattern. This is the cheapest way to cover a roof because you use fewer slates but, because of that, it’s also not entirely watertight (and we’ve had a few leaks). The overlap between diamond slates is about 25% instead of the 66% overlap you get with the traditional stepped 3 slate course.

      We’re only doing the south facing slope as it’s the weather side. The wear and tear on slates on the weather side is far greater than the lee side – 3 to 4 times at least. And yes slates will last 30-100 years. And this is my sixth roofing project after the log shed, the stables, the sheep house, the barn, and the garage.