A water table

Sat, Jan 5, 2013, 00:00

Published May 9th, 1990 Photograph by Joe St Leger

What with Hurricane Sandy on the east coast of the US last year, and sandbags and JCBs on the coast roads of suburban Dublin over the past few months, and oversized puddles turning into mini-lakes pretty much everywhere, it’s finally beginning to dawn on us that rising water levels are a reality rather than some vague nonsense from the scientific bogeyman.

It’s not as if we weren’t warned. More than two decades ago, our photo shows Jim Woolridge of the Irish environmental organisation Earthwatch “assessing the rising water level in the River Liffey . . . to promote a major conference later this month on global warming, commonly known as the Greenhouse Effect”. It’s hard to tell from the caption whether the assessment was a serious one, or a publicity stunt to promote the conference.

Doubtless a bit of both.

At the time, the whole thing probably struck readers as hilarious. The everyday tidiness of what’s above Mr Woolridge’s work-station – shirt and tie, papers, telephone, even his spectacles hanging around his neck – contrasts so perfectly with the encroaching chaos below that it might be a still from a comedy movie.

There’s also something reassuring about the glimpse of steel girders at the top of the picture, signalling that the table is (amusingly) outdoors rather than that the water is (worryingly) indoors.

Nowadays, though, looking at those breezy boy-scout bare legs, and then at the lugubrious expression on the face, and then thinking of all those pictures we’ve seen over the past few years of people sweeping smelly river water from their inundated houses – for the second or even third time – whether in Cork or Galway or Dublin or the south of England or the east coast of the US, it’s hard to suppress a shiver.

Arminta Wallace