She’s a Monroe-esque sort of pond

By - Monday 31st March, 2014

During the floods, @ThePurleyPond brought lightness and humour to the borough via Twitter. Liz Sheppard-Jones recalls how Croydon’s newest water feature made a splash

A cheeky, in-yer-face sort of pond… how a social media star was born. Photo author’s own.

She cascaded into our Twitter lives on Sunday February 9th 2014, using the same introductory greeting (‘Hello!’) as Marilyn Monroe did in her earliest screen appearance (1948′s Scudda Hoo, Scudda Hay!, a film memorable only for her presence in it). Swiftly establishing herself in Monroe-esque fashion as a natural comedienne, @ThePurleyPond is a cheeky, in-yer-face sort of pond with a healthy enthusiasm for firemen’s hoses and double entendres. Her puns and innuendos put a smile on the faces of her growing band of fans even as a rather serious environmental situation developed in Purley.

For those who haven’t followed her adventures during the wettest winter in England for 250 years, we should go back to the beginning.

A fine example of the hoses which have caused such excitement on Twitter. Photo author’s own.

On Friday February 7th 2014, South Croydon’s rising water was declared ‘a serious emergency’. Widespread flooding of the Thames west of London had caused the region’s water table to rise at the same time as unrelenting rain. Lack of space for run-off soon brought the River Bourne to a critical level. Croydon Council instituted a state of emergency in Purley, Kenley and Whyteleafe, leafleting 1,500 houses and alerting local businesses to the risk of inundation.

Action stations! Sandbags were delivered to key operating buildings and the A22 was closed. Most worryingly, there was concern about contamination of the local water treatment works in Godstone Road. On Saturday night Croydon Council decided to pump floodwater into the underpass at Purley Cross to protect property. As pipes were run hastily across the roadway and the fire engines arrived, a social media star was born.

By Tuesday morning when I paid my first respects to @ThePurleyPond, she had already grown deep and meaningful. She was ready to face not just the thrusting of hoses into her moistness, but the pressures of fame. Water swirled from the ramps on the southern edge of The Entity Formerly Known As The Underpass, under the bridge and out of view. Mucky-looking wavelets chased over the surface, driven by bitter winds. It was a depressing scene, but on a drizzly day beneath a concrete-grey sky with a disappointing shortage of firemen, it’s hard for a girl to look her best.

As pipes were laid across the roadway, a social media star was born

And while the pond’s efforts had slowed down the rate at which the water was rising, it hadn’t stopped. That lunchtime, a group of residents from Godstone Road and Dale Road were rescued before they became cut off by flooding, and the Community Space at Bernard Weatherill House came into use as accommodation for 18 evacuees. The Pond was sensitive to the plight of all those affected, and sent a supportive tweet to the residents of her severely-flooded Berkshire namesake, Purley-on-Thames.

A river runs through it – once an underpass, @ThePurleyPond laps at the steps up to Tesco. Photo author’s own.

Fire crews began half-hourly visits to properties off Godstone Road to check those deemed most at risk. Residents reported loss of lighting as electricity repeatedly failed. By the next day, the temporary pipes pumping floodwater into the Purley Pond had been drilled into the pavement for greater strength and stability. Soon, they were delivering 5,000 litres of water a minute.

Eat your heart out, The Ivy – celebrity-spotters could now be glimpsed on the shores of @ThePurleyPond. Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, had paid homage on February 10th, although London Mayor Boris Johnson became overwhelmed during his visit to Kenley sewage works and felt unable to come for a paddle. Basking in her fame, the Pond gave a sparkling interview on Croydon Radio.

In terrible times, people still fall in love. Valentine’s Day was a chance for the Pond to give something back to the admirers who had gazed longingly upon her, from behind cruel orange and white tape. Some of her suitors had surely been driven to frenzy by all that hose-talk. The little minx tweeted flirtatiously:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
My waters are cool,
And just waiting for you.

You gotta love her.

The floods in South Croydon were serious, although none of us would argue that Croydon had the worst of it, or even came close. For many, it’s still not over. Amidst the clean-up, argument now rages over the causes of these awful events. Was it failure to dredge rivers? Cuts in services provided by the Environment Agency? Poor town planning, with new buildings put up regardless of detriment to water management? (This would certainly appear to have been a factor in South Croydon: the Bourne floods at least once a decade. So the decision to cover it in concrete then erect a sewage processing plant along with Croydon’s largest supermarket and a quantity of housing over the top doesn’t, in retrospect, seem all that smart) Or could it be the Big One? The one we all make noises about but don’t truly want to address? Presumably because it would be so jolly inconvenient, not to mention pricey? Climate change, that’s the one.

Action in Berkshire – but Somerset had been allowed to sink unlamented

There’s been a governmental PR disaster too. The sight of chaps from the Home Counties wading amidst floating turds and tampons triggered an immediate no-expense-spared leap into action (whither austerity when Berkshire is in distress?) While the same government had allowed a sizeable piece of Somerset to sink unlamented beneath the waves just after Christmas. As a number of commentators pointed out, this really isn’t on.

Through it all, @ThePurleyPond has kept us smiling. As spring makes an appearance she dreams of a new life, with bikini-clad Purley Festival-goers disporting themselves on her crazy brick paving and taking advantage of the handy Florence & Fred changing facilities in Tesco. She may be a dreamer, but she’s not the only one.

You’ve been absolutely fabulous, darling, and I’m leaving the final word to the Croydon Lib Dems Twitter feed:

Croydon is sodden
Sponge full to capacity
Rely on @ThePurleyPond
To give us volume, perspicacity.

This is the end, beautiful friend. Gonna miss ya.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Anne Giles

    She was jolly good fun!