Mrs Wilberforce
and the River

  The River

I don't know - well I wouldn't, would I? - whether you've ever stood on the banks of some mighty river and wondered that such a powerful, inexorable body is born of just a single drop.

You don't follow me. I shall explain.

This particular river, the one troubling Mrs Wilberforce, starts life as a bead of dew on the wet grass, high up on the moor. This droplet, being of a sociable bent, naturally gravitates towards others of its kind until it can rightly be called a trickle, picking its way fumblingly past stones and muddy clumps of earth as it snakes down the moderate slope.

Further on, the damp furrow has transformed itself into a sparkling stream, carving out a channel through the soft ground, wending that way and this as it is buffeted by the contours of the landscape. Are you with me so far? Good.

Unstoppable journey

On its unstoppable journey it is augmented by tributaries and surface runoff, and by the time it has reached the valley floor it's a splashing, thrashing torrent, growing ever broader, ever deeper as it hastens through farmland and on into the city, crashing through echoing tunnels, frothing beneath creaking bridges, snaking through industrial estates, past the vestiges of old wharfs and mills, through the living room of Number 38, Coronation Terrace, and out again into the countryside, carving an ever widening swathe through the land before it reaches the sea.

You see now? This thing - this booming testament to nature - is primal, thunderous, eternal, and fills everyone with awe - everyone except Mrs Gwendolyn Wilberforce of the aforementioned Number 38, who considers it a bit of a nuisance.

"It's playing havoc with the carpet, and has made hoovering a practical impossibility," says Mrs W, a woman of robust views and even more ample upholstery, who was not brought up to accept that a mere natural feature should get the better of her.

"A lot of my friends," she is fond of pointing out in disapproving tones at the top of her voice, "seem to think that having a river in your living room is a great hoot. Far from it. We have to use a small dinghy just to switch the TV on - and let me tell you, it's no joke after a heavy rainfall when you're desperately trying not to miss Coronation Street."

Utter imbecile

You might be thinking that this Wilberforce character is something of a dolt. Who but an utter imbecile would consider purchasing a house possessed of such an unusual water feature? Did not the formidable Mrs W foresee that there might be a problem?

"I was aware that there may be a slight damp issue," the Wilberforce has previously admitted in private, before going on to blame the estate agent for not disclosing the full extent of the problem prior to the sale.

In his defence, the agent has gone on record as saying that he believed that the watercourse was self-evident. If nothing else, he has formally responded, he felt that the canal barges that frequently moored alongside the coffee table should have signified that something unusual was going on.

You can see his point. And whilst la Wilberforce, was not entirely in agreement, she has at least conceded that this is not the particular tree to go barking up. No, Mrs W is in no doubt about whom she should hound in order to get things sorted.

"Clearly the council needs to do something about this," she has been known to mutter to people at bus stops. Not that the W is content with grumbling to strangers. She has made it quite plain to the local authority that they are shirking their responsibilities.

Silly tart

"It's a bloody river, what does the silly tart expect us to do?" a spokesman for the council is reported to have replied.

"Whilst we sympathise with Mrs Wilberforce's predicament, we find that our hands are tied," a more media-friendly spokesman subsequently added in tones that would make your teeth curl. "A river is not something we can just cart away on the back of a truck. It may start as a mere trickle but it rapidly grows into a torrent capable of sweeping forests asunder and toppling mountains. You can't change something that has lasted for billions of years, no matter how much you complain about it.

"The River is a force of nature; despite her beliefs to the contrary, Mrs Wilberforce is not."

Having read this far - well done, by the way - you will have gathered that this Mrs Wilberforce is not the kind of person to be deterred by mere logic and reason. Rather, she is the kind of person who, when faced with rational argument, will roll up her sleeves and with a bloody-minded battle cry of "We'll see about that" she will leap into the fray.

When an unstoppable force meets an immoveable object the outcome is often uncertain, but when Mrs W enters the equation, all bets are off.

Greatest weapon

Wilberforce, Mrs, knows full well that the greatest weapon available to the irritatingly persistent campaigner is the petition. Her eldest daughter is on the local paper, her nephew has got the internet, and a friend of her hairdresser has a husband who knows someone who is something in local radio.

With such powerful media at her fingertips, it was the work of a moment for the obdurate Mrs W to instruct many and various public mentalists to write to the council in the most venomous and unyielding manner they could muster.

"The British people will speak," announced Comrade Wilberforce. "The council will listen and capitulate."

The British people spake. The letters arrived at the council in a steady trickle, and as word spread the trickle turned to a stream. Before long, angry missives were flowing through the portals of the local authority at such a rate, that the council had to store them in a warehouse, appropriately enough, beside The River.

"We appreciate people's concern," announced a spokesman with a diploma in mendacity. "We understand the strength of feeling, but despite this impressive outpouring of concern, The River will continue to run, and there is nothing that any of us can do about it."

Melodious words

As you might imagine, such melodious words failed to stem the tide of letters, only serving to goad the hidebound masses into reaching new strata of ink-stained fury. A positive deluge of mail ensued, and the walls of the warehouse bulged with the apparently unstoppable flood of public opinion.

What we could do with all this energy, I hear you cry. Perhaps I merely imagine you shouting it? In any case, many assert that there are better ways of deploying all this noise and thunder.

But not Mrs Wilberforce. Annoyingly, Mrs Wilberforce believes that many hands can move mountains and many voices can roll back the clouds. When Mrs Wilberforce heard that the walls of the warehouse were beginning to crack, she sat and she waited. When she learned that the reservoir of protesting mail had broken through and was pouring into the adjacent waterway, she simply smiled. And when it became apparent that the spillage had choked the river and altered its course forever, she allowed herself a little laugh.

The River currently flows through the offices of the council's environmental health department. Mrs Wilberforce can now reach her DVD player without the use of a lifebelt. She remains almost biblically smug.

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