THE devastation wrought in the country by the recent floods and storms at times seemed at times like a bad dream just for the millions watching on television.
But for respected snooker commentator and former world No3 Neal Foulds the natural disaster was all too real and close to home.
Living in Egham in Surrey close to the River Thames, one of the worst affected areas, the 50-year-old Foulds saw the waters rise so dramatically that with his family already evacuated to Virginia Water he was finally forced to ‘abandon ship’ on strong advice of the local fire brigade, being the only resident left at home on his street.
That necessitated being taken away in a dinghy by the army to a place of safety but that was not before Foulds had manfully honoured a commentary commitment for the Championship League in Crondon Park, wading through feet of water surrounding his house to his car left on higher ground.
Foulds, 50, who won the BCE International and reached the semi-finals at the World Championship as a player, is now regularly heard on the BBC, ITV, Sky and Eurosport calling the shots on the green baize.
He said: “Where we are it has been built on fairly recently, in the last 20 years or so on what was a flood plain. The houses are raised up maybe five feet from ground level, and we know now exactly why that was. We had experienced minor flooding in the past, but nothing like this.
“I was supposed to be going to Plumpton on the Monday a couple of weeks ago but it was called off, and if I had I would probably have got the train and left the car outside the house and thank God I didn’t. The water was just rising and rising all day, I moved to car to higher ground when it was halfway up the wheels. Anyone who hadn’t done that saw their cars marooned, with water well up to the windows. There are still some out there now, totally ruined.
“On the Tuesday I had said I would do the commentary at Crondon Park, though I had every reason to cancel. I waded out of the house to my car, almost thigh-high and I only had wellies. I got in the car soaking wet and somehow found a way to Essex with roads shut.
“But it got worse, I had to come home that night and wade back in again on my own, as my family had already gone to stay in Virginia Water. Before I never really understood the mentality of people who said ‘I am never leaving the house’, but now I do. I didn’t want to go.
“But in the end the firemen knocked on the door and said: ‘You’re the last one in the whole street. You are completely cut off, you need to leave, if it gets any worse you are in big trouble, it is six feet of water now’. The army took me away on a dinghy, I wanted to be like the captain on the Titanic or something as the last man to leave but I ended going away on this dinghy all crestfallen.
“But we are very lucky in the sense that because the house was raised the water didn’t come in, two feet of water inside would have been the end for me. Many of my daughter’s friends have still not been back to their houses. I have never seen anything like it, it was really unbelievable. The cowboys were charging £90 for waders, normally they were about £20.
“We are about half a mile from the Thames, no more, and there is also a tributary round the back of our road and it was the Thames coming from one direction and the other small stream from the other direction in a pincer movement. I say small stream, it ended up like a bloody ocean. It was just an area of around 1,000 houses, close to Staines Bridge and virtually all the routes out were closed.
“You see these things on the news and think look at that poor so-and-so, but we were very lucky that it wasn’t worse in the house, I can’t think of anything more depressing than that, and places like Wraysbury and elsewhere had it even worse. I never thought the water would go, but finally it has.”