Jan-Feb: That sinking feeling

When Eric bashes you, it's only because he loves you. Or as he told the CLG Committee's #AskPickles Q&A, the local government bashing he so enjoys is strictly within the confines of "a very deep and loving relationship".

Now, this Pickleswatch was to focus on the rest of the revelations from that session (councils should stop moaning, ministers don't touch taxpayer-funded biscuits, Clive Betts needs to work on his jokes etc...) but the floods crisis in the South made answering tweeted questions seem like a simpler, care-free time.

But as the waters rose, one could only conclude that Mr Pickles also has a thing for the Environment Agency and head honcho the Lord Smith of Finsbury.

To backtrack a little, Eric had stepped in to plug the hole, as it were, when environment secretary Owen Paterson had to retire from the (flooded) field for emergency eye surgery. Was he, per chance, injured by angry residents of the Somerset Levels hurling their possessions at him? Don't be silly. Their possessions are under water.

So it fell to Eric to lead the Government's efforts as it sprang into action mere weeks after the disaster began to unfold.

On 9 February, Eric took to the airways on Andy Marr's Sunday morning hangover companion to deliver a much-needed morale boost for those soggy Environment Agency staff out there on the frontlines (er, the ones facing 1,500 job cuts by October 2014). It's all your lot's fault. Gave us bad advice about dredging, see?

"We thought we were dealing with experts," sniffed Eric. Oof. He must really love those guys.

He would also "not wear a T-shirt saying Save Lord Smith" if the former Labour peer fell on his sword. Which begs the question, what t-shirt would soothe these troubled waters? Eric Say Relax?

Actually, we're not being entirely fair. For, in an unusual twist for modern government, Eric's first stop was not the TV studio but the Commons, where on 6 February he delivered thoughtful insights at this desperate hour ("one of the defining characters of Britain is her weather". Erm, okay...) and updated MPs on what's to be done.

He also added to the rising water levels with a single tear (possibly) as he paid a moving tribute to the Environment Agency, the emergency services and not forgetting the old ball and chain, local government, for supporting communities "24 hours a day, literally through hell and high water".

Such words no doubt made the Environment Agency's subsequent sucker punching on Marr all the more painful - although that particular tactical masterstroke didn't seem to go down all that well. Indeed, it left Eric bobbing as something of a lone island amid so much murky, stinking water.

Lord Smith unsurprisingly took exception to Eric giving a kicking to staff "who know a hundred times more about flood risk management than any politician ever does" and pointed out that the agency had put up £400,000 - the maximum allowed by the Treasury - towards the £4m cost of dredging last year but the Government and others had failed to pony up the rest of the dough.

Prospect, the trade union for engineers and other such boffins, demanded an apology over EA specialists being "scapegoated" by Pickles after years of underinvestment in flood defences.  It also pointed out that the decision not to dredge rivers in the Somerset Levels had been given a hearty stamp of approval from Defra.

Even Eric's cabinet chum Owen Paterson was reportedly so enraged by Pickles's "grandstanding" performance on Sunday morning TV that he was roused from his convalescence to protest to David Cameron "in the strongest possible terms" about it.

Amid calls for some collective head knocking-together, the PM made a point of backing the Environment Agency and offered the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer observation that everyone should "get on with their jobs".

So back to the Commons on 10 February for emergency questions. Just to clarify, said Eric, it was quite wrong to suggest he had made "even the slightest criticism" of the EA's "marvellous workforce". It's time to "work together" and "not to make silly party political points". Eric say relax indeed.

A week really is a long time in politics, isn't it?