Life has been hectic of late – too hectic. My writing and blogging have taken a beating and been shoved rather unceremoniously in a back cupboard. But the events of the last week need marking. In the past couple of days we’ve lived through storms variously described as ‘unprecedented’, ‘once-in-a-century’ and ‘phenomenal’. We often use words like these now to describe natural events. We have become a society of hype and overstatement, so that words like ‘amazing’ are used daily without thought (I’m as guilty as anyone). As we have become increasingly detached from the natural world we also tend to look at its behaviour askance, as though amazed (oh, dear) that the nature we had tamed oh so long ago has the temerity to rise up and make its presence felt. People get terribly upset when rain or snow or wind cause disruption, as though ‘they’ should be doing/have done something about it.
The last few days and weeks have caused this in abundance. The Somerset Levels are once again underwater and finally some sensible questions are being asked about the disastrous decision taken by the Environment Agency some fifteen years ago to cease dredging – an activity of human management that had gone on for centuries as man learned a way to live in the lowlands.
The rail line at Dawlish has washed away. It will be months before this, our mainline connection to the rest of the world, is restored again. For years and years and years important people have talked about the necessity to move the rail line away from the coast. The combination of the rail line’s draw as one of the most spectacular in the country (people coming here feel like they’ve arrived once they can see the sea from the train windows) and the vast cost of moving a rail line in a time when land costs are stratospheric and the public purse under relentless attack. So instead they will rebuild. Again.
Closer to home the village of Torcross, just about a mile away, has been badly damaged. Those who added rather shoddily built picture windows feeling secure behind the sea wall that was built some forty years ago are learning that sea walls are not impervious to an all-powerful sea that lies only metres away from their houses. I remember the devastation of the late 1970s, before the wall was built, when most of the houses along the sea front were largely destroyed.
And at ‘our’ beach there has been unprecedented change as well. For the past month or so the Council have been rebuilding the storm defences at Beesands that were washed away over the past two years. That work is (or was until yesterday?) largely complete, but we were astonished to find last weekend that the area around the village that used to be coarse sand and pebbles is now strewn with large boulders. Here the local fishing boats land simply by pointing their board towards the shore, gunning their engines, and shooting out of the sea to land some way up the steep shoreline. Not now. The end of the ramp they use to pull their board up is now a jagged edge – it used to be covered with and softened by sand. Now there is just a sharp edge and big big rocks, as far as the eye can see.
And the scary part is that there is another one on the way tomorrow night. The shipping forecast for the next 24 hours shows us as ‘Southerly gale force 8 expected soon, veering northwesterly and increasing severe gale force 9 later’. But that’s before the next storm hits. Storm force 10 is equivalent to hurricane strength.
Time to hide.