The New Room

Entry by: Alex Fleet

27th October 2022
So, here I am in my new room. Finally. I am warm, dry, safe. No longer will I be cold, perpetually damp – if not wet – and in danger. The plague on the seawall at Burnham on Sea should have warned me, but instead I ignored it, instead I seemed to have taken it as a personal challenge.
The plaque stated that centuries before, in the 1600s, the sea had inundated not only Burnham on Sea but had flowed inland, far inland, five leagues in fact, as it would probably have been measured in those days. It had reached as far inland as the very foot of Glastonbury Tor. Nowadays it would be called 23km, 14 miles. This was a distance difficult for me to comprehend as a kid, until the following day when Dad drove me and the rest of kids and our Mum to Cheddar Gorge, which is around half way to the Tor. We climbed slowly up Jacob’s Ladder, which led us to the top of the gorge at its lower end. Then followed an interminable trek up the hill, following the unseen frightening drop just metres away, until we reached the top. The undergrowth which had concealed the yawning gap had become bare grassland and we stood on the very edge and admired the crags and buttresses, the birds wheeling lazily in the depths below us. Then, turning around, we gazed in awe at the incredible view, with field and hedge and field and hedge disappearing endlessly into the horizon, the horizon itself with a fainter horizon beyond it, now just the grey outlines of trees in the distance, followed by further silhouetted outlines beyond until they merged with the sky. Over to the right in the distance the sun glinted on the sea, then over to the left, inland, one of us spotted a tiny hill with a stumpy matchstick standing erect on the top, so small you could barely see it: Glastonbury Tor. Dad said that at the seaside here you had to be careful on the sand and mudflats when the tide was out, not to hang around and be caught by the tide. There were other places in the country, he said, where the tide came in faster than a galloping horse. When the sea came in to the Tor, 20,000 people died, or so he said. We were all silent as we imagined the awful, unexpected fate of those folks. In those days the sea had barely left the land, it being low lying, some areas we now knew even being below the level of the sea.
That was forty-odd years ago in 2022, when I was a kid and now the sea was returning to the land. There was a race to protect some low lying towns, but in the country parts the expense could simply not be justified.
Nevertheless I loved the area, so I found myself buying a house at a crazy low price and accepting that it would sometimes flood. Over the years though this became more frequent, I ended up living upstairs and venturing downstairs only at the end of the summer when the place had dried out a bit. In addition, being near to the dunes, as these were worn away by the steadily rising sea levels, the sand itself inundated the land, so in the end my little house was engulfed not only by sea but by the beach itself.
Finally I had to accept defeat, so here I am in my lovely new room. It is certainly smaller than my house, but it is all I can afford. It’s the same with countless other folks around here. We have all moved into the accommodation provided for us, though it is not cheap to rent or buy. The reasoning was that while they were building a massive concrete wall to keep the waters away from Weston Super Mare, just up the road from Burnham on Sea, they may as well make use of the structure to make it multi-purpose.
So here I am, looking out across the countryside from my small patio, admiring the view towards Sand Point, one of several random ridges which suddenly erupt from the land like a pod of giant whales coming up for air. They are all aligned west to east and in fact the structure in which I live is built as a continuation of Worlebury Hill, just to the north of Weston. I live atop this large sea wall between the hill and the M5, which has been rebuilt higher and protects the eastern flank of the town. The south of the town is protected by a third whale, which reaches nearly to the sea but stops abruptly with cliffs which denote where the original shoreline must have been millennia ago. From there, another basic sea wall circles round towards the north and runs up the shoreline in front of the town, to meet up at its northern part with Worlbury Hill. Protests were made about it blocking the view but I suspect that in due course there will be protests about it should have been made higher.
I am the equivalent of ten stories up from ground level, although the building itself is considerably higher, about twenty stories worth. It’s not what used to be called a high rise building – in fact they had to invent a name for it. Vertical structures were abandoned a while back, the norm now being with new builds that they have a sloping face angled back to catch the sun as best it can, for the benefit of the solar panels which cover the south face and in fact much of other faces too. The solar panels are incorporated in the glass of the windows, so I have a large window at a shallow angle leaning back into the room. It slides upwards if I wish to walk out onto the patio. Below my patio is the rear part of the room below, the rest of it projecting forward as part of the sloped façade of the building. Similarly, the rear part of my room has the patio of the flat on the next floor up above it.
Behind and below are offices. They don’t have windows. Personally I’ve never had a problem with the lack of windows in an office – I have usually worked at the inner part of the office so I couldn’t see out, and on the occasions when I could, the view was not worth viewing. However, now there are the large screens as big as window which show whatever view the occupants of the room wish. It might be the view outside, the view I am looking at, to see what the weather is doing, or it might be some exotic far off scene. Inevitably there are always arguments about where we are going to look today.
Below the offices are shops and below them are the entertainment areas for conferences and theatre performances and the like. There has been quite a significant amount of space allocated for that.
Below those areas are the car parks, for those that need them. I don’t possess one, I don’t find it necessary and just cycle into town, or if it is raining use one of the autonomous cabs on the tramway into the centre. The route also takes me to the new railway station, the main line to London, which is at the end of the building, adjacent to where the existing railway into Weston crosses it. We’re very well connected here, you know. I forgot to mention – the building is about four and a half kilometres long, between the M5 and Worlebury Hill, so needless to say it even has its own transport system, connecting the various areas.
Standing here musing about my lovely new room, I’ve suddenly felt a chill in the air. The clouds to the north are changing to an ominous darkness and so I turn away from the view. It’s dinner time anyway.
I shut the window, and turn to the cooker. I select my meal, its cooked for me. Although it is made up from some sort of mushroomy mush which originates from large vats in the darkness somewhere in the deep depths of the building, it does actually taste like real food. When the cooker has finished gurgling and hissing I sit down to look at the window now streaming with the rain and as I tuck in, the room becomes dark as the steel shutters roll down to protect the glass from the dangers of the storm, with the high winds we now have being another reason for the building being on the slope, a hill in fact, mimicking the contours of the nearby ridge. The building is streamlined.
I am glad that I am warm, dry, safe in my new room.