Over the winter months of 2013-2014, life where I live in Cornwall was dominated by storms and in particular the ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre’, the name coined locally by public bodies to describe the Valentine’s Day hurricane that devastated the south coast of Cornwall. Officially described as the wettest winter for 240 years and with three recorded hurricanes1 thought to be the stormiest for at least 52 years, the storms off the sea caused somewhere between £30M and £40M worth of damage, more than across the rest of the UK in its entirety. The latest tourist marketing ploy is now ‘Come and see the new Cornwall, it looks very different to before’2.
During this time we were saturated in more ways than one. The world of instant news and social media was awash with images and video of treacherous waves breaking over the top of buildings, gaping holes in promenades, canoes paddled along streets, collapsed seaside cafes, disappeared beaches, evermore bravado encounters with huge waves, photo-hugging politicians in obligatory but shiny wellies, destroyed transport infrastructure, rotting furnishings and rescued families. It is a world in which no one image tells the story, a world in which images are placed in increasingly ever more temporal environments.3 The story is told across and between images, and across and between the cultural currency of shares, likes and erasures. It is a provisional and fleeting world, in which meaning is contingent ranged over collaged and mashed-up connections and relationships; meaning in this world is never (indeed if it ever really was), fixed within a frame. Cornwall too in our cultural framing is similarly unfixed, through the event of storm even the mean high water line has shifted.4
1 Dave Owens, Assistant Head of Environment and Waste, Cornwall Council, in a talk he gave at the Environment & Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, Cornwall 19/03/14 2 Dave Owens, 19/03/14 3 In SnapChat, popular amongst teenagers, for instance an image is gone after only ten seconds 4 The MHW line is usually understood practically as being along the strand line (the line where you find deposited seaweed). In Penzance this is now above the level of The Promenade, halfway up the garden walls of the adjacent line of cottages and guesthouses.