04 March 2014

Burial (John Wyndham)

By midsummer, and a cold midsummer it was, the town had become very quiet. The gangs had gone; only the obstinate individuals remained. They were, without doubt, quite numerous, but in twenty thousand streets they seemed sparse, and they were not yet desperate. It was possible to go about in relative safety again, though wise to carry a gun.

The water had risen further in the time than any of the estimates had supposed. The highest tides now reached the fifty-foot level. The flood-line was north of Hammersmith and included most of Kensington. It lay along the south side of Hyde Park, then to the south of Piccadilly, across Trafalgar Square, along the Strand and Fleet Street, and then ran north-east up the west side of the Lea Valley; of the City, only the high ground around St Paul's was still untouched. In the south it had pushed across Barnes, Battersea, Southwark, most of Deptford and the lower part of Greenwich.

One day we walked down to Trafalgar Square. The tide was in, and the water reached nearly to the top of the wall on the northern side, below the National Gallery. We leant on the balustrade, looking at the water washing around Landseer's lions, wondering what Nelson would think of the view his stature was getting now.

Close to our feet, the edge of the flood was fringed with scum and a fascinatingly varied collection of of flotsam. Further away, fountains, lamp-post, traffic-lights, and statues thrust up here and there. On the far side, and down as far as we could see of Whitehall, the surface was as smooth as a canal. A few trees still stood, and in them sparrows chattered. Starlings had not yet deserted St Martin's church, but the pigeons were gone, and many of their customary perches gulls stood instead. We surveyed the scene and listened to the slip slop of the water in silence for some minutes.