Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Sidings and the Substation

I return the same day after nightfall having picked what seems an easy spot: a narrow strip of land between Carpenter's Road (one side of which has by now been cleared of buildings) and the Channelsea River. The towpath runs right down one side of it and it's protected only by a flimsy six foot fence. The space is home to railway sidings but I've not seen a train there yet.

The dogs are out in force (well, there are two of them). Both kick up an almighty racket as I approach their respective territories. The first, at the dump, scampers energetically to and fro next to the caravan which I presume houses its owner. I have often wondered about that caravan - the idea that someone could live out here and not in one of the traveller communities but alone, with a stinking mound of twisted junk for company and thick layer of industrial dust stripping the moisture from his skin.

I lock up my bike and make my way down the towpath on foot, soon enough the second dog starts up, a large Alsatian on the opposite side of the canal, it stands still and barks rhythmically. I make fairly quick if ungraceful work of the fence, using a small tree as a foothold. The mesh flops beneath my weight, depositing me in a pile of nettles on the other side. I am going to have to get better at this.

The area is strewn with fairly typical industrial junk: empty oil barrels, oversized cable reels, large stacks of plastic tubing. I begin to improvise a few photos, finding a composition that captures the sense of the place and then working out where to put myself. My presence in this project is never by implication, behind the camera, but active and actual. I am in every image, but I could be anyone (at least any-unauthorised-one). I overstretch my hamstrings trying to hug one of the cable reels for the full fifty second exposure. My scavenging impulse kicks in and I scour the ground for useful bits of metal but soon abandon the idea of taking a trinket - this work is clutter-free, it's just me, the place and the camera, I have set the limits and intend to push them.

Before long I notice a continual deep hum in the distance and wander cautiously towards the source. It turns out to be a substation, an impressive array of high voltage transformers, towering pylons, neat stacks of ceramic insulation all ringed with the usual three-prong fence. I circle the substation a few times, listening to the subtly changing overtones. My fascination with the sound provokes me to return here a couple of months later. The drone is not so magical the second time around and my microphone not quite up to the challenge at the distance enforced by the fence. Nevertheless the fence itself proves remarkable once bowed and along with other sounds from this location makes up a large portion of the Lament mentioned below.

The droning substation has lulled me into a sense of security and I amble about the site calm and unhurried until an approaching helicopter shocks me back into unnecessary paranoia. I run for cover, quite literally, ducking into the shadow of some shapeless mound, where I pause and consider just how ridiculous the notion of a helicopter patrolling a wasteland actually is. I try another shot, striking what I imagine to be an Olympian pose atop the heap, and then wander back towards my entry.

On my way back over the fence my trousers get caught, ripping the entire back portion of the thigh off, so that's for tonight, with pants and leg bared for no one to see I return to my bike.

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