Saturday, 6 June 2009

29th February 2008

My penultimate Olympic trespass was on the night of February 29th 2008. This was the last time that I went over the fence from the towpath, and far and away the most difficult climb yet. Talking about the project I am often asked how I get in, "You take a ladder?" "You have an accomplice?", well no. I have always used trees, the same trees. But by now whether as a direct result of my own actions or due to a more widespread trend someone had cottoned on and the tree in question had been neatly boxed off, enclosed into the fence. There remained a tiny chink in this blue armour: a small hole just less than a foot from the top of the fence, which at full stretch of my jump I could manage to get a handhold on. Trying this several times over I quickly realised how out of shape I was, a one-handed pull-up, just enough to get my other hand a few inches higher onto a protruding branch proved an impossibility. The more I tried the more my muscles ached and the shorter my reach became.

Frustrated, I gave up on this method and began impatiently stalking the towpath in search of an alternative. Not far along I came across what seemed to be the only possibility nearby, a remnant of a previous breezeblock wall that had been incorporated into the new structure, its mortared joins might just provide enough grip for my shoes if I could get my hands over the top. After struggling with this for several minutes I managed to haul myself up more through stubbornness than strength, and hastily surveying the area clambered down. Inside, safe, calm down. Buoyed up by my eventual success and the previous ease of movement in this part of the site, I started to explore in the manner of someone returning to an area in which they used to live. I can't remember when I noticed the hut, but I do remember thinking it had been a stupid oversight as the guard stood outside on his fag break. Clearly the boxed-in tree had not been their only precaution; about ten metres further along from its base, a brand new sentry point, and manned.

Crouched behind a spare container I watched, getting into the rhythm of the place. Between the old self-storage building and the site of the fire was now a colossal mound of earth. Tonight it was being scraped and shaped by a lone digger, working in irregular loops, its powerful floodlight drifting in and out of view over the crest of this mud hill. Between myself and it a few yards of open space and the squat, ragged footings of a building, for which I now headed. Up and over the remaindered brickwork I found myself in a trench of concrete massacre, a handy hiding spot I decided, raised up enough to have a good view of the hut behind me, but entirely sheltered from view if needs be. One shot, another cuddle this time and on almost the exact same spot as the first warehouse hug several months ago. This time considerably less energetic, more forlorn. I slump around the base of a destroyed pillar.

I retreated from view to the camera and cast my gaze up and out towards the mud mound. I lay still for several minutes, trying to get a sense of the timing in which the JCB above was working. I decided to try a dash into the open. I wanted a wide shot, this whole unimaginably desolate sprawl and me, a lone out of place figure. Set up tripod, timer settings, press shutter, run - counting: 1... 2... 3... 4... 5... 6... 7... 8... 9... 10 and freeze. I stared up at the crest, still counting - this time the exposure, about half way through I saw the ominous floodlight loom towards me and turned scrambling back to my hiding place, grabbing the camera on my way back down. The image turns out a blur of light and shadow - useless.

I decided to head along the length of the trench towards the soil cleaning facility that I had visited on my last incursion to this spot, where I might be out of the way of both scanning floodlight and security hut. Slipping through a gap in the mesh fence that surrounded it, I crouched again and began hunting out a composition in the mess. A large concrete block could form a decent plinth for a statuesque shot, to the right the conveyer belt leading up into the guts of the depolluting machine. I am sure everyone must at least once in their life have opened a cupboard looking for something particular and not been able to find it until the person behind you notices you are looking right at it? What is this perceptual malfunction we all experience of staring past the obvious? Dead centre of the composition I was scheming, not more than ten metres away was a car, not a black car that was hard to spot in the half-light, but a white car, like a beacon for all to see. Shocked into stillness I quickly got over my idiocy at not having spotted it from a long distance and started calculating risk. If a driver were inside he would only have to glance out of the passenger window to spot me, and he might well already have done this - I had not been keeping quiet.

The car lights were turned on. I ran.

Back towards the fence, not looking back. Whether the driver had seen me and decided that rather than confront me he would try to scare me off, or whether it was all coincidental I will never know. I stopped rounding a corner remembering the new hut. I wasn't being pursued so assumed I hadn't actually been seen and decided to keep my head down in the trench for a while, recoup and try again. I watched the security guard come out for another fag break, stub it beneath his boot and go bak into the hut. Noticing how well lit the fence was from this angle I setup for another shot here, a kind of two fingers to the new security measures. Look I can still get in. Several attempts at clambering over boulders and twisted steel. By now I am feeling near invincible, continually managing to evade capture in spite of the increased presence, so I head deeper in. Scamper across the open ground away from the fence into the shadow of one of the few remaining buildings. It's in an impressive state, a buckled corrugated awning laced with dangling pipes and struts. I perch awkwardly on the wall at its side worrying about the foreboding creaks above my head. The image is unreal - orange clouds rush down behind the roof, whose relative stillness makes the edge look like a digital cut out.

Looking back at the picture now I am enticed inside the building, and regret that at that point I chose to call it a night.

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