18 - Irresistible infrastructure
Years ago I was living in Oxfordshire and joined an art class. To my excitement, the teacher took us out painting in a chocolate-box village with thatched roofs, leafy lanes and a stream running through. Up went our easels and we set to work. After a couple of hours, others in the group started to wander by and could not hide their sneering disgust at the picture I had painted. I was crushed and confused. Their venomous barbs ring in my ears to this day “What on earth are you painting that for!!!!” For I had turned my back on the cosy cottages, to attempt to capture the majesty of Didcot power station and the vista of glaucous yellow rape fields spread out before it. Today, that memory came back to me as I did what I think of as my two piers walk, a half-mile walkway into the sea beside parallel rusting rail tracks and barnacled pillars, and then back, and along the harbour wall. I love being by the sea and in nature, and everything that means, but the artist in me is often attracted to the incongruous and the less obviously beautiful. As I went, I noticed isolated figures just gazing out across the Solent. They stood stock still. Perhaps they were admiring jade green waters and stormy indigo skies. But I rather fancy it was a frigate, giant container ship or tanker that captivated their attention for so long. Who knows what marvels of engineering will emerge from the haze. Once, as I stood gazing out similarly myself, I was pleased to have the chance to watch Blade Runner II – not an outdoor film screening, but an industrial ship that ferries turbine parts to romantic offshore wind farms, or so I’m told. My walk today took me on a little further along the esplanade, only to be waylaid by diversion signs and a high steel fence behind which oooh, every colour imaginable! My town, it would seem, has a problem with its waterworks, and a maze of giant brown, black and grey pipes, ochre pumps, lemon yellow generators, blue rivets and risers, bolts, ducts, boards and red barricades have appeared alongside the colourful beach huts, the whole thing looking like a joyful Lego oil refinery right there on the esplanade. I diverted onto the beach where I recorded this week’s sounds. The thrumming beat at the start of the clip comes not from the boomboxes of the young people sitting on a blanket at the water’s edge, but a dumper truck which dances back and forth along the tideline, between an excavator swinging on top of a sand mountain it is digging out from under itself to fill the dumper at one end, and another ready to rake the tipped sand, creating fabulous patterns on the beach with its caterpillar tracks at the other. Oh what a giddy treat for the senses this short walk has turned out to be.
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