35 - Pipe rapture
“I remember when I stirred the effluvia of the district.
Pipes for blood, I pressed my horse weight
and beat my flanks against turgidity.
I rolled my way from earth to sea
without complaint, or worship from the disquiet overworld…”
These are the first few lines of a poem written by my son, Tani, several years ago about a Victorian sewage works that juts out into the Thames at Blake’s Lock in Reading.
That first line especially is very memorable to me. I don’t know why, but I have a bit of a passion for pipes and ducts, and I always notice them when I’m out and about on my walks. Half-buried on the beach, with riveted joints rusting and seeping, poking through holes in walls to act as drains, hidden under roads and paths, carrying streams - and sometimes entire rivers and canals - to emerge mysteriously in unexpected places.
Last September, students from the University of Winchester Cultural Heritage and Resource Management course held an event called Walkeology, challenging people to create a cabinet of curiosities from items they had found on a walk. I joined in - I knew just what I would be looking for on my own walk, and what my own cabinet of curiosities would contain. Bits of piping, of course! I am often puzzled by the large chunks of porcelain piping I find among the pebbles on the beach and, well, I hadn’t had an excuse to collect any until now. So off I set and I was soon struggling home weighed down by a bag of choice bits of Victorian plumbing. As these pipes are very thick, I couldn’t carry too many, but I selected two nice pieces and arranged them in a box – I had created my Wunderkammer, my very own cabinet of curiosities. Why? I’m not too sure. The aim of the heritage event was to explore how we respond to items we see and pick up as we walk, and I have, over the months since then, given some thought to this question.
Why am I attracted to bits of piping? I mused in an Instagram post at the time: “I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just the smooth washing of the sea, or a link in my mind with the mysterious wartime story of Operation Pluto, pipelines under the sea travelling out from the Isle of Wight. Perhaps it’s just the contrast of these still beautiful, still glazed ceramics with the ugliness of modern plastic piping debris loitering abandoned in grubby alleyways about town.”
But I like pipes in general, gurgling outflows, rusty old pipes and clean new ones. And I don’t think it is just me…Though it was built in the 1970s, It still gives visitors a thrill to be channelled through the access ducts into the Centre Pompidou at the Place Beaubourg in Paris – a wonderful inside-out building of an art gallery whose plastic-piping guts spill out on the outside, showing off its service ducts to the admiration of all who see it (red for circulation and safety, green for plumbing, yellow for electrical and blue for air)… And what a thrill it is to slide down a flume at a water park! We love pipes…and we rely on them too to harness and control the gifts that nature gives us, air to keep us warm and air to keep us cool and air simply to breathe, water, oil and gas...
Perhaps my weird fascination with pipes isn’t so strange after all. But I know my imagination will continue to be sucked in by any encircled round bit of space I happen to pass by as I wander along the street or the beach.
If you are enjoying my blog, you may like to head over to a little virtual gallery I’ve set up until the end of March 2022. It contains some sounds and images inspired by my Feetmaps blog. I have called it “Neighbourhood” and I hope you will enjoy wandering round it. You can find it on the Gallery page of this website, or dive straight in by clicking here.