Absence of Cloud
Didcot is dead, long live Didcot. Last weekend, accompanied by laser shows, pomp and circumstance the iconic power station, Didcot A, was switched off permanently. Over the next six months or so it will be dismantled and the famous hyperbolic cooling towers will come crashing down. Feelings in the town are mixed about this, on the one hand we have those who are only too relieved to see an industrial eyesore removed from what is one of the most beautiful counties in England, on the other are those who regard the mountainous concrete structures as the only thing that makes this otherwise rather depressing little place distinctive. Like a lot of people I hold both these positions simultaneously, call it Didcot Cognitive Dissonance Syndrome. I am not, on the whole, a fan of industrial structures, at least not on MY doorstep (or horizon), its not that I can't appreciate their particular aesthetic it's just that I don't want it as my daily environment...but then again it is true that over the last couple of decades my emotional reaction to them, as they pop up on the skyline as I drive home from all points of the compass, is a feeling of home and journeys end. You'd have to have a pretty miserable domestic life not to become attached to that kind of symbol. Love them or hate them one does have to grant them a certain amount of respect, they are on a gigantic scale, built of enormous blocks they look like something the pharaoh s might have built had they been into more organic geometry. Great white whale flukes spewing steam thousands of feet in the air, they might have originated as a collaboration between Anish Kapoor and Captain Ahab.
One of the advantages of where my house is located is that one cannot see the towers themselves, the change here will not be missing towers but missing clouds. The rise in the land effectively blocks the 350 feet high towers from view but the steam rises in massive columns thousands of feet high dominating my northern sky and then spreading out at altitude into more general cloud cover.
Next year, after they have come down, two things are certain - the first is that the town will be radically altered. Whether that will be for better or worse we will have to wait and see. My suspicion is that the town will become more obscure, more the mass produced little dormitory of housing estates that deaden the soul while the surrounding landscape will benefit enormously. The second (and by far the most important aspect of the whole thing) is that the world will be better off. This power station is fuelled with staggering quantities of crushed coal, brought in by rail and fed by conveyer belt from the crushers into the boilers. This is supplemented by gas and a tiny amount of biomass but the thing remains one of the most polluting power stations in the country. If we are going to be able to continue to live on this fragile little planet stations like this need to be turned off.
The picture is of the earth mound and its crowning standing stone erected as part of the towns Millennium projects. The power station is neatly blocked from view by the huge earth mound while a line of pylons snake around the bottom of the slope like an outsize electrical extension cord powering the nation. It struck me that from this position it feels as if the whole structure has been buried beneath the mound, a fallen King consigned to memory and the underworld. The mound and the stone were erected as echoes of the burial mounds that dot our landscape, a modern outsized fake. Just momentarily it actually seems to be performing its outward function - a modern burial mound for a modern colossus.
It might be worth checking out the map on satellite view to get an idea of the lay of the land