WHEN you???ve sat for a hundred miles in the passenger seat of an Austin Maxi 1500 listening to Tony Blackburn on Radio 1 there aren???t many things left to keep you occupied ??? so you stick your instamatic camera out of the window and take random photographs. My mate, Pete, who is driving, is concerned about the oil leaking from the engine of his father???s car and ignores small talk. Also, he???s preoccupied with moving into student accommodation at Birmingham University, which is where we are heading. I???ve never been to Birmingham and I???m looking forward to my very first proper curry. We???ve stopped three times on the M6 to top up the engine oil and now we???re in the Midlands. This is a new world to me. It???s all very modern-looking. Click goes the camera. And I capture the image at the top of this post . . .
I forget which year it was. I shall hazard a guess and say 1976. I don???t recall much about the trip, during which I helped Pete install himself in England???s second city, but we had a great time. The curry was an adventure into unknown territory. Poppadoms were a mystery on a plate. I had no idea Birmingham was such an exotic and enchanting place. I haven???t been back since so I???m sure it???s even more exotic and enchanting these days.
Hey. Look at the picture. I came across it last night while sorting through boxes of old photographs. This picture is a statement. This is 1970s Britain right in your face and as bold as brass. It depicts a motorway hard-shoulder, several blocks of flats for working people, a coal-fired power station on the skyline ??? and an electricity pylon.
That’s some pylon. Ignoring the question of which came first, the pylon or the flats, let us ask ourselves whether this is a suitable and sustainable environment; is it family friendly, for instance? The answer is no. Living next to a motorway is one thing. Having your nylon net curtains attracted to the metalwork of a crackling behemoth when the weather???s humid is an inconvenience too far.
Blimey, never mind wind generators perforating the rural skyline and spoiling the view, how would you like a leg of one of those babies stuck in your garden between the coal bunker and the pile of Ford Escort parts? You wouldn???t. Your 1970s-style nylon Y-fronts would be arcing to earth every few steps. Zap. Ouch. Zap. Ouch.
It???s nearly forty years since I took that photograph and attitudes towards the environment, and our place within that environment, have altered. Expectations have changed. Quality of life has improved, and our respect for the environment has matured as our knowledge has advanced. I shall now make a prediction.
Forty years from now, people will look back at uniquely irreplaceable landscapes such as the Lake District and say: ???Jesus Christ, did we really build that dual carriageway right through the middle of the mountains? What were we thinking? And that hideously massive and incongruous garden centre at Ambleside? And all those holiday complexes and moronic visitor centres? Did we really turn every car park into revenue generators for the authorities and National Trust? Were we blinkered when we put the interests of the tourist industry and commerce before the integrity of the very thing we were trying to conserve? Bloody hell. Bring back the pylons.???
Hope is not lost because the environment has a capacity to renew itself and claw back ground that might have been temporarily ceded. I found another intriguing picture last night. It was taken in the Caldbeck fells during the late 1980s and is reproduced below.
It???s a ladder sticking through turf. It marks the top of a shaft into one of the many Caldbeck mines, which were worked into the 1960s. Industry has been reclaimed by nature. I???ve searched for the ladder recently but it has disappeared. The environment has triumphed. The landscape has drawn it into its bosom. It has been consumed. There are probably a couple of pylons down there as well. And net curtains.
I like your Zap. Ouch. Zap. Ouch. I use to take a night train saying Irk Urk Irk Urk. It’s remarkable the way nature takes over. Perhaps it is not advisable to sit too long with your picnic. One could end up together with the ladder.
Hanna, I think that’s sound advice. You just don’t know what could happen if you sit too long in the same place eating your picnic. There is a tree in Scotland that has a bike inside it because the owner left the bike leaning against the tree and the tree grew around it. So keep moving.
All the best, Alen
Blimey – does that ladder mean there’s an uncovered mine shaft somewhere in the grasslands of the fells Back o’ Skidda where I walk so often? :-o
Carol, the short answer is yes. The Caldbeck fells have been extensively mined since Elizabethan times and possibly as far back as the Romans. Who knows what lies beneath your boots? But I wouldn’t worry about it.
Just tell someone where I’m going and take lots of sandwiches? ;-)
Who knows what lies beneath your boots?
Thanks for that spot of brightness, Danny. Makes you think about the places you actually leave your boots (back of your mate’s car, roadside lay-by) and the places you would like to leave them but never actually do. I should point out I’m only speaking for myself here.
Hi Alen, Wow, that’s an evocative picture. What a snapshot of ‘history’! It makes me wish I had taken more random photos of landscapes that are now changed forever. That’s a very compelling thought about what people will think, 40 years from now, about visitor centres and ‘accessibility’. I think that ladder is a lesson to us all! I have often thought that it’s not for us to save the Earth, because it’s capable of looking after itself in the very long run – it’s our own survival as a species that’s most at risk.
Hiya Jo. Yes, it’s an interesting subject. You only have to look at the Middle East and Egypt, where complete ancient cities have been swallowed by the ever-changing environment, to appreciate the capability of the Earth to rejuvenate itself. Even in this country there are Roman towns and mediaeval villages that have been wiped off the surface. I think the moral is don’t stand still for too long.
Tynemouth Scharnhorst. Rather short blog! Loved the Nestl??/ bus joke! did you know that the HRS2 proposal is to get people from London to Birmingham before they change their mind.!! I once spent a fortnight in Birmingham…all in an afternoon. And lastly a definition for all us Scots: the definition of a Gentleman ” A man who can play the bagpipes,but doesn’t” More later…just spotted 2 Admirals and my ASBO only lets me shoot before 4pm. Pip pip.
Hi Peter. A couple of good jokes there. Keep them coming. And good luck with the admirals. Now I don’t know whether this is an urban myth or not, but I heard recently that, with the defence review cutbacks, there are more admirals in the Navy than ships, so they could do with thinning out a bit.
Good pic. Do you find that even in colour the 70s look grey? And I recently went looking for some 80s pix and they’re fading away…
Phil, I think we’re all fading away. We’ve given our lives to the enlightenment of mankind, had the energy sucked out of us, and been filed away in a dusty archive of yellowing bromides while the rest of the world is blossoming in digitally-enhanced mega-colour. Not that I’m bitter.
Good to hear from you old pal. Even some of the colour slides I took in the 1990s have a sort of yesteryear look about them.
Good point made about the arcing underwear. I took a few photos underneath pylons last year – looking up….glorious structures and shapes. One of me pals told me that I could have easily been zapped. Hadn’t even occurred to me. Stay safe-ish, people.
Great pics and ‘mood’, Alen.