When I was very small we frequently drove past Didcot power station to visit my grandpa. It was a waymarker – the “are we nearly there yet” could cease when we saw the power station looming over us, we knew we had nearly arrived. The next waymarker, almost adjacent to my grandpa’s back garden, was a disused water tower. Why this was in the middle of a suburban housing estate I still don’t know, but there it was. To me neither the power station nor the water tower was ugly, a blot on the landscape; they were striking pieces of architecture that symbolised positive journeys. I knew they weren’t “pretty” in the way that a church might be, but I didn’t think of them in any negative sense. When I was older we moved house and my waymarker became Ratcliffe power station – it was just off the motorway and ten minutes from home, a symbol that we had returned from whatever journey we had been on. Again it was a positive symbol for me, far more so than the fields and trees we would be driving through. It was almost like a “welcome home” sign. I recall we visited the power station for a school science trip, but I remember nothing of that trip. The function of the power station was irrelevant to me, what is etched on my memory is its significance as a sign of homecoming.
Farley and Roberts (2011) would describe these power stations as “edgelands” – indeed both power stations are mentioned in their chapter “Power”. They talk of locating important functions close enough to where they are needed, yet far enough away to be out of sight and out of mind. They are a place through which we travel, for me they are markers that we have nearly arrived, but they are not places we choose to stop. We probably could not stop if we wished to; there are no picnic spots here. In the case of military facilities (as described in the chapter “Wire”) stopping may even be prohibited or at least discouraged. Are they even places at all? Thinking about my sense of “arrival” reminds me of the “Welcome to…” signs as one arrives at most towns – who decides where to locate these? County signs are on the county boundary and often seem rather random as a result (driving to my parents I cross from Kent to Sussex and back four times!). But I’m not aware that towns or villages have such clear boundary lines. Given the choice would we welcome a visitor to our town at the sewage treatment works/household waste centre/power station, or would we wait until they reached the tree lined residential streets? I think we would exclude the edgelands from our town altogether; they can be in the earthly equivalent of international waters.
This all feels like a potential project – town boundaries, where we place them and how we represent them. It also ties in with my viewpoints for assignment one, each ways in which we delineate the land. One for the ideas book…
Farley, P. and Roberts, M.S. (2011) Edgelands, Journeys into England’s True Wilderness. London: Vintage Books.
Featured image from Google Street View