Monday, February 13, 2012

My Funny Valentine

Padding around the orchards of Greenways Fruit Farm yesterday, with Smithy the dog, I fell in love with a thing of rare beauty: it caught me completely by surprise and still seems inexplicable because I had passed the obscure object of my desire many times before without a flicker of emotion.

Perhaps because I had changed the direction of my usual walk from clockwise to counter, and came upon it from the opposite direction, sight of it from a different perspective made me truly see it for the first time.

Perhaps it was the power of the music I was listening to on my headphones - my soul already stirred - that accounted for the feeling that overwhelmed me. As I came up the hill I was listening to Tiger Man from British Sea Power’s atmospheric instrumental album, Man of Aran; at the very moment I turned the corner at the top and caught sight of it through the gap in the beech windbreaks, the track shuffled to the extraordinary Decades by Joy Division.

Joy Division’s music is the perfect snow music: this was cemented in my psyche early on by Kevin Cummins’ beautiful photograph from January 1979 of the band on a snow-covered footbridge. At the highest point of the bridge’s curve, the four are isolated in the bleached landscape, trapped by the symmetry of the railings and streetlights. This connection between Joy Division and snow was probably further compounded by the fact that it seemed to snow a lot in those winters at the end of the seventies and the start of the eighties when I was listening to their music; mind you, I have never really stopped listening to their music and there has been a lot of snow since, too.

So, perhaps the ethereal atmosphere of the snow and freezing fog had made me insubstantial and vulnerable and, when I suddenly found myself in its presence, its towering imposition overwhelmed me.

Whatever prompted it, there is no denying that I fell in love with an electricity pylon; pylon number 4VM 029 to be exact. I had never before considered the beauty of one of these structures but with its graceful, curving sweep from broad base to narrow pinnacle, its delicate latticed framework and its deific trio of pairs of crossarms, it struck me as both magnificent and tender. And its position on the fruit farm, near the top of the hill, shows it in all its glory.

All transmission towers, as pylons are called in the trade, are variations of an original design by Milliken Brothers, commissioned in 1928 by Sir Reginald Blomfield for the Central Electricity Board. The design has since been used all over the world. My pylon looks like an L6 D model but I stand to be corrected.

The American poet (Alfred) Joyce Kilmer wrote in 1913, “I think that I shall never see/ a poem lovely as a tree”. Spike Milligan reimagined these lines from the view of a cocked-legged dog; the people at the Pylon Appreciation Society would probably reimagine the tree as a pylon. For them, the poetry of a pylon is plain to see and they dedicate their efforts to helping the rest of us see their worth. For most however, I am sure the pylon is an eyesore, the forerunner of the dreaded wind turbine. Those who would have the countryside preserved in aspic can only see beauty in a sentimental construct of thatched roofs and tea rooms. The giants of the national grid, roped together as they march cross-country, are a stunning sight on the horizon or at close quarters; and you only have to drive across Romney Marsh and see the towers of Little Cheyne Court in the distance to be filled with awe by wind turbines, too.

Kilmer, incidentally, died in battle in northern France in 1918, by which time every tree had probably been blown to kingdom come. He never got to see the likes of 4VM 029; he would have loved them.

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