The Steel Parade

March 9, 2011

The country folk say that it’s nature where they live.

But it’s not.

They look through their car windows at the rolling hills and fields full of sheep. They tell themselves it’s all-natural. Timeless. Unspoilt. Like God just picked it out of his nose.

But it’s not. And he didn’t.

What they’re looking at is the arse-imprint of man. The hills roll because they’re deforested. The sheep are sheep because we’ve genetically engineered them over thousands of years.

They’re nothing more than ready-meals in jumpers.

Until the sheep came these fields weren’t even fields. They were a wilderness resplendent with trees, flowers and rutting fauna. That’s all long gone.  

Look. I’m not picking a fight here. Put your rifle down, Sir! I love the countryside!

It’s beautiful! And unnatural! And man-made!

Which is how I feel about electricity pylons.

I’ve known pylons as long as I’ve known trees. In my childhood I preferred them to trees. Trees didn’t stride across the skyline like aliens from HG Wells or John Christopher novels. They didn’t buzz with electricity. They weren’t robot gods with the power to turn on your television.  

Trees are the lungs of the world. Pylons are a Zippo lighting the fag. But what the hell. Have a drink. Enjoy yourself.  We’re all in the same boat.

When I came to the marsh I re-ignited my passion for the pylon. I couldn’t help it. They’ve colonised this nook of the Un-City. They the unofficial Lea Valley Park Rangers. They’re everywhere you look.

When you walk through the 5ft Bridge and turn right through the Dining Room, you join the Steel Parade: a corridor of pylons running alongside the train lines. They guide you up past the reservoir, under the railway, down Blackberry Way and stretch towards the Old River Lea and the Olympic site.

At points they’re so close you can stare right up from underneath them. You reach your hand towards the twists of barbed wire round their legs. You can see light glinting through the coils of glass discs stretching from their arms.

If you’re lucky starlings are roosting on the cables. They cackle at the Danger of Death. They shit themselves with laughter. A heavy rain of electric poo feeds the bog beneath.

It’s especially good listening to minimalist techno when you’re on the steel parade and in the mood for your iPod. Droney stuff is good, too. Or squelchy robotic funk. The pylons occasionally hum along. 

When the Steel Parade reaches Hackney Marsh it splits in two. One line of pylons heads off towards the sea. The other cuts back towards Clapton, towards the generating plant by Millfields Park south.

There used to be a pylon standing next to the filter beds, overlooking the fish heads. It felt like this pylon had stepped away from the parade and into this nature reserve as a way of making friends with the birds and the visitors. There was something benevolent about him –her – god what’s wrong with me? Am I sexing pylons now?

But this is how I felt. Like this god was opting out. Stooping down to smell the flowers.

On my second visit to the marshworld I took dozens of photos of this pylon from every angle. I especially liked standing dead in the centre, pointing the camera upwards, letting the sun fragment in the girders, blasting psychedelic rays across the lens.

Then they came and killed it.

One day there was a barrier round my pylon. The following week they detached the cables from its arms. The cable connecting it to the pylon in Clapton was carried on a crane across the canal. Teams of men supervised. They closed the route to boats. Really, it was an event.

Next the cable connecting it to a pylon beyond the golf course was cut away. They plunged the cables into the grass of Hackney Marsh’s football fields. Suddenly the Steel Parade was sucking its energy directly from the earth itself. London was being powered by worms, undiscovered corpses and rotting orange segments.

They built a temporary wooden wall round the area where the cables connected with the earth. You couldn’t see what was happening in there. But it was important enough to erect a port-a-cabin. A fat man sat there guarding the site. Meanwhile, in the filter beds, a team of hired vandals pulled down my beloved pylon.

You know those scenes where a whale is beached and the locals come to dismantle it piece by piece? This was just as sad.

If the decision was made to eradicate every pylon from this earth, I’d miss them. I’d even consider protecting them – become a pylon hugger. I can see myself chained to a steel leg, giving the thumbs up to a small assortment of journalists and psychiatrists, my hair dripping with sweat and starling shit.

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