Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I step into a world in decay; a place where time has crystallised, thickened into a slow-moving torpor. Although the land slopes to the south, opening onto views of familiar hills and the wide meandering river below, it is a disquieting and unfamiliar place, a maze of landforms and woods, spoil heaps and mad-made earth banks, each of which protects a fading asbestos building, protection from blast damage, from the bombs and missiles that were stored within.
I am here to research an article I have been writing, examining the legacy of military and ex-military sites in this wildest of rural areas, thinking how the land which somehow feels part of our birthright has been appropriated, fenced, secluded from view. It is a place which holds an allure purely because of its secrecy; a thousand acres of untouched landscape, untrampled, free from farm chemicals and the everyday clatter of cars and machinery, the dithering of human activity.

Within the fence, there are almost three hundred buildings, most used for military storage, the central group used for research and administration. In each, the doors are missing, the windows smashed, the floor littered with either animal shit or the debris of vandalism and neglect: peeling tiles, smashed fibreboard walls, rusting light fittings.
Dereliction holds a fascination for us because of its inevitability, a visual entropy, as though all things tend to decay, all our grandest endeavours flake and peel into fissile dust, the dull patina of abandonment. Tout passe, tout lasse, tout casse, we say, reveling in the surety of our decline, the certainty that the mightiest schemes are those that will fall the soonest, proving once again our desire for nemesis, our frailty and impotence.

Places such as these lose their physical fabric as they rot and collapse, but are peopled by ghosts and echoes that outlive the buildings; fragments of other worlds, other people who worked here, with their individual lives and worries, their families and fears. I think of the stories that accumulate in these places, layers upon layers of human fragility and impermanence, as though each of us sheds a skin in the places we live and work, a microscopic ingredient of the dust which settles on the floors and discarded washbasins, along with the flakes of paint, the particles of asbestos, the pollen from the pine trees which surround the cluster of buildings and which wave, so gently, soundlessly, in the winter breeze.

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