Oh my. It’s a new year already. I keep looking around trying to spot where
the old one went and with such immaculate rapidity.
After hopping on the branch line that runs to Sheerness from Sittingbourne
and hopping out at Kemsley, I amble down avenues and alleyways towards the
vast D.S. Smith paper recycling mill. On the way I’m greeted by the sad
sight of the local pub, The Kemsley Arms, all boarded up and looking ripe
for demolition. Perhaps the humble pub has had it’s day but I wonder if
anything can step in to replace such a social locus. In London, a great many
pubs have been quietly closed and transformed into upmarket private flats
rather than reinvented as social spaces. Simple economics at play I suppose
but once lost, these ‘genies’ can never be put back in the bottle.
Walking to the mill, I’m struck by the huge scale of the operation. As I
approach, a line of steel-clad mausoleums linked by pipes and crowned with
steaming smoke stacks dominate the landscape. I’ve got a few minutes to kill
before meeting up with Daniel from BRFM, Simon, our project photographer,
and SKLR MD Bob Newcombe who is going to whisk us through the mill security
gates and into the steam-beating heart of the SKLR operation at Kemsley Down.
In front of the mill is a ragged waterlogged field occupied by some tough
looking horses. I stop for a chat and they check me out nonchalantly as
horses do. As I talk to them, one horse takes centre stage and starts to do
amazing acrobatics with its teeth.
Wednesdays in January are work days at the SKLR. No steam trains running but
plenty of activity. The diesel engine Victor, driven expertly by Ernie, busily shunts wagons and engines into new configurations. After watching for a while, I’m struck by the extreme linearity of the operation. All the rolling stock sits one behind the other on the tracks. If you want to access the third wagon along, first you have to move the two wagons in front, and shunt them elsewhere. Then you can return for the wagon you wanted to get at in the first place. If there’s a selection of wagons to collect, it can get rather complex as there’s a limit to the track space available and some deep track-based linear logic is required. I’m reminded of those rebus games I played as a kid. A number of lettered squares sat in a plastic frame with only one empty space. The object was to juggle and
jiggle the letters around until you could arrange them to spell a meaningful
phrase. Such as ‘That train has just rolled over your foot’. Although I must
confess I always found it more fun rearranging the letters to make up
nonsense words. The kind of soothing abstraction you find in a Dadaist poem
or Kurt Schwitter’s Ursonate:
Ziiuu ennze ziiuu rinnzkrrmüü
rakete bee bee? rakete bee zee.
Listen to a chunk here:
Kurt would have made a great rapper and MTV would have gone crazy for the
way he pimped his houses:
post by sound artist Jim Whelton