The villagers of Little Downham in Cambridgeshire made a cart shed out of green oak and recycled 19th century bricks next to their thriving community orchard and woodland. In the shed are various information boards; one tells us that half of the parish is below sea level – such a strange thought if you’re not from East Anglia or Holland. One board explains the complex local system of ditches and drains that operate, and features a rhyme that was affixed to the Hundred Foot Pumping Station in 1830:
These Fens have oft times been by Water drown’d.
Science a remedy in Water found.
The powers of Steam she said shall be employ’d
And the Destroyer by Itself destroy’d.
A nice conceit. Great italics. That fascination with the metamorphosis of water, its shape shifting that powered the industrial revolution. (Coming across that was like finding a footnote to what I’d been thinking about water and its magical powers.) Meanwhile at the end of Manor Road Thames Water are back for their fourth visit of the year, and they dug a brilliant hole, an archaeological hole – much more interesting than the excavations for the broken lids – but they couldn’t get at the leaking pipe because heavy rain had flooded it. So they too had to turn to science for a remedy, and pump the water out. They had a big lorry with a pump that worked off its engine and a sign that said SUCTION EXCAVATORS.
But look how careful they’ve tried to be with the tree roots! It’s a plane tree, not very big tree, maybe 5 or 6 metres high, but they love London, those roots just go boring through all kinds of crap. Would you worry about those cables though? They were threaded through an old pipe which has been smashed. A couple of blokes sat in a lorry in the rain looking at their phones. I tapped on the window and the guy weariy wound it down a few inches. I asked what they were doing. Leak. he said. Fixing a leak. Those roots must be a problem, I said. Yeah, he said. He didn’t want to chat. Nearer to my house, more entertainment:
And what’s it all about? No one around, hard to say.
I think I can make out the word fault. But what kind of fault, it doesn’t say. No utility company – that’s a nice old fashioned word, out of the monopoly board – dared speak its name. And it’s not true that the footpath was closed. It was merely narrowed. Further up the road BT have been busy for two or three weeks now pumping in super fibre as if it might fulfil a cleansing function like muesli or whole meal bread in the guts of the city. And we’ve had essential Electricity Work just recently as well. We’ve got everything.
There really isn’t a street like ours in the whole city, is there? I admit that I have included one or two works in side streets but these are only ten metres or less from the junction. You couldn’t consider the River Amazon without paying some attention to its tributaries.
I’m tying to develop the ability to predict where the next fault, the next excavation will be. Here, for example? The scars, the puddle – signs of stress, of weakness.