Caught by the River


21st September 2017

Words: Travis Elborough
Photographer: Unknown

The very first park I ever knew, was the Sompting Recreation ground. In contrast to the grandeur of Regent’s Park, say, or Victoria Park, this was a decidedly meagre expanse of playing fields in a village in Sussex where I grew up. It was canopied by electricity pylons and stood between the estate where we lived and my primary and middle schools.

Between the ages of five and twelve I had to cross it, back and forth, five times a week in term times. My school run effectively consisted of a pelt over a running track and well-tended sports pitches. The Rec, as it was universally known, therefore occupied a central place in my childhood. Positioned halfway between home and school, it existed as a kind no-mans land where the rules of either didn’t quite apply. It was where we went – and were frequently sent – to go and play. And while a ball would be hoofed about in a predicable enough Kevin Keegan fashion, and a turn taken on its swings and roundabouts, much of that play involved using the park as a launch pad for flights from reality.

I wonder now if the presence of those overhead pylons didn’t also add to its specialness. In the era of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, these majestic metal and wire structures, seemed otherworldly and gloriously alien.

Browsing at the vintage sepia pictures recently published online by the Science Museum of pylons from the 1920s I am struck by just how unimaginably, thrillingly futuristic they appear in contrast to their surroundings. They look like beacons from the future landing in the past, Though, of course, the time when they were the future is almost ancient history now. Nevertheless they were a portent. For we are able to look at them online and all of us, plugged in and connected to the grid.


Travis Elborough on Caught by the River / website

Travis is appearing at the Morley Festival on 11th October. His latest book, A Walk In The Park, is out now in paperback.