Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: Nick Small

Nick Small | 5th January 2023

Every year, we give over all of December (and usually most of January) to a series called ‘Shadows and Reflections’, in which our contributors share highs, lows and oddments from the past 12 months. Today it’s the turn of Nick Small.

I turned 60. It’s not really the time of life to be starting an entirely new career. I probably should be thinking about retirement. However, like many people who have spent their entire working life in self-employment, I don’t have a pension pot to piss in.

I came to the end of two years working as series director on Salvage Hunters in the late winter. It was fun. Most of my career as a television director or music video maker has been an enjoyable romp. I can’t complain, but the industry finds newer, cheaper ways to work and younger, cheaper people to do it. And, to be frank, aside from Gone Fishing which is, by a long chalk, the best thing on television, I don’t really watch the box any more.

For many years I have had an amateur interest in geology, volcanoes, plate tectonics and the stuff that makes our home planet tick. Around ten years ago I became involved with a then nascent website for amateur volcanologists and geophysicists called Volcanocafe. Well, cutting to the chase, a few of us decided to form what we intend to be the world’s largest geothermal energy company. We’re not talking ground source heating for domestic homes, we’re talking drilling 9km down to super-critical brines or boring into active volcanic systems, in both cases, steam heated by magma powers turbines, which generate electricity. It’s clean, zero carbon, it’s sustainable and it’s pretty much an infinite resource.

It feels like taking a bit of a flyer, especially as we had no funds to start the company with and so nothing to pay ourselves with. Now, finally, Mantlepower is up and running and we are applying for our first resource permits. Of course, prospecting and drilling for this steam costs millions, so we have a long way to go. But some serious people believe in us and our plans and are putting their money where it hurts. If we want the planet to have a future, then geothermal is the future.

The anxieties associated with such a radical handbrake turn in life are substantial. My coping mechanism has been, as always, to run out onto the moors or walk around Ogden Water Local Nature Reserve where I help out as a volunteer. I indulged myself with a great pair of Leica binoculars and have spent the last few weeks entranced by a large mixed flock of passerines that flit around the alder, birch, pine, beech and larch bordering the reservoir.  Great tits, blue tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits, siskins, redpolls, goldcrest, goldfinches and chaffinches… an acrobatic troupe, dangling from cones, deftly extricating seeds and littering the ground beneath, and me, with chaff. Wonderful.