I walked from Margate Railway station to Botany Bay. Out on a headland, I encountered this extraordinary building. Later, I went back to draw it.
You can see – I hope – that my viewpoint was low. I was sitting on the ground by the side of the road. The road is frequented by dog-walkers. I learned something from this low viewpoint: civilised dogs are not used to people sitting on the ground. Many of the dogs were loose, and came rushing up to me, barking in admonition, or alarm, or delight. The owner hurried after, calling in vain after their hound. The dog sat next to me, barking in alarm, or pride, depending on the breed. Either “Danger! Danger! There’s someone sitting on the ground!!” or, if an ancestral hunting dog, “Look, revered owner, what I have cleverly found here on the ground. You must have shot it. It’s my job, I think, to bring it to you?” The owners argued in vain against these inbuilt instincts, and eventually had to drag the dog away from its enemy, or its prey, depending on outlook and breeding.
I went on drawing. A man came by, without a dog. He looked at me, and looked at the building, and looked at my picture. Then he gave a kind of shrug which said “OK, right, I get it, you are drawing the sewage station.”
I replied to this implied comment by saying that it was an interesting building, or rather, I found it interesting. His response was, “1960s Soviet Brutalism without the politics” and I said yes, that put it well.
He said, without breaking his step, “I am good with words”. He said it as a matter of established fact, not a brag, not a hope, nothing sheepish or apologetic, just a description. I silently wondered if I should have recognised him: was this a well-known playwright, a poet, a newspaper columnist? He stopped for a moment. “But just with words,” he continued, with a gesture towards my painting equipment, “Not with a paintbrush.” He paused, to make sure I’d heard. Once his words had reached me across the still air of the road between us, he declared, “I’ll leave you to it!” and he strode off, leaving me puzzling. I think I’d just heard a compliment, but I wasn’t quite sure.
When I walked along this road in the daytime, I saw that there were a large number (about 8) of contractors’ vans and lorries parked outside the pumping station. The blue/grey rectangle in front of the pumping station is some kind of portakabin or works area.
I found out later that this pumping station had failed during the summer (2021), and let sewage into the sea, rendering local beaches useable. Southern Water issued an apology which said, amongst other things:
“Wastewater releases at times of heavy rainfall happen across the UK to protect properties from flooding. The release that happened overnight on 16 June was caused by a combination of heavy rainfall and lightning strike during the storms which caused a short power failure and affected systems on site at our Margate Water Pumping Station. Back-up generators are in place. As part of our preparations for the predicted thunderstorms and heavy rainfall we also had a team standing by in the area. These additional precautionary measures meant we were able to immediately begin work restoring the site to full operation. Unfortunately, we had to make this emergency release to protect local homes and businesses from internal flooding.”
A big notice on the pumping station said: “Margate and Broadstairs Resilience Phase 2, upgrade and improvements”. It seems as though improvements are much needed. I can start to understand how local people might have been a bit surprised that I was drawing this pumping station, cause of a recent local disaster.