Sad beauty


The 'industrial' aesthetic has a lot going for it, one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world is between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, though it took me many years to realise it. Sixteen miles of scrapheaps lining the track on both sides, twisted metal glinting in the sun, cranes with huge swinging magnets moving smashed cars from this pile to that pile, deserted yards of uniform green vans, and rose-bay willow-herb, the plant chosen by the Emperor of Japan to take back to his country after he saw it growing on bomb sites in London after the Second World War.

There is beauty in the scarred landscape. I grew to love the contrast of girders and grass, broken glass on burnt-out floors patrolled by low-flying dragonflies.

Once I followed a trail of brightly coloured toys scattered through a fir wood, intrigued by what they were doing there. The trail led me to the burnt-out shell of the gamekeeper's cottage, flamed by poachers I later learnt, sooty children's clothes still hanging on the washing line, the scorched walls still warm. Somehow the juxtaposition had a sad beauty to it, so much was encapsulated in this discovery, a scene of happy daily play becoming one of hurried abandonment, perhaps even tragedy. The explanation for the toys left in the wood was far from what I expected, yet I had sensed that it meant something.