Grandfather and the Giant

Drax Mike Harry

Grandfather worked down the mines.  He was an electrical engineer.   During the war he tried to sign up.  He wanted to join the Royal Air Force more than owt.  But they said no because they needed engineers at home to keep things running.  Granddad was very upset.  He felt bad about it.  Mum says he never got over it, not really.

He rallied his BSA motorcycle.  He liked going fast and getting muddy.  He met Grandma in Sheffield.  She was working as a nurse at a hospital for the war-wounded, doing her bit, you know.

In the 1970s, a power station was built in a village called Drax in Yorkshire.  Today, it has a really tall concrete chimney 850 feet high and she is mother.  Sunshine stored in black rocks from Africa and Siberia trundles into the power house.  Twelve brothers, 374 feet tall and 300 feet wide, wear concrete-grey suits and their white cotton-wool hair hangs in the wind on sunny days.  Granddad got a job at Drax power station.  He was pleased to leave the mines and turn coal into light.

They say it can make 4000 megawatts of leccy; that’s more than any power station in the whole of Western Europe.  They say it chucks out more carbon emissions than the whole of Sweden.  They say that wood pellets are de rigueur but they have to come from somewhere too.  Burning new American trees instead of old Siberian ones was not exactly what Mrs Green had in mind.  They store them in giant upside down eggs to keep them dry, adding more peculiar constructions to the horizon.

Drax Eggs

But it is a marvel of man’s engineering that makes me stop the car in a patch of muddy gravel when I see a gathering of cooling towers around a monolithic enigma through a clearing in blossoming hawthorns.   It is people like my Granddad that built and maintained this opus, this enemy of the planet.  In a way, even knowing what I know, I find it beautiful.  I am drawn to the magnificent scale of this engineered construction.  In its utilitarian grandeur I see a collaboration of men who had lived through a war and dared to dream.  They dared to dream of bringing light to every home in the country after a period of forced darkness.

And now, as a Londoner, I long for dark skies that I may admire celestial artistry and glimpse stellar worlds.  But if I were forced to sit in the dark, perhaps I would want to light up the planet too.

Granddad died a long time ago now.  He smoked like a power station chimney and he liked to sup a pint or twenty to wash down Grandma’s tripe and onions.

Perhaps, I’ll pay it a visit, take a photo.  Like granddad, I love the power station and I hate it too.

Drax 3

For the National Grid go here:

Image 1 source:

Image 2 source:

Image 3 source:


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