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Travelogue I24

August 23, 2016

In order to reach the museum, we had first had to walk back the length of the street and then cross the goit of which I have made much ado. So I whiled away some few minutes by relating to him my experience with the brick wall behind which I had expected to find an old factory interior, mold and dark heavy with the years. In their place, there had awaited only grey skies and the sense of a meeting missed.

My story, if so it can be called, was reaching its end when we came to the narrow waterway separating Sheffield from island. Safely tucked within brick walls and culverts, the goit had, with industry’s passing, taken back somewhat of a wild appearance as long grass and weeds clumped on small islets, perhaps the result of sediment buildup, islets which, so I speculated, would one day outgrow the narrow bounds which the goit set them. A brick bridge brought us across to the museum premises where the sights confronted the viewer all at once.

In short order, we came across: a metal container, three meters perhaps in height and width, and strongly riveted, formerly used, or so I presumed, to transport molten steel through the ironworks, and at the upper edges of which continual heat exposure had crumbled away the rim, and now holding but a feeble sapling, leafless at that time of year; a block of flats, red brick, with plate glass windows and balconies, fitted out, as best I could guess, with the latest comforts which society had to offer; farther on, the chimney house in the same red brick, but with noticeably fewer windows and openings, their numbers perhaps willfully thinned out, as I could find hints of their blocked-up and walled-over brethren, and above all of which the titular chimney rose to thrice the house’s height, though darker in color than the supporting, whether due to smoke or the poor lighting I knew not.

This short walk the length of the goit left us before the museum entrance where, given the late hour and pub plans, we opted not to pursue the tour inside. Before turning back, G. directed my attention to an ovoid metal monstrosity, more than twice the height of the metal container seen earlier, and which resembled nothing so much as a slightly deformed, iron egg, open at either end. The accompanying legend identified it as the world’s largest surviving Bessemer converter. If, at the time, I was sure to have remarked on its scale and marveled at the human industry and mental exertion underlying its creation and implementation, the term “Bessemer converter” would have remained opaque.

Indeed, these words proved at once too full and too empty, the knowledge required to make sense of them rendering the signifiers inaccessible to the layman, for which reason this term remained impenetrable for several days more, until such a time as I bothered to look the term up. From the elementary explanations which I later found, it would seem that the opening at the ovoid’s bottom served to blow air through the molten metal being processed in such a way that the various impurities found in the pig iron oxidized and effectively vanished from within. A combination of gears, levers and steam engine tipped the converter forward until the resultant steel poured from the opening at the ovoid’s top.

The last mouthful of IPA swiftly disappeared, and, with it, my reflection on the Bessemer converter and its manner of applying heat and air in ingenious ways so as to burn away the inessential and leave behind a product of uniform composition. Looking back, I can say that this travelogue may stand at odds with that process inasmuch as I have tried to leave the account’s inessential intact. Whether this in some way precludes its future usefulness remains to be seen, but I feel it of a kind with the lowly pig iron. That will I only know upon having reached its end.

G.’s flatmate had at some point or other joined us in the course of my pondering and made her introductions. Our lively discussion continued over a simple dinner and after-dinner pints in their evening haunt where we took more than a few minutes to lay the groundwork for a sociological study on English pubs. In the way of data, we managed in short time to juxtapose the way in which pub occupancy transcended social classes, the ambivalent relationship between burgeoning pub culture and ongoing gentrification in post-industrial cities, the reasoning underlying the choice of carpet over hardwood. In hindsight, these data points seemingly stand over and against the other in logical opposition and yet fall through in their very real coexistence in one and the same space.

So, from my final day in England, I can say only that I came out of it with little in the way of concrete conclusions, save that carpet was a poor choice indeed for all that happens in a pub.

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