Friday, 3 October 2008

Shepperton Water World: Part 2

On my next visit to Shepperton two months later I brought my father with me. He has read a few of J.G. Ballard's books and was interested in seeing his house, especially as my Dad frequented the Bell Pub at the top of Ballard's road a few times and drove his motorcycle down the street in the 50's and 60's. We decided to park the car in the large garden centre very near the motorway and situated only a ten minute walk away from Ballard's home (if you are walking you can cross the footbridge over the M3 and then you come to Nutty Lane which was the main road through Shepperton before the motorway was built, but is now virtually deserted.)

It was in the car park I came across a bizarre tableaux.

A big notice board attached high up on the side of the main building read 'Maidstone Aquatics' and beneath in large letters 'Shepperton Water World.' This is an aquatic centre in the main part of the garden centre selling tropical fish, their tanks and accessories.

'Shepperton Water World' conjures up Ballard's drowned landscapes and his references to his home town as a marine world:

"It was plainly not by chance that I had crash-landed my burning aircraft into this riverside town. On all sides Shepperton was surrounded by water-gravel lakes and reservoirs, the settling beds, canals and conduits of the local water authority, the divided arms of the river fed by a maze of creeks and streams. The high embankments of the reservoirs formed a series of raised horizons, and I realized that I was wandering through a marine world. The dappled light below the trees fell upon an ocean floor. Unknown to themselves, these modest suburbanites were exotic marine creatures with the dream-filled minds of aquatic mammals. Around these placid housewives with their tamed appliances everything was suspended in a profound calm. Perhaps the glimmer of threatening light I had seen over Shepperton was a premonitory reflection of this drowned suburban town?"

From The Unlimited Dream Company

"Water surrounded Shepperton-the river, the gravel lakes and the reservoirs of the metropolitan water board whose high embankments formed the horizon of our lives. Once I told Miriam that we were living on the floor of a marine world that had invaded our minds, and that the people of Shepperton were a new form of aquatic mammal, creatures of a new Water Babies."

From The Kindness of Women

The notice board would in itself be of only minor interest but to the side of the drab red brick building is a very odd object like an artificial palm tree or a lamppost, where a Sputnik style satellite had landed on its top; more a Ballardian art installation out of Vermilion Sands then anything functional.

Then you have the bleak warehouse facade, a few shopping carts and the car park itself adding to the atmosphere. Finding such a concentration of Ballardian symbols only a short step away from the Source was uncanny. It's almost as if the proprietor of the Aquatic Centre is a J.G.Ballard fan and was designed deliberately. Or was Ballard directly or unconsciously inspired by a visit to this place maybe to purchase the big tropical plant now blocking his front window from inside.

Most likely it's the fusion of the Ballardian landscape all around us with my own imagination, heavily impregnated with the visions of this wonderful writer.

Further Reading: Simon Sellars' brilliant article "Paradigm of Nowhere": Shepperton, a Photo Essay (part 1) on his own site.

No comments: