Night lights

Apr 26th, 2013 | By | Category: Personal Columns

In the clear coldness of the spring evening, the red lights marking the transmitting station on the Mendips were sharply visible. 1,001 feet high, it was – that extra foot being important in being able to say to people that it was over a thousand feet high. According to the Internet, the cessation of analogue broadcasting meant a forty foot high cylinder was removed in 2008, meaning it is now a mere 961 feet. No matter; its presence was sufficient to conjure the image of a small boy staring from his bedroom window across the Polden Hills to the Mendip Hills beyond.

The mast had been constructed in 1967, before the boy’s seventh birthday, its building being a source of wonder to someone who could spend hours staring out into the darkness.

The line of red lights warning approaching aircraft of an obstacle ahead sometimes had about them a magical quality, from being mere illumination of the ascending girders they could become anything a fanciful mind might imagine. Glastonbury Tor lay in the middle ground; it was said to have mystical qualities, but was dull and unimpressive compared to the 20th Century technology beyond. Anyone believing in ley lines and other such stories circulating in the 1960s might have thought red lights in the sky were the harbinger of some epoch changing events, to a small boy they were a nightly reminder of the vastness of the world around – if a mast of such a height was necessary, how many thousands and thousands of houses were out there, how many people were there who could see those lights?

The small boy staring out through the Somerset night air would sometimes try to imagine the people in their homes; what were they like? What would they have watched on their televisions? What would they have talked about? What was it like to live as they did?

Raised on tales of Arthur and Merlin and magic and dragons, it did not seem beyond the realms of imagination to be able to fly out through the night sky and meet those whose lives were so very different. Story books offered all sorts of possible incantations, none of which were effective in allowing nocturnal travel.

Forty odd years later, the lights seemed especially sharp, cutting into a cloudless sky. The number of houses to which the mast broadcasts has increased, the number of potential families one might imagine has multiplied. What tales might be told by someone who could travel wizard-like through the chill of an April night?

Somerset landscape


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