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28 October 2020

Down at the shoreline at night, the navigation lights on the horizon start speaking to me

During my evening jaunts, I revel in the crashing waves at my feet and the inscrutable Morse code of the pulsing lights. 

By Nicholas Lezard

Like many people, I signed up to a couple of extra TV streaming services for lockdown. I looked forward, in particular, to watching every single episode of Inspector Morse – or at least I did until I started watching Endeavour, which makes Morse look antediluvian by comparison. (The script has many wonderful touches, my favourite being a brass sign on a Soho office building that says “R Duck, Theatrical Agent, 4th Floor” – Raymond Duck was the name of Uncle Monty’s terrible agent in Withnail and I.)

However, over the past couple of months my TV-watching hours have plummeted to near-zero, the reason being correspondence with an extremely witty woman. There are worse distractions, I suppose. I say something that is meant to bring the conversation to a natural close, but then she replies with something apposite, hilarious and perfectly phrased, and we’re off again. (She is a subscriber to this magazine, and has been asked to fill in the “Subscriber of the Week” slot, but she won’t do it because she wants more space and a larger picture. “It doesn’t work like that,” I said. “The whole point of the feature is not so much to showcase the subscribers, as to make the writers upset when they are not named as a favourite.”)

So that’s it for visual entertainment, and to tell the truth I’m not missing it so much, all things considered, and, as I have mentioned before, I already have a view: that of the roofs and chimneys, the backs of houses (always so much more interesting than the fronts, I think) and, of course, the sea, and the wind farm on the horizon.

I have been getting rather obsessed with this wind farm. You might remember that a couple of weeks ago I mentioned the view made me want binoculars. Well, as it happens, a pair of binoculars arrived in the post not long afterwards, sent by the very woman mentioned above (she claimed they were just lying around in her car, not being looked through). The size and majesty of the wind farm becomes more apparent when magnified, and I begin to marvel at the sheer scale of the enterprise.

To give it its proper name, it is the Rampion Wind Farm, the name having been picked by the energy company after a competition among local schools (the round-headed Rampion being a flower also known as “the pride of Sussex”). I think that’s a lovely name, and well done to Davison C of E High School pupil Megan McCullough, who came up with the suggestion, but I can’t help feeling a little regret that it didn’t keep either of its previous names: the suggestively sinister “Zone 6” or the pleasingly sci-fi-ish “Southern Array”.

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A little fossicking around brings up some interesting facts. What I’m looking at is part of more than 100 vast wind turbines, between eight and 16 miles from the shore; they are 140 metres tall and each blade is 55 metres long. I watch them sweeping round – as I write, they are managing one revolution every five and a half seconds or so (yesterday, more blowy, it was more like one every four and a half) – and can only marvel at the amount of energy being created. I’ve just done some back-of-the-envelope maths (appropriately enough, back-of-the-energy-bill-envelope, as it happens) and have worked out that the tip of each blade is travelling at 150mph. Can that be right?

[See also: In the midst of my money woes, the instructions for my new kettle prove a welcome diversion]

As I said before, once night falls I only see the red navigation lights, and my own reflection, but if I position myself in the right place I can align one of the blinking red lights with the hinge of my glasses, so I can make myself look as if I have been partly assimilated by the Borg. If you don’t get that reference, but would like to, I’m afraid you’ll have to look it up.

Last night, after my correspondence had closed for the day, I walked down to the shore. In all the time I have been living in Brighton – nearly a year and a half now – this is not something I have done nocturnally, even when there were thunderstorms out to sea. The reason for that being, of course, that it was too far away, and the walk back would have involved a climb up a 200-metre-high hill; last night, I discovered it was much more doable, and I revelled in the crashing waves at my feet and the inscrutable Morse code of the pulsing lights.

I’d mentioned these earlier to my correspondent, and she asked me if they’re saying anything to me. They may well be. I know that all they’re saying is, “Don’t bump into us” to passing aircraft and ships, but one likes to personalise such phenomena, and so I affect to think what they are saying is, “Pull your finger out, you’re nearly 60.” So I turned on my heel and headed home, the sea wind pushing me up the slope. 

This article appears in the 28 Oct 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Reckoning