Friday, September 09, 2005

In My Mind's Eye

Worsening weather forecast for the weekend made it essential to leave the fort today and I was collected by the Lady Irene at 6pm, two days earlier than planned. I am truly grubby. The flies that had taken to hovering about my head will really miss me.

I have been crawling about on hands and knees in the dirtiest parts of the Fort and I'm looking forward to a bath in fresh hot water; with a real sense of gratefulness that I live in a country were I can just turn on a tap. Everything is strange; cars, electric light, conversation, studio and home. In my mind's eye the fort is clear and steady. I feel many different emotions, but right now a great sense of loss.

If you would like to share a conversation with me about the experience, please go back to the web site and check for details of the online discussion forum.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Rusty precipitation falls on the tent every night with a slow but regular patter. All my equipment would be covered in a film of new deposits if I did not regularly dust it down. Every day I ritually sweep around the tent, an act akin to maintaining a clearing in a wood. When people leave, or stop caring, nature soon takes over again.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Power Failure

I finally ventured into the engine room, the heart of the fort system. Its four Gardner diesels once provided power for all seven towers in the cluster; their guns, searchlights, radar, as well as hoists, refrigeration, domestic power and navigation lights.

Carefully tended generator sets of once lustrous grey metal, have turned to rust. Bearings, casings, radiators and fans are melding into single homogenous forms through exposure to the moist sea air. It is a world of iron oxide now.

On leaving, I encountered a ferrus planet transiting the steel screen beside the door. It seemed to be in thrall to a band of sunlight entering via a hole in the outer wall.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Shadow of Time

Shadows creep along the walls of the Fort as the sun dips surely toward the horizon. I wonder what traces of my own brief journey here, will lodge in the flaking and peeling, patina of place?

Monday, September 05, 2005


I discovered Cassiopeia in the boiler room today, rising over the firmament of a barren floor peppered with small illuminated holes leading to the void below. On closer inspection I saw through my error, and realised I was looking onto a series of five green and watery planets.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Finding Faith

The rag of the fish patterned shirt was fittingly found beside the top of the ladder. Many discarded remnants of fabric were used to clean the machinery or the operatives. A collarless shirt is replete with greasy handprint. Half a mini skirt was under an oil can. The tie dyed "Growing Girl" summer dress, rotted on a ledge behind an acetylene cylinder. When were they made? Where were they worn? Who brought them here? Re-used remnants of different lives and times, now made part of mine.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


Boats occasionally pause outside with people who want to see the recluse and I will sometimes give a friendly wave from a window. St Anthony the Abbot would have liked being here. He lived alone in an abandoned fort for twenty years and though he barricaded the place for his solitary contemplation, people repeatedly broke in to see him. Shivering Sands is essentially proof against all but spiritual visitation.

Friday, September 02, 2005


Exploration of the Fort's second Wash House, commandeered by the PLA is now complete. A few traces remain of its earlier function; a fragment of urinal or the brackets that held the cistern for example, but they are now all coated with later oily residues.

A card in a PLO envelope, has a message for Keith Millen about 'O' rings needed for a faulty valve. 'Nancy Sinatra wrote that These Boots Were Made for Walking...' begins a hand written note, which if topical dates it to 1966. My own boots nearly walked over it, as I pulled shut the door.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Tide Gauge

Until 1992 the Port of London Authority maintained a gauge at this fort to measure the state of the tide in the Thames Estuary. As sea levels rise and the south east tilts slowly into the sea, these observations assume even greater importance. Newer technology on a nearby buoy now relays this information more efficiently. A bank of batteries, a generator, oil tanks, diesel and other smaller clues remain, as to how it was all done before.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Sea Mist

Circled by a listless mist that drifted into the fort through broken unglazed windows, the outside crept indoors this morning to sneak a look around. A pallid looking sun, none the less, soon burned away this foggy start to the day and left behind these cloudy thoughts.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Rock-a-bye baby

Plumes of sandy mud, rise and fall like pale brown subaqueous clouds. The sands are shivering beneath a smooth surfaced and silent sea, as the fort gently rocks on its shifting foundation. This scour alarmed the construction engineers, yet it always seemed to correct itself and the list has never been more than five degrees in any direction. I feel as though I am drifting away on a raft with the tide, as I am lulled into sleep on a hot afternoon.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


I'm not the only inhabitant of the fort. Last night a gang of cormorants arrived and took over the control tower and the eastern gun tower. I counted thirty nine birds, including one who perched below my window and seemed to prefer the solitude.

They ate a lot of fish, made a lot of noise, whitened the rust, had a kip and flew off at sunrise. Doubtless they return on a regular basis and I realise that the Forts have never really been abandoned at all.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


A cotton bath mat perished where it was brushed into a corner of the room, the shaft from a loofah had rolled under the tub and a toe nail was on the floor near a used sachet of Silvicrin shampoo. The men used to wash in sea water here, and today I did the same. In the remains of their bathroom, I soaked in a few litres of cleansing and renewing brine.

Friday, August 26, 2005


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Wash House

A dark passage leads to the bathroom, a small space on the bottom floor in the north east corner of the fort. The tub is intact if in need of a good scrub itself. When it last saw use in 1958, I was exploring the disused communal wash house at the end of Savile Place in Dewsbury and dreaming about refitting the windows, a door and sweeping out the floor. I was four. I think I have always wanted to spend time by myself. Artists are often alone, but how often are they lonely.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Cleveland vs Cyclone

The weather has again imposed itself on the day, as I experience the effect of the deep depression moving across the whole country. Some cans were just shaken from a shelf. The wind turbine has been dislodged in its fixing and will need attention if it survives the blow. The sea and wind has been unrelenting all day and it has been cold, dark and miserable here at Shivering Sands.

The steelwork in the fort carries the name of Dorman Long & Co of Middlesborough. In the contest between Cleveland and the cyclone there can be only one ultimate winner, but I hope the steel has a few rounds left in it yet.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Natural Timetable

The original electrical supply failed long ago, so the rhythm of a day has to follow the cycle of the sun. With little power to spare, work stops at sunset and resumes with sunrise. It is an organic timetable and not the standardised nine to five. The day is already forty minutes shorter than when I arrived (by about 2 minutes per day) as summer heads toward autumn. It feels good to be so tuned in to the turning of the year.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Half way was marked by opening presents from the pupils of Whitstable Community School and Whitstable Junior School. They incude T shirts with messages written upside down for ease of reading by the isolated wearer; today I am being encouraged to 'Drink lots of milk'. Many of the children sent portraits too, so I have personalised a corner of the fort with a collection of friendly faces. I got a jigsaw of an alsatian dog in lieu of a living pet.

The experience of being here is a jigsaw of mental, physical and emotional responses to a new environment. When I identify all of the pieces I will make a picture.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


My evening meal is prepared around 4.30pm, so I can eat and clean up before dark. There is plenty of mint for the potatoes from the roof top garden. I have a small propane cooker and two mess tins for cooking in (and then eating from). The potatoes are keeping well, as are the onions (that with olive oil, garlic and seasonings are the starting point for different meals).

Apples and pears are individually wrapped in layers of paper and kept in a box in the darkest and coolest part of the fort. Eating it has become a lucky dip, and tonight's packham pear was a surprise as I thought I had eaten them all. How many more tides I wonder, before I have to resort to the tinned peaches.

Eight miles off shore, I realise how very special it is to have fresh food all the time... and I am mindful of how often we waste it.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Something Green

The environment is one of steel and concrete being beaten into rust and dust. It has been a pleasure then, to nurture the herb garden that I placed in bags of earth on the top floor. It is really sustaining to have something green and of such fragrance, growing in this unlikely spot. When the nearby Red Sands Fort is returned to its original condition, I hope they might consider planting a garden and not guns on the top floor. It would not be fully restored, but it would be restorative.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Rising Moon

The weather gradually worsened today and it was a surprise to find how dark the fort can be when there is so little sunlight. It stopped my ongoing exploration of the interior.

Though the sky is starting to clear, I doubt tonight's full moon will be visible. Last night it rose all orange red, above the dark silhouette of the fort. Portending atmospheric pollution?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Pandora's Box

Once stout cardboard boxes are scattered about the RE Workshop. Opened long ago, they are now all empty and the labels and tags are faded and crumbling away.

Pandora was told never to open her box of course, but curiosity killed the cat as they say. Her dowry from Zeus was the release of all the misfortunes of humanity. Hope fluttered out of the box as well, so we can hold on to it through all our travails. But is it ultimately an affliction too, one that prevents us from moving on from truly hopeless situations? When is it best to give up hope? In 1941, when the forts were constructed and the country stood isolated against fascism, another generation never gave up hope.

My own small hope is for some good weather so I can get to sleep tonight.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Unravelling Threads

The RE Workshop has a mystery to unravel. The dusty mound on the fallen table I noticed yesterday, is a ball of beautifully preserved and colourful cottons. Major J Sharman, Commanding Officer until 1945, may have light to shed on this. He wrote that some really beautiful embroidery and knitting was produced here, and that all personnel could use the RE Workshop "to make, for instance, perspex models, fully rigged galleons, kids toys and so on." These activities were compulsory, designed to counter monotony and the threat, as Major Sharman puts it, "of fort madness". Popular exhibitions of work made by the men were held in the barrack rooms every two weeks.... perhaps in this room where I am making art today.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Out of Bounds

The sign says Out of Bounds and the door is welded shut. However, I entered the RE Workshop today, through a hole in the hardboard wall of the adjoining room. It is therefore not quite the undisturbed pharoah's tomb this Carter might have liked. However, no one has been in here for an age and there are many layers to carefully peel apart.

Monday, August 15, 2005

F for Floor

The floor looks like it was laid down wet, as parts of the surface are rippled like the sea just fifty feet below. It is a bituminous material about two inches thick, laid onto the bare steel. Partition walls, fixtures and fittings have very slowly sunk into it; leaving the impression of long gone chair, table and bed legs, lockers and other less readily identifiable objects. It is a ghostly map, in grey relief.


Sunday, August 14, 2005

Sea Bass

The sea beneath the Forts is reputedly a nursery for sea bass and the bottom floor of this tower has a small circular hole through which they can be observed in quite large numbers just below the water surface and ocassionally as they leap up out of it. If food does get in short supply, I will have to try and fish for one or two. I have a line that can be dangled over the side, or indeed through the hole in the floor - ice fishing style. Personnel on the forts used to fish to provide variety in their diet too, but also to counter the dull routine of service here.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Driven Rain

It is possible to get obsessive about the wind when one is both exposed to its effects and dependent upon it for power. The turbine is spinning so hard on the roof I fear it might take off down river, but it is still exhilarating to watch the amps peak at 11.88 and to hear on the shipping forecast that there may be a force 8 gale outside. I have reinforced the plastic sheeting at the windows with most of the gaffa tape, just in time to keep out this driven rain. The tower is swaying a little under the constant noisy buffeting and something just clattered down the side. I hope to stay tucked up inside.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Inner Light

I find it unhelpful to look through windows at the sea and sky, when so much is still to be done indoors. A web cam on the roof shows the broad panorama of the outside world going by, in contrast to this enclosed place where I have to live. I am inside, doing time and unrepentantly enjoying the changing spaces and sounds of this illuminating penitentiary.

There so much to see and consider as I carefully explore the fort . Much of the bottom floor is intentionally left as undiscovred country, to be opened up over the coming weeks. I sometimes wonder if I will have sufficient time, as the days seem to go so quickly. I retire with the setting sun and can't wait for the dawn.

The North Wind

Boreas was loose last night, with instructions to charge my batteries. A wet wind howled through broken windows and lightning flashed across the sky, but I awoke to fully restored power and a wind speed of 6.5 amps on a good gust. However, it has been colder and drafty, so all available polythene has been deployed over the windward windows to stop paper flying around everythere in an unpleasant circling mixture of rain and still dry dust. Rain drops from the ceiling are playing a discordant tune on bucket and tin cans.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Misty Mountains

Imaginary landscapes seen within the cracks and stains in old plaster walls were of interest to Leonardo da Vinci and I think he would have enjoyed these misty mountain ridges. They are not wholly typical of Shivering Sands however, where more abstract rectilinear patterns from bolted steel seams and hardboard cladding present effects of surface texture and pattern that create an endless family of more abstract compositions in my own minds eye.


Thunderous thumps are issuing every day from the army range on Foulness Island near Shoeburyness to the north. Weapons are developed and tested there and simulations of nuclear weapon blast effects are carried out. It has been a daily reminder that the army has a presence in the estuary, if no longer on their former forts at Red Sands and Shivering Sands - unless we include the shock waves they send to vibrate and buffet the tower a second after I spy the rising plume of smoke on the horizon.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Pigeon Post

The NCO's sleeping area on the north west corner of the intermediate floor has the rectilinear patterns of bolted steel seams and painted hardboard cladding seen thoughout. A pale blue chest, missing its drawers and top has been upturned. An empty packet of Players cigarettes sits on top. Part of the Uxbridge Post for July 9th 1958 lay under a mound of feathers and dust; possibly a paper from home. Beneath this, was a raffle ticket issued by the Royal Army Ordnance Corps for a draw on January 4th the same year.

Amongst the feathers were leg rings from weary homing pigeons that never made it back - GB 2000A25848 and GB99 S44807. Red Woodard, who worked on nearby Red Sands Fort in 1956, told me recently about the Dutch racing pigeons that landed there and how Chef gave them bread crumbs and helped them on their way. ... well how he made pigeon pie.

Now pigeon post is an idea. I would not be waiting for the wind turbine to power up my computer so I could send this log and they might also be interesting companions.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


I found the remains of the Daily Herald for Friday April 25th 1958, flattened under a wooden palette in the former store-room. The paper was so compressed and the dust so thick on top of it, that I realised that the palette had not been moved for forty seven years.

I read fragments of yesterday's news on perished bits of paper and glimpsed someone elses today, here on Shivering Sands. Tito could not make a conference, a sleeping boy fell 32 feet to the street, British troops 'moved up in Aden', war babies were jamming the Borstals, the TUC accused the government of 'un-complacency' and Jonh Gunther reported from Russia that the poor souls there never got to go to cocktail parties, and that the average citizen had never been able to have their shoes cleaned by a 'boot black' ...what a world picture.

A sweet packet of a different vintage revealed the presence of another visitor, sometime in February 1971 or soon after. Now, after the ritual sweeping and and sifting, this room has become my kitchen on the 9th August 2005.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Les Demoiselles

Clearing the floor area on the east side of the former men's accomodation I found Les Demoiselles on the wall. A tiny fragment of newspaper on the floor said 'he romantic'. Covered in grime, and in need of a shower, I feel more imbued at present with hard realism. Tomorrow I may attemt to clean the old bath tub down stairs and rig up a shower.

Fallen Angel

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Faded Flowers

I found a cloth draped over the hot water pipes many years ago (perhaps to dry). It still retains some last vestige of pattern and colour, but is so fragile it will soon fall appart. It made a photograph with the morning sun falling lightly behind the very flowery fabric, and made me remember to go and water the roof garden before it got too hot.

Hells Bells

The bell of the south mark buoy rings randomly all night and day and it echoes through most parts of the fort. I turned on the radio this morning to try and mask it out, but was confounded by the bells of St Peter's in Tiverton, coming in strongly on long wave ('Bells on Sunday' Radio 4).

operator's log

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Elvis is on Shivering Sands

The floor is a series of archaelogical layers of time. Partition walls, fallen down many years ago, still hold traces of magazine and newspaper cuttings. Elvis Presley is here and also many glamorous pin up women too.

I use my soft haired japanese wash brushes to gently remove the final layers of dust. Though the forts were built in 1942, a calendar page for 1925 was stuck to a wall. I found a fragment of paper in the dust with the words 'operators daily log'. This is mine.

The computer keeps running out of power as I need the wind turbine and today has been dead calm. It means that the web cam has not been updated like it should and the roof cam is disconnected. I will try to get these things sorted just as soon as there is a bit of a blow.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Dancing Girl


A Clean Sweep

I have swept up a half inch of rust from the floor of my first floor appartment that has settled here over the last 50 years. The steel joists above still seem very substantial though. The crittal windows are not so much rusted shut, as rusted away. The reinforcing wire in their mostly broken glass has rusted too. A few seabirds have come to Seaforts to die. Feathers, bones from wings, feet and head, litter the floor.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Leaving on the Lady Irene

Everything seems to take longer at sea. We waited what seemed like an age for a favourable tide and weather, but eventually a fully laden Lady Irene arrived at Shivering Sands yesterday and we managed to get everything stowed safely aboard. Practicalities such as sweeping floors, sorting out kit and food, setting up the web cam and wind turbine will now take a day to sort out.

I am looking forward to setting up my tiny Rutland wind turbine (90kw), so close to its larger brothers on the Kentish Flats three miles away to the south east - a regiment of giant turbines made by Elsam Engineering (280,000,000 kw)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Waves of Thought

I am looking at people hard and watching the interactions between lovers, friends and acquaintances as they chat over coffee in Chatham, help each other onto a bus or nod in passing on the street. It's clearly what most of us do all the time, and I will miss it for the next six weeks from tomorrow. I wonder if I will even begin to miss the shop assistants 'have a nice day' as I leave the chandlers with a bottle of lamp oil and a bar of sea soap.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Unforeseen Anxiety

I have been in a state of great anxiety waiting for a phone call to unlock the door to my fort. We ran into unseeable eleventh hour difficulties regarding access to the towers and I was not able to go as planned on yesterdays tide.

Essential works are still being completed and I am due to leave very soon. Everything is packed: Two hundred litres of water, a mini mountain of food, all of the communications kit and the odd book.

I find it extremely difficult to write right now, as my whole mind and body is geared to being in some other place. I am sitting in a weird limbo and waiting for the phone to ring with the word to scramble.