|>>|| No. 380297
However shit Runcorn seems from the train, the reality is infinitely worse.
What you don't get a sense of is the dreadful claustrophobia, something that Two Pints tries valiantly to put across. The town has been gradually hemmed in over the years by hostile industry - the chemical works, the docks, the maze of expressways feeding the bridge and the immense new waste incinerator.
On the ground, you're constantly aware of these huge industrial facilities that really don't want the town to be there and that hardly employ anyone. The area is just a dumping ground for industries too unpleasant to put anywhere else. A lot of the terraced houses in the old town are literally in the shadow of the bridge flyover. The town is sunk down into a physical depression, bordered on the north by the river (with it's grey expanse of nothing and a view onto the chemical plants of Widnes) and on the south by the hill.
All around you, the skyline is pierced with vast smokestacks, pouring god knows what into the air. The riverbanks are dotted with great effluent pipes, vomiting greenish-grey waste onto the sticky Mersey mud. The landscape is marked with giant stacks of shipping containers, mountains of scrap metal, huge grey buildings and chemical tanks filled with stuff that it's best not to think about. They pitch Runcorn to investors as the "Mersey multimodal gateway" but the reality is a sort of massive industrial lay-by, somewhere that is just a stop-off en route to better places. The town feels like it has been abandoned in the 1980s, a little island of Thatcher's Britain.
The Ineos chemical works you see from the train produces mainly chlorine and fluorine products, using some of the most toxic chemicals on earth. At the local schools they do drills to teach the kids what to do in the event of a disaster, which seems as futile as the old "duck and cover" nuclear drills. When they did the risk assessment for the new waste incinerator - the largest in Europe - the council's internal report essentially said that it would make no difference because the pollution was so bad already.
A friend of mine did community work in Halton back in the nineties; Often she'd have to run separate events for Widnes and Runcorn, because many of the local kids had never crossed the bridge and had no intention of doing so. Eventually she coaxed some of them to take the short walk across, which she described as being like an expedition to terra incognita. 20 minutes on the train to Liverpool, an hour to Manchester, two hours to London, but some of the locals might as well have been Falkland Islanders. It's all just shuttered shops, cheap beer, grey skies and ennui, a terrible smothering ennui that you can never quite wash off. I haven't been back properly in years, but I still get nightmares about it.
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