'They have perfectly circular hems like whirling dervishe's skirts, floating on piers above the reservoir, tapering to a waist one hundred and seventy feet wide towards their mouths. A football field could fit comfortably within each of them, the dome of St Pauls would not reach their summit. Yet the concrete shell they are made of is only two feet thick at the base and seven inches thick at the top.'
By translating the cooling towers into more imaginable markers of scale, Warner reveals the paradox of their simultaneous enormity and delicacy. They are mind-blowingly monumental, while also appearing to be floating.
I'm going to quote quite extensively as Warner really nails the context of what a power station like Didcot means in its time. It's interesting she was writing about the seeds of ruin in the structure in 1995 and now in 2013 it was switched off a few days ago and her thoughts are really pertinent.
'The cooling towers resemble vessels in their shape and stand still in the conventionally idyllic valley of the Thames, reminding us of human appetite, achievement, ambition, and of the cycle of energy that we use for our purposes, of the impurity of the human condition. They are outstanding examples of twentieth-century technological resourcefulness, but they also symbolise heedless, overflowing consumption with an ironic economy of form. And so, in my eyes they are significant, apt and beautiful monuments of our time.
'These colossal constructions share something else with monuments: they contain the promise of ruin. Just as all monuments must face the danger that one day they may be regarded as meaningless, or worse mendacious, these cooling towers represent the hubris of late twentieth-century plenty, the heroic mad era of surplus, the time when the generator would respond with a surge of power to the population getting up to make cups of tea during a commercial break on the telly'
......'So we are perhaps looking at a future ruin: a mastodon of the energy supply before the greenhouse effect, a natural history museum's reassembly of the woolly mammoth, at what will come to seem a magnificent folly, a modern version of the Aztec temple to the God of the sun. You don't have to be a megalomanic to find something inspiring about this kind of grandeur, seeded as it is with its own doom'