This is a really hard thing to describe, but I’m going to try to do it. Bear with me. Look at this photo.

These were both steel bars, and originally they were both universal in radius. Steel is often thought of as the hardest metal possible, but it course the quality of steel varies based on the manufacturing process. Think of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. The three fingered man went to Inigo’s father knowing he made an excellent steel sword blade. He killed the father to avoid having to pay for the blade, which would have been extremely expensive. He eventually and famously paid for that mistake with his life. “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” If you haven’t seen the film, I’ve genuinely spoilt very little. Watch The Princess Bride for one of the stupidest and most brilliant bits of escapist fantasy that exists, with Mandy Patinkin as a brilliant swept hilt foil to Cary Elwes and Robin Wright, and a dated Mark Knopfler soundtrack that just helps set the tone for some of the most tongue in cheek celebrity cameos you will ever witness. “Mawwiage.”

But yes. Good steel is rare. Look back at that picture. They were both universal steel bars. So they were just straight lines of solid steel. Then they went to The Kirkaldy Testing Works and got pulled.

In Southwark, housed in a prime location just south of Blackfriars Bridge, there is a listed building. It contains obsolete machines. Their purpose was to test things to destruction. In that picture, there are two steel rods. They were pulled in one of the machines. The bottom one stretched but didn’t snap, even under tremendous pressure. The top one snapped.

Steel. STEEL.

These machines aren’t bending steel. They are PULLING it. They’re pulling STEEL. Pulling it. They are PULLING STEEL.

Seriously people. It’s fucking crazy. They used VAST machines. They didn’t just pull it either. That’s just the bit that pops my mind.

They pulled it, they shook it, they whacked it, they jiggered it… There are libraries of carefully catalogued teeth with different purposes. If you thought you had made something solid, mister Kirkaldy was the Scotsman with a big beard who wanted to make it clear to the world that nothing can’t be broken. The timbers of the floor are shored with steel because the testing works was on two levels and the machines weigh enough to make you suet immediately if you’re downstairs. Upstairs you would run a girder through the whole damn building, through a machine but sticking out of bith sides like a spear through a neck. Then machines connected to the hydraulics network beneath the city would respond to you turning a crank and would begin to exert impossible pressure channeled through various pumping twisting banging teeth in order to make sure that things like bridges will last forever. There was a hydraulic network under London providing water for this madness! Now it’s fibre-optic cables. But it used to be high pressure water. For the West end theatres. For the factories. And for the testing works. Ingenuity. Again it’s amazing how completely things have changed in just couple of lifetimes.

Downstairs are the machines that break chains, or screws, or bolts… There’s such an inevitability about these things. You turn a crank and slowly the item is modulated. Turn after turn and the huge gears move. Gear into bigger gear into bigger gear into tooth. Oil slipping and material banging. The unstoppable turning of the handle and the gradual unstoppable result. Crack-a-tack-a-sack-a-kkkkkkkkktttt

Everything has a breaking point. This place finds it, and drily records it. Until you know the most that something can take you can’t give it your full confidence. What a fucked up situation. We just mustn’t do it with people. Even in my limited experience of being an employee in a “normal” job, I’ve witnessed bosses deliberately exploring people’s edges just to see what they can get away with. And this place fucks things up and then turns it into numbers.

I have to try to make it interesting. Breakages. Snapping point. Ping.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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