I am spinning slowly on my thread of survival. Harnessed to a rope, I am descending 360 feet away from the iris of light above my head and down under the Hill into Golconda.
On the surface, shivering with cold, or something else, I'd photographed the mine research team disappear into this impossible man hole, a vertical door to a strange world I had no real knowledge of. I was in full denial that I was going through that breath stealing door too. I just kept on photographing on the surface of the Hill, in the light, it's what I do. There was only myself, the winch operator, and Andrew our expert guide, left on the surface. Lucy, Hill's poet, has gone down ahead, smiling through gritted teeth.
Now I am very alive, as I drop into the darkness and begin to spin slowly. My adrenalin has told be to breathe and has woken me from my denial daze and my mind watches, oh so very carefully, my descent with a survivors alertness. My head torch lights the chisel marks of the miners who dug this impossible hole. How? When? I wonder and spin slowly. There are rough candle niches in the walls that would have given a little light on their descent to this other world, old and rotten bits of wooden ladder, a platform and a tunnel leading away into that deep darkness. I move my head to see these clues of human industry and I spin again because of this small movement, my body bangs into the stone walls that hold these secrets. I am not cold now and I spin and drop and look and smell. It smells very old, primeval, metallic wet in my dry mouth.
I hear voices below me now and the shaft opens out into a larger chamber. My feet touch the earth, 360 feet under the Hill. I am to learn that this was the easy bit.
I'm crouched under the belly of this Beast, like a cowardly knight, waiting for it to wake up and devour me whole. But this Leviathan slumbers on, only the skill of the engineering team will wake it up, the conveyer belt had busted that morning, just before my first visit to Longcliffe Quarry.
I am kneeling in the limestone dust under the conveyer, it's so fine, like volcanic ash. Around me work half a dozen quarry workers, they've been sent to shovel out this stone powder while the beast slumbers. One, troglodyte like, is kneeling in the semi dark, it's awkward to shovel like that I think, but he gives me time and talks to me and laughs a bit. This technical malfunction is good for me, I can get up close and get some good working shots.
I climb now upwards along the metal spine and into the belly, following my guide, who works with the blasting team. This is where the conveyer is being fixed, the engineer works quickly, they're losing time and money. Sparks fly out, new rivets glow like polished gems in this dark centre. It's a strange environment, metallic and alien to me, I photograph quickly and get my shot, the engineer shrouded in his protective gear, doesn't hear me leave as metal grinds on metal. Light floods his workplace briefly as I step out from the dark.
This is a fragmented landscape, stripped bare to its ancient layers. My eyes time travel down through this Hill, the siren calls out, then a rumble, deep and primitive echoes through my chest. The layers fold and crumble in front of me, dust rolls like waves from the blast and the Hill gives us its limestone treasure for toothpaste and a thousand other things we want and need.