Monday, March 28, 2011

City of Bridges

I cannot think of a city which has the number and variety of bridges that Newcastle has. If you do, please write to me.

The city is actually built on a gorge, disguised by building now. Transecting this ravine gorge are other deep cut river valleys, hereabouts called 'denes'. One of these is the Ouseburn dene, partly covered over by Victorian planners but still an obstacle to road and rail. The Lower Ouseburn has some wonderful bridges; one, the 19th century marvel of railway building is being given a complete life enhancement. Serious work has begun to tackle this mammoth task. Speaking to a workman I discovered the timetable is no less than fourteen months.

Presently, work is under way to prepare the site. Heavy equipment will have to be deployed and the structure has to be replaced like for like since it is officially listed Grade II. Apart from that badge of national recognition it also carries the vital London to Edinburgh rail link. Traffic is continuous. The bridge will have to remain open for business throughout.

A new exercise and training yard has been constructed away from the bridge for use by the Stepney Bank riding school. Spring has also sprung so it will be interesting to see what effect the works has on wild life. I disturbed a Sparrowhawk from a tree beside the bridge so the outlook seems good – so far.

Wandering about (and abiding by the rules and not infringing the site boundary) I went on via Stepney Bank.

I like Stepney Bank. To me it has precisely the features I have remarked on more than once on this blog; informal, flexible spaces of a variety of interests and businesses. It is neither precious or self consciously 'arty'; graphic designers sit in offices next to garage repair businesses and a stables survives half way up. At the top of the 'bank' (rise), where this 19th century street dipping down to the Tyne, meets a busy and anonymous arterial road, the feeling of alienation common to such suburban spaces is thwarted by the robust bulk of a traditional British public house that might have brought a beaming smile to the face of G.K. Chesterton.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Waiting in the wings

Either the weather or my spirits have been wrong and some planned excursions have yet to take place; others are shaping in my mind. I have several points to raise, issues on which to muse.

Meanwhile George Shaw, painter, has an exhibition of his work on at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art ("The Sly and Unseen Day").

George Shaw. From "The Sly and Unseen Day"

Shaw's work reminds me of Philip Larkin's poetry. Larkin wrote from his adopted Hull and conjures up the flatness and bleakness of that region well, mirroring it's fading purpose (the nearby Humber Bridge, so vast, was described as "the bridge to nowhere") within his own private life and the desperation of internalised disappointment so typical of his finest poetry.

Shaw makes a similar journey through the post war housing estates of his native Coventry (before Hitler, as fine a medieval city as any on the Continent). He depopulates his world, leaving few traces of human activity above the menial: A bus stop, a dog shit bin, scrawled and scratched graffiti behind an abandoned working men's club are the few signs of life; the once fashionable blank walls and Bauhaus Light new town architecture re-cycled in minimalist images painted, as all his work is, in enamel paint, supposedly meant for model makers. Yet, there are some memorable things in the show, even if, in nearly forty works (by my estimate) the sun appears once only directly and once by reflection. Otherwise the Coventry weather is all pewter coloured skies and wet concrete. If that sounds dreary, it is the same dreary one finds in Bergman films or Chekov's plays. Haunting.