Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rain, rain, go away ...

Fed up by being forced indoors day in and day out by rain and grey clouds, I walked down to the Lower Ouseburn on an errand; I didn't take my camera. The new build at Portland Road was noisily continuing; a great high metal box in which to house more students. La Gabbia, an Italian restaurant hidden away on the side road to Stepney Bank has closed down. The students who have moved into the surrounding halls of residence are mostly Chinese. That fact and the recession might explain why. A new antiques and 'vintage' place has opened next to the car repair workshop. Further on, I looked at the railway bridge for any sign that the work is coming to an end. None. Work on restoring the bridge has been going on for over a year now. A workman sauntering across the road did not seem the 'approachable type' so I didn't stop to ask when. It has been so long now I have almost forgotten what the bridge looks like.

The East Coast Mainline Byker Bridge 
before being shrouded (2011)

Many walls of buildings on the Lower Ouseburn road covered with black curlicue graffiti. "California [something]" was a favourite motif judging by the number of times it had been applied to walls and doors. The restored house, a lone survivor from the heyday of this industrialised valley in the 19th century, standing alone and as yet unoccupied on its corner spot, has been graffitied as well; one or two of the 'art' kind applied to a shutted doorway and a window. A pair of Bullfinches flew over the road. A mother gave up encouraging her toddler son to follow and carried him to her car.

A new (to me) building has gone up next to the Ouseburn facing the city road bridge. In keeping with trends, this one has a bespoke name – The Toffee Factory. Was there ever one such here? By the lead works? Factory is somehow oddly inappropriate. Not oddly enough? To my eye this building isn't exactly offensive. There are somethings I like, principally the brickwork, which uses a modern (expensive) rusticated brick type that suits the situation. But large flat  coloured panels in baby sick green have been applied on the upper parts facing the main road. About as restful as a poke in the eye. Below, on the Ouseburn level, fronting the building is one of those car parks and 'hard garden' areas with stainless steel tubes for traffic bollards and slippery-at-all-times 'marble' steps, finished off with handrails and Scandinavian wood and tubular stainless steel benches arranged with views over the narrow and still stubbornly muddy Ouseburn. It has super safe 'corporate culture' written all over it. The skyline to the west, the city horizon punctuated still by spires, that too reflects the consolidation of corporate architecture; even distant Gateshead College across the Tyne peeping out from behind the soulless Jury's Inn hotel, looks like a business centre; maybe that's what it is.

Yet, by walking a few yards back into the Valley comes a welcome view of dereliction: A fragment of a standing brick wall encasing a piece of old pipe, left behind for some forgotten reason; a sprawling patchwork of cement of different ages forming a hard standing, invaded now by buddleia and ruderals. A bird chirped from the rank stream side vegetation beyond the undeveloped wasteland that was the reason for the over budget Lower Ouseburn barrage and for a moment I though of Reed Buntings; impossible here. The Lower Ouseburn remains then, for while longer, a mixture of wreck and opportunism.

I walked up the steep hill to Byker past the scrap yard gates, a marvel of neglect, past the battlements of the Byker Wall, that, contrariwise, as it deteriorates further, unlike most things, is actually less and less interesting. Glimpsed inside the infamous fish-paste and chocolate camouflage pattern walls. What an dismal place, a failed 'people's project' indeed. Shambolic, it ought to come down as once the Council bravely proposed. It is, of course, Listed and lauded to the skies by distant architectural authorities. I suppose the test of any such building is, would its supporter's live there? Well, would they?

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