Bridge Diary 1.2: Newport
Second entry into Cat’s Bridge Diary. Forgotten what it is all about? See my previous post Bridge Diary 1.1: Infinity for more.
Let us take a moment, a mere minute, to cycle back in time … Back to the red dry air of southern Africa, heated by its glaring industrial expansion. To memories we have no recollection of, to a place we do not know. To the tall scrawny tomcat and his love of bridges. It is said that the beginnings of the tall scrawny tomcat were humble. They were less than humble. They were nothing. Parentless, spotted with youth, alone in a city rapidly growing from glimmering roots of gold and blood, the only thing he had was a will to survive. Survival meant helping tame the unruly branches of the city and being an active part of its steely growth — carefully pruning the decrepit buildings, raking glass leaves, planting new seeds of asphalt and iron. Until the city needed him to stay alive.
Survival meant building his first bridge at the age of sixteen. And this bridge (and all the others that came after it) was his first family. Of all people, he must’ve understood that places, landmarks and constructions all have a soul because he helped give them that soul.
My Bridge Diary continues in memory of a grandfather I wish I had known better. A grandfather — like many grandfathers out there — who had a long life filled with treasured moments and stories that are now buried in the soil of the various countries that he travelled to and loved.
There was no doubting which bridge had to be next in line to be taken apart, rivet by rivet, and turned into words. The Tees Newport Bridge — that red and silver marvel of engineering — was in fact the bridge that started it all. Anyone newly arrived in the North East could easily assume that the Newport bridge must be the most famous historical bridge in the area just by looking at its olympian twin towers, that quaint matchbox house perched in its centre, safeguarding its cold degraded brain matter, and its imposing steel girder structure. Once you get closer, once your toes grip the asphalt of the steel-plated deck, tastefully decorated with bird droppings, an uncontrollable urge grows to clutch those iron wire ropes and to climb those ladders all the way to the top.
It has a certain degree of historical significance — it was the first vertical lift bridge in England, allowing ships to pass through to Stockton, and the heaviest of its kind in the world when it was built in 1933 — yet it will never have the same iconic amplitude as its big brother, the Transporter.
In attempting to capture something of the Newport Bridge’s soul, I was faced with a simple question: what memories are held by this bridge from the people who have lived here all their lives? To access the memories of the bridge, you first have to gain insight into the memories of the people themselves: uncovering recollections of the bridge's construction, of seeing the steel wire ropes and counterweights at work when the bridge used to be lifted regularly, or, even of its previous fishpond green colour — an old sea dinosaur merging into the industrial foliage, the side ladders lining each tower like prickly scales.
Recollections that may never be uncovered. Questions that may never be answered. Like the lost stories and memories of my grandfather, and all other departed souls.