How We Used To Live

I went to Middlesbrough yesterday (Saturday). I took the train from Whitby as I had made a slight miscalculation about bus times. As it happened it was a nice journey, as always, and much more civilised than the knackered buses that shuttle people back and forth down the coast, helped by the fact that it ran pretty much on time, I could get a comfortable table seat and I wasn’t surrounded by pizza-faced bellends who wanted to share their questionable taste in what is not so much music but some tit playing with ProTools, AutoTune and designing the most brain-dead oscilloscope output imaginable.

That is all by the by, as it happens. I got of the train in Middlesbrough to be greeted by bright sunshine, even though it was a touch chilly. I made up my mind to do something I had done for a while: turn left out of the station instead of right, and head of down Albert Road toward the river. and the Grand Old Lady of the Tees, the Transporter Bridge.

It’s not far, actually, just a few hundred yards from the town centre. And in those few hundred yards is pretty much the story of the town. Most of the area is pretty much derelict now. There are lots of hoardings proclaiming a ‘new beginning’ for Middlehaven, but precious little sign of it, other than the new Middlesbrough College building a bit further downriver. Bleak ain’t the word; well, it is actually. Bleak is exactly the word to describe this place. Barely thirty years ago this place was buzzing. There were docks, shipyards, industry. And a culture to go with it.

But it’s not like that now of course. It was destroyed in w wanton act of socio-economic vandalism. But the bridge is a reminder of that past. A past that built things, made things, sent things across the world, stamped Made In Middlesbrough. But look at that bridge; it’s beautiful. And bigger than you’d expect. It towers over the riverside and arcs gracefully over the river itself. And perhaps it’s why the town is rightly proud of it, to the bemusement of others, I suspect.

As I stood there I could hear the odd, desultory clank in the distance as some of the few engineering facilities left (mostly for the offshore industry over on the Port Clarence side of the river) did their work. Mixed in with this was the soft whirring sound of the winding gear for the bridge gondola intermittently toing and froing across from time to time.

I stayed for about 45 minutes, just gazing at it, and wondering how it came to be that the industry that built this was left to die. As you walk back up into town you see beautiful old buildings, left to ruin because there’s nothing to do with them. One of the roads you pass is the road entrance to the college that prepares the town’s young for an ever more uncertain economic future, down a newly built boulevard. On the wall is an excerpt from the work of a local poet, Ian Horn:

Where alchemists were born below Cleveland Hills.
A giant blue dragonfly across the Tees reminds us every night.
We built the world, every metropolis came from Ironopolis.

True, but it didn’t stop the furnaces being switched off the day before I stood and looked at that bridge, did it?

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