As a child, I remember waking in the dark from a long backseat journey to the sound of tyres on wood. At least I know now what that sound was. A rhythmic reassuring thuddening, awakening in the thought that an adventure was about to happen and soon we would be home. Those two thoughts still so strong in me.
The Aust Ferry.
An adventure in the dark, once, cold wind blowing in the door, men’s voices in the night time, the black waters of the river swirling about us as big engines roared and we drifted out and hard from the lights. A vague anxiousness that I couldn’t get out of the car. A desire to get out and see and feel the wind, yet the pleasure and safety of my floating cocoon. Another time in memory daylight and the great H’s of the bridge had been erected and a section of roadway advancing like a huge plank from one side. It was raining and the water splashed over the side of the ferry. When I later heard about the Jumblies I imagined the sieve as something like the vessel that got us across the river and home before the bridge was built, before the motorway got there. That saved us the long journey past gloomy Gloucester warehouses and the match factory gates. England’s Glory was there. For me it was the interminable back seat journey, the consequences of a storm or missed tides.
Years later we went back to the spot made famous by Bob Dylan but already flash memoried for me, the sound of tyres on wood, men’s voices, still resonating in my childhood ears.
The Severn Bridge
A twilight adventure last week to walk the bridge at sunset and to see the full moon, a blue moon, rising. Maybe in search of England’s Glory. To walk easily and without challenge from one nation to another as the government rhetoric gets nastier and the refugees more desperate in the camps at Calais. The stunning and beautiful structure I had seen built, still majestic at a distance but creaking and clanking close up. Maybe it always made such noises, after all I had never walked over it. The viewing pavilion, an elegant motorway services, from which we had viewed the bridge and once picnicked at years ago, sold off and closed to the public. The remaining public space without a view of bridge or river, colonised by fast food tax dodgers. A Radio 3 Proms Shostakovich symphony prepared me for an admiration of the engineering, but I was told stories of decay, heaters in the cables to dry out the rain that gets in, a bridge barely bearing its modern load. Huge juggernauts trundle across, indifferent to the flex and grate of metal that follows them. Memories literally littered the verges.
We walked into the sunset gathering the flung found notes, litter discarded or treasures lost and blown away or already typed up safe, memories of a drink damaged colonial past and a dreamy farm home in England in small inky capital letters. For which I find myself custodian.
We looked down dark holes to the river below, the sunset receded to pink and gold as we approached. The Black Mountains silhouetted deep blue and black. I tried to catch a glimpse of the ferry slipway, I saw its carcass, the skeleton of memory and the sound of tyres on heavy wood slats echoed deep inside. In the middle of the river we stopped, the cable curve dipped to meet us and hold us, safely, above the dark and swirling high tide waters. In the distance the lights of a nuclear power station spun my thoughts to energy and tsunami.
The moon was rising behind us and when we reached Wales and turned we walked into its shine. The moon rose between the great H on the far side of the bridge behind a lattice of cables. At last it broke free and shined on us, momentarily it was huge and bathed the bridge in its cold light. The street lights resumed their ascendancy. We walked towards England back across the bridge, over the now falling waters and again I thought about others trying to get into England, walking under the water or hidden in a truck. Angry and sad.
On the England side a decaying sign bade us welcome. In the dark a bramble snagged me in the face. I have still to read the memory notes I found. Englands Glory.
At the end of the walk we assembled quietly on the bank of the river as the tide turned and the river began to flow again towards the sea. We collected out thoughts and reflected on the 8 days, remembering each one.
In the heat in the pub garden I showed and described a series of items into a cardboard container. Enumerating the thoughts each had triggered on my walk:
Dried blue flowers from the beginning, seeds at the finish.
Items returned with love and memories for the next time.
- A sprig of blue flowers from the sea wall at Bradwell, picked on the day our river pilgrimage began, their blue contrasting with the flag we walked between them.
- A Mercedes badge resembling the Dengie windmills near where it was found, into the container with ruminations on this icon of conspicuous consumption
- A spare coat button once in a small torn plastic bag found on the path, for my mum who further humiliated me when I lost a primary school playground fight.
- An Apple ‘paperclip’ found on the ground out at the antiques emporium and b&b at Battlesbridge with amusement and irony on the location, and with respect to the equipment I am using
- A 1988 2p piece found on the ground at the North Fambridge station rendezvous for love and community arts in Swindon
- 2 cockle shells from a beach of shells bounded by the sea wall for the sea, Aphrodite and ancient pilgrims
- Last, a baby conker found in the shade at the park by the river for the sun, shade, children’s poems and The Box of Crabs
All contained in a sortlifeout tube stuffed tightly with screwed up pages of the Daily Mail July 3 2015
Cast into an ebbing tide on the River Crouch at Hullbridge on Saturday 4 July. The end of the walk.