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Bridging the past: Tyneside lives on

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Thanks to PC Harvey and Wm C Harvey (Letters, AJ 12.9.02) for reminding me that the double-decker bridge over the Tyne is the High Level. I didn't know it was designed by Stephenson, so I am even more pleased to be familiar with it. It helps to set the memory straight.

And thanks, too, for reminding me that some things are better left behind, like the coal dust on the washing, blackskinned miners coming home from work, and red-flaming slag on the Consett tips.

I recently re-read The Road to Wigan Pier and no one should be expected to toil down a pit. But thoughts of coal trigger another memory of Dawdon Colliery baths, where a young girl called Dorothy practised her beautiful dives into the warm, pit-heated water which steamed into the cold north-eastern air. Surely it was that coal beach where Carter's rage was avenged and the black waves curled over him.

But since writing about revisiting Tyneside, I have thought more about the significance that buildings and bridges have for me and the meaning we imbue them with. As a therapist, I work with children's drawings and their representations of houses and bridges that can communicate many things.

Some children draw houses that are solid and suggest warmth and certainty and possibilities.

Others draw houses that are less sturdy and with little sense of a thoughtfulness and hope.

Bridges can similarly suggest strong connections and safe passage, or tenuous links and a sense of future bleakness. The High Level was my strong and hopeful passage from one rather dreary side to the other more hopeful and exciting side of the river.

From this perspective, I reflect upon my favourite building of the moment, Tate Modern (pictured), almost as favoured as the High Level. I fell in love with it from the moment I first saw it. I love its huge solidity, its reminder of men working and manufacturing things in a Glasgow steelworks. The hook and chain hanging from the girders is a wonderful echo. The space as you enter gives you time to adjust from the outside world to a calmness full of wonders from Rothkos to Tracey Emin's stains.

A bit like the thoughtful house rich with possibilities. But I like best that it is an industrial building that has become an art centre. Those imposing and Classical buildings that traditionally house art have always felt to me to be the exclusive property of those who understood Classical traditions, and not for people who got dirty or made a mess. For me, Bankside links past and present, conscious and unconscious history, and spans the divide that our class-ridden society wrought on the social landscape.

As I travelled around east London recently, I was heartened that there are still industrial buildings left, not yet replaced by sterile work units. I like that they are reclaimed for other purposes, but the reference to the past matters if we are to have integrated minds and lives.

Heather Geddes, London

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