In England's far northeast there is a river. Its waters are calm, not pristine but not particularly befouled; the air is silent. From heart to mouth there is little traffic upon it: perhaps a little patrol boat nosing around, or a massive tanker that sleeps in its dock. Someone, at some moment, might be fishing along its banks. It is far removed from the crowded, noisy, money-spinning concentration of madness that is London and England's southeast: in the cold, the wet and the wind of what one Conservative MP recently disdained as the 'desolate north'.
Keep opinions like that out of the earshot of the thousands of ghosts on this river, or their still-living descendents: for the heritage of that region still defines their identities, their fears and their hopes to this day. This river, as they know it, is the river that made them who they are, a river of life and of death, teeming with ships – trade vessels, tankers, battleships of the royal fleet, birthed in its never-sleeping docks and set forth upon the waves, or ploughing in from or out to the sea, a maritime network connecting this region inextricably to the world. A river that was once one of Europe's mightiest industrial heartlands, whose people broke their backs to contribute to their society, and endured, in turn, far more than their fair share of its injustices and pains. Its story is a paradox of pride and sorrow, its waters a reflection of some of England's bitterest struggles of sustainability, of development and of peace, throughout the past and to this day. It is – of course – the River Tyne.
|The former Baltic flour mills, now a museum of contemporary art.|