There is a bridge.
It is a perfectly normal bridge: a few hefty steel beams, upon which sit a couple of brick walls, which themselves contain a substantial mound of earth. And all this spans an insignificant stretch of water, barely twelve feet wide, that you would hesitate to describe as a river.
Neither is the bridge architecturally significant, or particularly eye-catching. You wouldn’t say it is beautiful. And yet … it is beautiful – in its own way – for the simple fact that it does precisely what it was designed to do.
All that earth remains exactly where it was put. Even more impressively, the earth cradles fragments of memory of the railway that once passed across it. The sleepers are no longer there, but the path carved through the trees remains. Here, in this small corner of one of North Staffordshire’s many fields, sits a bridge over which a branch line once thundered.
Each morning I walk the dog past this bridge, I find myself drawn to gaze at it. Were it not for the public footpath across the field, I wouldn’t even know the bridge exists. It sits in the middle of privately owned land, unburdened by what it once proudly carried.
That bridge is someone’s work, I say to Chloe the Springer Spaniel. She ignores me and chases rabbits. She – like most people, I suspect – doesn’t care that the entire length of the branch line was only 4 miles, mainly used to transport coal to the line connecting Stoke and Derby. She doesn’t care for what is essentially a relic of a bygone age.
Oddly, however, I find myself caring.
I find myself wondering whether the person who designed it went on to achieve greater things. Was this bridge a mere stepping stone to some grander project? Or does it stand as a monument to the pinnacle of an unfulfilled career?
The wheels of industry relied on the skill and engineering nous that went into the design. I wonder if the designer revelled in the responsibility and took pride in their job, or whether they did their calculations while drunk? Most likely the truth is somewhere in the middle: there is some water and a train needs to cross it. All in a day’s work.
A means exists, probably, to find out at least something about who drew up the design. But I don’t want to find out, for it is better fun to wonder and imagine. However important and useful the bridge was when built, now it is simply a piece of the landscape, under-utilised and shorn of its true purpose by the relentless march of Progress.
Whatever the truth may be, I look at that bridge and see a metaphor for my work on this blog. I see a strange physical representation of this Fruitless Work. These sentences that I craft from our noble language: what will their legacy be? Are they destined to propel me to greater things, or might they exist only as a whisper of the heights I could have reached? Will they remain rooted in this corner of the internet, forever destined to be a part of the overgrown digital landscape?
Am I drunk as I write this?
Perhaps I am! Perhaps that is why I am foolish enough to believe I can control the fate of my work. I pour my heart into these sentences, and maybe I care too much (if such a thing is possible). And yet that engineer might have poured his heart into his drawing, and out of his control the bridge now stands as nothing more than an under-appreciated physical permanence.
In that context, would it be so bad – would it be so fruitless – if this writing achieves nothing other than inspiring a person who randomly happens across it in 50 years time? The very possibility is strangely intoxicating…