Sunday, April 19, 2015

Padlocks on the Bridge

The voice of reason in my head told me that there would probably be no poetry meeting at the Sunset Café on Saturday.  A fire earlier on in the week has seen many of the city centre roads closed off.  I had done too many three point turns at various “Road Closed” signs during the week but I was hopeful that the smoking embers had been made safe.

A different voice, the whip wielding one, the one that reminds me of my obligations, persuaded me to go “just in case.” I spent an hour or two in the afternoon hunting down poems – some of my own, and others that had been steered in my direction by other poem lovers.

The road closures forced me to park in a supermarket car park on the other side of the river.  The city’s river defence system is being updated.  The council has started building a wall along the river so that when the water rises from tides, the spring thaw or a downpour of rain that lasts for weeks, the houses along the river will not be flooded.  My husband used to live beside the river and was issued with sandbags every year. 

I walked across the footbridge – a suspension bridge my mum called The Wobbly Bridge.  I don’t know whether it is wise to cross the bridge when one is inebriated.  Staying upright when one is sober is a challenge enough.  It’s not so bad if one has the bridge to oneself but when there are others and the younger generation insist on bouncing at every step.  For those of us plagued with travel sickness it adds another difficult dimension.

I should have listened to the voice of reason.  There was a notice on the door of the Sunset Café announcing it was closed till the end of the month.

Making my way across the bridge I noticed the padlocks.  There weren’t a lot of them, a dozen or two perhaps.  Names were scrawled on them in black marker.

My first thought was that perhaps someone had jumped off the Greig Street Bridge committing suicide.  It wasn’t unheard of, although the water isn’t really that deep and the drop isn’t that steep.  There are better bridges around if death is your intention.  Just like people put flowers by the roadside when someone dies in an accident I thought the padlocks might have been something similar. 

My second thought was about bikes – a bizarre idea that someone, or lots of people had padlocked their bikes to the bridge and someone else had come along with a steel cutter and stolen the bikes. I told you it was bizarre. 

One of the padlocks was different.  All the others were padlocks that any hardware store would sell.  Names were written in black marker.  The different one was not plain steel with black marker, but white with hearts stamped on black and red all over.  I was back to my first idea and thought that it must have been a close friend.  I didn’t remember an article in the local paper about anyone launching themselves from the bridge.

I googled padlocks and bridges and all became clear.

Apparently, lovers leave behind a “calling card” in places that they visit – padlocks on bridges with their names written on them. The Greig Street Bridge is not the best example though it may be early days yet.  There are other places in Paris or in Venice where the padlocks are in their hundreds and thousands and elbowing other padlocks for space. Every so often some city man comes along with his steel cutter and removes them all much like someone at the Western Wall in Jerusalem cleans the crevices of all the prayers and petitions written on scraps of paper and a new wave occurs.

What happens when the couple fall out of love? Do they return to the bridge with their steel cutter and remove the padlock solemnly tossing it into the river below? Or do they just leave it there perpetuating a lie? And just how many padlocks does it take to affect the safety of the bridge?

In Paris the city’s culture secretary Bruno Julliard, is hoping to find “artistic, unifying and ecological alternatives” to the love locks and has called for artists from around the world to suggest “a place or a piece of art that would welcome all these love locks.”

In New York the love locks have attracted the attention of the Open Organisation of Lockpickers who have lock picking events and practise their craft. The locks are carefully removed and put somewhere safe so that at a later date they can be used in a permanent display. 

Some people support the romance behind the love locks.  I am not “some people”. Some people might suggest I am sour because I don’t have a padlock declaring my love for my husband.  To those people I say they must look at the life my husband and I live together.  We demonstrate our love in a myriad of ways.  We cook each other meals, we iron each other’s clothes, I nudge him when he falls asleep in church and is about to start snoring, he tells me I have toothpaste on my lip…

A padlock on a bridge is no indicator of tried and tested love.

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