I had completed my photographic challenge. Finding a rainbow flag had been a simple matter. But a challenge is not the end of an adventure. Not necessarily. And I had some time to spare before having to be at a meeting that I subsequently walked out of, unable to cope. I was presented with a choice: Go and eat some lunch or go and see something I have never seen before.
The latter choice won. In finding the rainbow flag I found myself close to the Redheugh Bridge. Counting from the sea this is the seventh bridge over the Tyne and the last to cross from central Newcastle. I realised that while I had crossed it before by car and bus I'd never crossed on foot. That needed to be remedied.
The centre of the bridge has this plaque to commemorate its opening, 33 years ago.
The plaque says "New Redheugh" and indeed it is. The bridge is actually the third Redheugh. You can still see on the Gateshead side of the Tyne where the second Redheugh bridge began. For those who like numbers, the main span of the bridge is 160 metres long and the road is 26 metres and 6 centimetres above the mean water level.
From the walkway you can look down the Tyne and see some of the other bridges. In view here are the King Edward railway bridge, with a train to London, the excitingly named Metro Bridge, Tyne Bridge, and just about visible is the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.
Unfortunately there isn't a walkway on the other side of the bridge. Or perhaps it's fortunate because it there had been I'd have probably walked back across it and then missed out on a walk along the river.
From Redheugh it's easy to cut down paths to get to the riverside.
Sometimes I have to feel sorry for the pictures on structures. This poor cat! The grime oozing down onto it from the bridge was not pleasant.
Down towards the water. A couple of massive rivets from a previous structure, sadly uglified with graffiti. A bit of ugly tagging. And possibly the worst spray painting of a band's name in the history of spray painting. I'm sure Johnny Marr would be thrilled to know someone had made such a mess of this thing by adding the name of his old band. (sarcasm!)
I will let many of the photos speak for themselves.
I was happy to pass more rivets. These ones not spoiled by unthinking people with spray cans.
And so the walk led under the King Edward Bridge.
In the distance, beyond Redheugh, you can see Dunston Staithes. It was there that ships would be loaded with coal. A railway rain along the top of the staithes for unloading goods trains straight into ships. Today it's a bit ruinous having suffered a couple of fires but there are moves to restore the structure which is still promoted as the largest wooden structure in the world - a claim which certainly used to be true but which is doubtful now.
And so the walk led under the Metro Bridge. A few days before I had photographed this bridge from above while out meeting a challenge to photograph a white dog.
The riverside at Gateshead includes a sculpture trail. I was pleased to see a few of the sculptures on my walk - a walk which was more hurried than I liked due to having to be at that meeting. I was realising again on the walk a little more of who I am. Being out with a camera, with plants and with interesting things to discover, was filling me with life inside. Even though it was cold. Even though it had started to rain. Even though I was tired from fighting off a cold for so long. Being there was giving me life. And I had a meeting to get to. In an old office block. In a room with horribly noisy strip lighting. It was a meeting about something I think is important.
But I couldn't cope with it. My autistic symptoms were hitting me in such a way that I couldn't focus past the lights and the noise and into following the conversation round the table and my verbal processing skills had dropped to zero. In the hour before I walked out I had managed to take in pretty much nothing. There must surely be a way for a meeting of autistic people to be designed (in this case by the NTs in charge) so that not everything has to be through vocalised words. There was nothing written - or drawn. And in that environment writing things down yourself or using some form of AAC would be impossible. All of which means that many autistic people - including myself on that occasion -would automatically be excluded from meaningful participation in the group for autistic people. I don't at this time have a solution to that.
In any case, I had already decided to withdraw from some things I had agreed to be involved with. For my own sanity. For my own well-being. And so I can focus my limited energies on exploring and building which I need to explore and build. It would still be nice to be a part of things. But certainly not the part that I was walking towards.
When I am out, I notice the same thing over and over again. I am someone who belongs outside more often than I allow myself to be. I am someone who craves natural light and natural darkness. Someone who needs nature. Someone whose brain needs - desperately needs - to unwind in a place with connection to earth and sky. I'd felt it very clearly the previous day on a cliff top. And the feeling was even clear on a path by the river in Gateshead.
Give me the outside. Give me nature. Give me exploration. Give me silly challenges! Give me a camera on my phone. And give me a chance to write. There are other things that lift me of course. But for now I need to focus myself on that exploration, taking photos, and writing. Perhaps other creative forms too. Maybe it will lead to big things. Maybe it won't. Maybe it will eventually lead to an income. Maybe it won't. That doesn't matter. It really doesn't.
It's not as if I would ever get an income by applying for normal jobs and attending interviews. Who the heck would employ me on the basis of an application form? And even if they interviewed me, who the heck would employ me on the basis of my near inability to function in an interview situation? I won't be gainfully employed through "normal" routes. Perhaps I won't ever receive financial recompense for my writing or my pictures. But I won't be financially worse off by focusing my energies into these things for which I am discovering a passion and purpose.
And even if someone did magically employ me in a normal job role I am pretty sure I wouldn't last for long in it. Because my functioning is so variable. I wouldn't cope for long. Such is my disability. I just can't do these things. It's taken me a very long time to be able to start to accept that and it's only really since receiving this autism diagnosis that I've been able to begin to come to terms with the fact that with all the good will in the world and with all the self help books and training courses available there are just some things I can't do. And some of the things I can't do are things that most people take for granted. I now know that I have a disability for life. And all those things for which I felt shame and guilt on account of not being able to do? Shame is gradually being replaced with acceptance.
That's not the end though. Yes, there are things I will never be able to do. There are things I will only be able to do sometimes. But it doesn't mean that I am a useless shit - a name I used to call myself a lot. It means I am different. Not less. There are things I can do. There are passions I can have. Even these things I might not be able to do consistently. I haven't quite accepted that yet. I can write - with a solid gifting if not any skill as yet. I can point a camera at things - with a solid gifting if not any skill. And there are other gifts then. All part of the me who I am learning to accept, embrace, and allow to escape and thrive.
That was quite a detour from the path by the river. I did indeed see a few of the sculptures. They are not all the most obvious things in the world. These animals for instance are raised up above the path and it was only by chance I spotted them. These goats were crafted by Sally Matthews in 1992.
The arch is easier to see. Because it's so big.
Then there's this. It's just about visible from the path above, hidden among the trees. Anyone passing is likely to miss it. Even if they know that sculptures exist in the riverside park.
Climbing down the bank to it was a challenge - covered in leaf litter so it was difficult to see if the steep slope was actually safe to put a foot on. But I was very glad to have made the effort. This cone, by Andy Goldsworthy, is pretty lush. I understand that this four metre pile of steel plate is on the site of a foundry.
Climbing up the bank gave an opportunity to take a picture of a fungus. One of the joys of this time of year is fungi. Friends have posted their fungi pictures online and some of them are absolutely gorgeous.
And so back to Newcastle. Over the High Bridge. In a hurry. I had spent too long and didn't want to be late for that meeting.
Just time to snap one photo, looking back in the direction of Redheugh Bridge.
So that's what I found in Gateshead. A distant land and one to which I would not be returning. At least not until the next day. My challenge had been to take a photo of a rainbow flag. I'd done that. Five minutes after getting off the Metro.
But that wasn't really my challenge was it?
My true challenge was to live.
My true challenge was to allow myself to live. To truly live.
I think that, at least for a while, I had succeeded.