THREE BRIDGES: A Trilogy

PART THREE – The Queensferry Crossing

The Queensferry Crossing stands imperiously in the Firth of Forth.

Its steel glistens in the early afternoon autumnal sun. Beams traverse diagonally from the peak of the structure. Taught, resolute; like the springs of some gargantuan musical instrument. Above all the bridge looks clean. Fresh. Polished. Confident. Revelling in its beauty as it soars above the still waters below. On its left, through its arches, peek the rooftops, the chimneys, the roads of Central Scotland sprawling into the distance. To its right, the Ochils creep into view. The hilltops, despite all their grandeur, still seemingly diminished beneath the presence of the nation’s newest bridge. The most picturesque of all picturesque postcard scenes.

Suddenly the waters below start to ripple. No yachts, boats, cruise ships edge into view offering an explanation for this apparent anomaly. The absence of any semblance of a breeze further fails to provide reasoning. The ripples increase, gaining strength, ferocity. Until they become part of vicious, swirling, thrashing whirlpool, water sent shooting in all directions. A violent, foreboding contrast to the calm and measured authority of the bridge towering above.

And then the waters part, sliced open, as the head of a monstrous creature bursts into view. The full size, all the sheer brutality, of this enormous creature jerkily thrusts out of the water as it roars, fiercely, deafeningly, shattering the silence of the surrounding area. A komodo dragon. A huge, gigantic, colossal komodo dragon. It stands on its hind legs. Its head and upper reaches towering above the road level of the bridge, almost scaling the height of the bridge’s arches. It lets out another jaw-tingling roar, showering the trembling bridge with a multitude of discoloured saliva. And then it bites down. Sawing through the centre of the bridge with its teeth, sending a collection of cars spinning violently towards the water below. It bites down again, simultaneously thrashing at the structure with its arms, roaring all the while. The bridge creaks. And starts to give away. Its two ends slowly begin to cave, gradually sliding toward the waves, the steel buckling as it descends. A vision of horror. Chaotic, nightmarish, and yet somehow a tad unrealistic. The two ends of the bridge splash into the river, disappearing swiftly into the depths. The bridge ripped from the horizon. Gone. Destroyed. The gargantuan komodo dragon roars once more, its head thrust triumphantly towards the skies.

 

‘Annnnnnd…cut! That’ll do! Looks good!’

Aaron Charlie McArthur, locally celebrated B-Movie writer and director, plays out a small self-congratulatory drum beat on the surface of the desk with his fingers, smiles briefly, before spinning to the other side of the small electronics-heavy room in his revolving chair, away from the computer and the image of the now bridge-less Forth river.

‘Yes that should do it I would say. Wouldn’t you agree Johnny?’ he takes off his shades with one hand and runs the other through his flowing blonde hair. He looks at his heavily-bearded and just-as-heavily stomached friend, and co-producer, who sits hunched over a mixing desk.

‘Well…I suppose so…it’s just…’

‘Yep,’ interrupts Aaron, ‘I think that’s officially a wrap on Giant Komodo Dragon 6: A Bridge Too Far!

‘Whatever aye,’ sighs Johnny, ‘only…na, forget it…’

‘Oh come on now young Jonathan. There’s no dictators in this film company. We can all, the both of us, be honest with one another can’t we. I’m all ears. Unless it’s your nonsense about ‘why does it have to be the bridge’ again?’

‘Well…’ hesitates Johnny, ‘it’s just…well, it’s only just bloody up. It’s only been open for a few weeks. Maybe a month or so. Can we not give it a bit of time before we tear the bugger down? Even if it is only film. Just seems a bit…what’s the world…opportunistic maybe? Obvious.’

‘Look, oh co-producer of mine,’ answers Aaron, hopping up from his chair in a casual, even arrogant, manner, before pacing the floor, ‘I’ll explain this one final time and then we can move on with our lives ok? Hmm? Ok. It’s a metaphor. A metaphor for today’s society. For fads. The brevity of interest. The komodo dragon represents our attention spans in today’s society. Understand now?’

‘Erm…no, if I’m honest.’

‘Look,’ sighs Aaron, ‘it’s a metaphor alright. A big bloody 50 foot monstrously ugly metaphor for…society…for commercialism…for…Ah fuck it…look…’ his arrogant, poised façade seems to drop from his face, his assured posture dissipates, ‘…it’s just a shitey B-movie. Ok? It’s a big bastard monster movie with barely passable graphics and a storyline that would barely pass a Standard Grade English exam. But it sells. As you know. Ok?’

‘Aye but why the bridge? Why not the Falkirk Wheel? Or the Kelpies maybe? Or just anything close to that neck of the woods to be honest. Bastards that they are. Why something from Fife? Why our most recent mechanical marvel?’

‘Because. It. Sells. The bridge will sell. Christ, the tourists are still flocking to the thing a month later, clogging up the bloody traffic! If we get in now we might even shift something approaching treble figures.’

‘Aye, fair enough.’

‘And of course there’s the family connection aswell.’

‘Family connection?’

‘Yeah. I’ve told you this before. My great great great great…eh…great, I think, Grandad worked on the Forth Bridge when that was being built. He’s the one my middle name is taken from. Bit of a superstar in the family y’know.’

‘Ah right aye, I mind you telling me that come to think of it. Impressive.’

‘Indeed. And my Grandad. Well. He has a less illustrious connection to the Road Bridge. He, erm, he was the first one to breakdown on the bridge…’

‘Really?’ laughs Johnny.

‘Well…not so much breakdown as…well he stopped his car on the middle of the bridge and…well he thought the bridge was about to fall down or…you know, it’s not something we like talking about. Mainly because people react like you and laugh at the poor bastard. Forget it, forget it. Anyway my point is it will sell.’

‘Fair enough Aaron, fair enough’ comes the retort as Johnny takes his glasses off to wipe the tears of laughter from his eyes.

‘Right anyway,’ announces Aaron putting his sunglasses back on, quickly followed by the familiar hand-through-the-hair move, his strut, his swagger, returning, ‘we’d better make a start on Giant Komodo Dragon 7. I’m liking that Falkirk idea by the way. Yes. Yes indeed.’

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Growing

‘Puts me in mind of a pepper’, he said, peering through narrow glasses perched halfway down his long, angular nose. He continued to view the plant from all angles before straightening his bent body and peering around the small room.

‘No tomatoes?’, he enquired.

‘I keep them in the Grow House, over by the wall’, nodding in the general direction of the cheap, plastic contraption sitting at a jaunty angle by the south-facing wall. ‘It’s far sunnier there and they seem to do better.’

His eyebrows arched in exaggerated surprise. He then nodded sagely, but with obvious disbelief, mumbling about the cost of a greenhouse, it not being positioned in the sunniest spot in the garden, and it not being used for growing tomatoes. And then, adding how I had far too much money to waste.

‘And this little table and chairs?

‘It’s so we can come out of an evening, sit in the warmth and have a glass of wine’, I smiled. ‘It’s a nice place to relax and see the garden without shivering in the cold.’

He shuffled in a circle to get a better view of the garden through the glass walls but stumbled. I caught him and rested him on one of the chairs as he started coughing, placing his stick to one side. ‘Just as well I had them’, I quipped. He ignored me and started fumbling in his pockets, wheezing heavily.

Pulling out a battered packet of cigarettes he paused, looked up at me and asked, ‘This is outdoors isn’t it?’

For anyone else I’d have said obviously not, but for him I said, ‘yes dad, this is outside’, and heard those words echo in the small, half-empty glass house as I stared down at an empty chair, imagining the smell of tobacco in the air.

***

In memory of William McDermid, 19th June 1922 to 30th August 1998. He’d have loved a greenhouse xx

DadFixBike

THREE BRIDGES: A Trilogy

PART TWO – The Forth Road Bridge

‘Look…’

‘…what is it?’ sighs Ally, a note of resentment flavouring his tone.

‘Another train. That’s the fourth train that’s sped across the rail bridge since we’ve been stuck in this bloody queue of traffic!’

‘Sandra, just…how many times…we knew it would be busy. It’s the official opening. Ok? There’s nothing we can do about it stuck here is there!?’

‘I said ‘let’s get a train to Edinburgh, that way we can actually see the bridge from the window’ but no, no, no. My state-of-the-art husband has to have a play with his brand spanking new car and actually drive us across the bloody thing! Thanks…darling!’

Ally, one hand gripping the steering wheel, uses the other to caress his clean-shaven chin. It feels rough, sterile. The aftermath of a hurried shave with a blunt, rusting razor. The touch grates against his palm, a cold shiver sent sneaking down his spine.

‘Listen, Sandra, ‘darling’…this is….this is a once…A once…this is a once in a…once in a life…WILL YOU’S SHUT UP FOR GOODNESS SAKE!?’ he turns his head as he lambasts his three sons, aged 9, 6 and 4, squeezed into the back of the car, ‘I can barely hear myself talk, let alone think!’

‘But we’re bored Dad! We’ve been here for ages!’ answers the oldest, Ian, appointing himself spokesperson for the sibling trio.

‘It doesn’t mean you have to scream the bloody car down does it!?’

‘Oh don’t take it out on them Ally for god’s sake! It’s your fault we’re stuck here staring at the same bit of bridge we’ve been staring at for the last two hours or so!’

‘Why didn’t we just get a ferry Dad?’ asks Simon, the middle of the three boys, a mischievous smirk cradling his words as they land, as intended, directly in the middle of his father’s volatile temper.

‘Because, as I’ve told you all a bloody dozen times already, the ferry service has stopped now! Ok?! Because we have this lovely new bridge that lets you get across the river quicker than the ferry ever did!’

‘…but Dad the ferry was usually much quicker than this…’

‘Simon!! I swear to God!’

‘Sorry Dad…’

Simon smiles to himself, stifling a laugh behind the knuckles of his hand now pressed against his face. He nudges Ian who, in turn, nudges back, desperately fighting his own battle to stave off laughter. In the front passenger seat Sandra smiles slyly to herself, proud that her hand-me-down wind-up technique is displaying itself so well in her middle son’s personality. Only the youngest, 4 year old Michael, fails to laugh. Instead he stares in wide-eyed wonder out the car window at the beautiful, glistening red steel of the Forth Bridge shining back at him from just along the Forth. He mentally sizes up the drop from the bridge to the water below, imagining the trajectory of various pennies that he has thrown out of train carriage windows with his Mum and Dad over the previous couple of years or so. He wonders if he could swim down there to collect all the lost pennies. And if he could, how many ice-cream cones he would be able to buy with the takings.

‘Ah, at least Michael isn’t making fun of his Dad anyway’ announces Ally, peering into his rear-view mirror, ‘some bridge the Forth Bridge isn’t it, son?’

‘What Dad…?’ answers Michael drowsily, suddenly torn from the comfort of his own thoughts.

‘I said it’s some bridge isn’t it?’

‘What bridge Dad?’

‘The…for goodness sake…the big bloody red thing you’ve been staring out the window at for the past hour! The Forth Bridge!’

‘Ally, calm down for God’s sake!’ snaps Sandra.

‘Oh, yes Dad. Sorry.’

‘Have I told you all about your Great Grandad Charlie and how he helped build the bridge all those years ago? Hmm?’

‘Only about two million times…’ mutters Sandra under her breath.

‘Yes Dad’ the three boys chorus as one. Their answer falling on deaf ears however as their father gets set to hurl himself headlong into the story of his Grandad Charlie and how he single-handedly built the great Forth Bridge.

‘Yes, he was there at the start in 1882 when they started building the thing…so what was that, 80…82…yes, 82 years ago. Took eight years to build you know. A couple of years longer than this one. Your Great Grandad never liked to talk about it though…’

‘Unlike some folk!’ Sandra smiles to herself as the words form in her mind.

‘Lost a lot of friends building that bridge. About 70 or so altogether. Some fell, some drowned, others were hit by falling objects and…’

‘Ally, for god’s sake, keep it light. Christ almighty!’

‘It’s history Sandra, the boys need to know their history. Now, do you know how they built it, well…’

‘Look Dad, look we’re moving!’ declares Ian as the car in front does indeed start to move forward towards the bridge.

‘Ah, so we are!’ answers Ally as he shifts the car into gear and gently presses down on the accelerator. He finds the time to shoot Sandra a smug glance of triumph. She sighs.

‘Yes big victory for you Alasdair, dear. It’s only taken us two hours to travel about one mile or so. Outstanding.’

‘Well boys, here we go, we’re just about to roll onto the brand new Forth Road Bridge for the first time ever! Excited?’

‘murmur…yeah…murmur..suppose…’ comes the gargled response.

‘Just you all wait. Give it a few months and all traffic and queues will virtually disappear! No more queuing for ferries or at that Kincardine Bridge. No. Queues will be a thing of the past. You’ll see. And your sons and Grandsons. They’ll benefit. We all will. It’ll all be plain sailing from here on in.’

‘Ok Ally, dial it down a touch’ teases Sandra, a slight smile betraying her tone as she peers up at the vast arch edging gradually towards them. The boys follow suit, jostling for position in the back to see past the driver and passenger seats and out the front window.

‘Oh, you’ve no sense of joy Sandra, that’s your trouble. Some achievement though isn’t it?’

‘Yeah…I must admit. It really is something…’

TH-DUNK

‘Ahh!’ chime all five of them as one.

‘What the hell was that!?’ gasps Sandra.

‘Christ knows!’ barks Ally as he rapidly scans all mirrors, searching for any sign of damage to his car, spying the worried faces of his sons as he flashes a look at the rear-view mirror. ‘It sounded like something falling off the car! It’s still driving fine though!?’

‘I can’t see anything behind us’ says Sandra as she hunches down to check her passenger-side wing mirror. ‘Nothing appears to have…’

TH-DUNK

‘Ahh!’ another collective family shout erupts throughout the car.

‘Dad, what’s wrong with the car?’ asks Simon timidly.

‘I don’t know!’

‘Or is it the bridge Dad? What’s wrong with it?’ adds Ian.

‘I don’t know!!’

‘Yeah, what’s wrong with it Dad?’ echoes Michael.

‘I don’t know! Ok?! I don’t know!!’

‘Ally, get us off this bloody bridge! NOW!’

‘I’m trying Sandra! Believe me, I’m bloody trying!’ he answers hurriedly as he presses his foot down on the accelerator, his hands trembling on the steering wheel.

TH-DUNK

Itch

You asked me (straight)
to write a rhyme
about an itch I could not scratch.
I told you (straight)
I spent no time
writing of such things;
only feelings of love,
or hate.

Though inside my mind I have an itch
which signs its name as ‘dark’.
It tells me I stink (I scratch)
wrong things to think (I scratch)
leaves no visible mark as I scratch
and as I stretch and reach for it, it moves,
dangling love in my face
and laughs loudly at my fate.

THREE BRIDGES: A Trilogy

PART ONE – The Forth Bridge

‘Some sight though, isn’t it Charlie?’

‘Aye, it is right enough Davey.’

The two construction workers sit side by side staring up at the towering structure above them. A huge, sprawling arch, one of three straddled across the Firth of Forth, a collective engineering marvel, peers down at them. An intricate, labyrinthine display of steel. A bridge mid-construction. The conjoining cantilever segments yet to be built, the three arches of the soon-to-be Forth Bridge stand disparate across the river, like a trio of giants splashing through the waves.

‘How long hiv we been at this noo, Charlie?’

Charlie takes a drag of his hand-rolled cigarette, puffing out a small cloud of smoke into the dewy early morning.

‘Wit…six, seven years noo maybe? Haud on, we started it when…1882? Aye, it wis. ’82. So aye, that’s six years we’ve been going fur…’ he bookends his comments with a tobacco-laden cough.

‘Christ. That lang?’

‘Aye, it will be.’ Charlie hands the cigarette to Davey who accepts it with a gracious nod. The former takes off his flat cap and batters it against his leg, liberating layers of dust and flecks of grime as they cascade slowly to the ground.

‘Still…it is badly needed efter all. That ferry service kin only take a handful o folk oer the river at a time. A train’ll carry dozens, hunners even at a time.’

‘Aye.’

‘And it’ll look spectacular. The brawest o all the bridges.’

‘True,’ answers Charlie, leaning over to retrieve his cigarette, ‘but who’ll get the credit I ask ye? No us, that’s for sure. No the hunners o men that have given their blood and sweat for this bridge. Naw. That’ll go tae the architects, the designers. Aye, just wait, however many years doon the line, we’ll be aw but forgotten I bet ye.’

‘Ach you’re maybe right Charlie but how many folk can say they’ve worked on something as grand as this? Eh? Ye wid rather be daein this than be stuck doon a bloody mineshaft wouldn’t ye?’

‘Well…’ begins Charlie before his words are drowned out by a clanging cacophony of hammer-on-steel echoes. He takes a final drag of his cigarette before tossing it towards the water caressing the coastal wall yards from them. ‘That’ll be break time oer then.’

‘Naw naw Charlie boy, the gaffer’s nowhere near here. We’ve still got a few minutes. You’ve a lot tae learn aboot the working life. A young man in his twenties. Ye still think everything has tae be done now. Right away. Learn tae enjoy life young man. Relax a bit. Take yer time. Take in the beautiful views around ye.’ Charlie smiles gently and stares up toward the cloudless sky.

‘Ye mean,’ retorts Charlie, ‘be a lazy shite like yersel aye?’

‘Well, in so many words, aye.’

The two of them laugh. An easy, knowing laugh. The kind constructed and cultivated over several years of working alongside one another, practised and tested before a common sense of humour is finally found.

‘Right, anyway, we’d better get back to it’ adds Davey as he leans down to pick up his toolbag.

‘Aye,’

Charlie starts to do likewise before both are stopped in their tracks by a desperate scream cutting through the air. The scream in turn is cut short by a sickening thud that reaches far down into the pit of the stomach of every listener. Work on the structure immediately ceases, the hammers falling silent. Charlie winces, his eyes closing briefly, a sigh trickles out of him.

‘Not again’ he says wearily.

Davey bursts instinctively into action, dropping his tools, and heads at speed towards where the scream originated from as the brief silence is suddenly ruptured by the panicked shouts and orders from a crowd of assembling workers. Tiny specs of humanity descending from the uppermost beams, others scrambling along the lower areas of the structure. All attempting to reach their unfortunate fellow worker.

‘It’s like a bloody graveyard this place’ mutters Charlie to himself as he slowly begins to walk in the same direction as his co-workers.

As he moves closer he notices several of them take off their caps in unison, holding them against their waist. His heart sinks. The weight of resigned expectation failing to temper the familiar feeling of devastation. He spots Davey who in turn spots Charlie. The former looks at him and shakes his head slowly.

Charlie follows suit and takes his cap off as he continues to trudge forward, looking up at the mass of steel once more, majestic yet eerie in the mid-morning silence.

No Dummy

Sale Picture

Each night I wait until the lights go out, until the doors are locked and they go home. Only then can I leave my spot on the settee and make my nightly trip to the lingerie department. It’s a tough job but someone has to keep the models happy. I just hope I remember to put my clothes back on tomorrow morning!!!!!!

Trees

If trees could talk

what would they say?

Sitting high on the hill,

with views of the bay

 

Old and wise

generations have passed by

branches stretching out

towards the sky

 

Wind pushes and pulls

the tree every which way

here we stand and marvel

at the tree every day.