PART TWO – The Forth Road Bridge
‘…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!’
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…’
‘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…’
‘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.