I really need a sketch from Peter. A bridge twenty-three miles long is hard to visualise, best to catch him at the John Bull with a drink. Eugenio has heard the news. Peter Pajaro is flying away, Peter is ave de paso said with his habitual broad smile, but really he is sorry. Bird people still meet at his pub, but when one bird takes flight the rest will soon follow. I call him a silly old bugger and get a pint of local plonk. Beer is not me, but I want to capture Peter so I'll have what he has.

A Bridge too Far

He was not part of the design team, but the idea of an additional deck for walkers and cyclists came from his support group. Factored in, the idea became an additional flourish to the general proposal. And there's something gleefully boyish about sailing on dry land, if a layman in hitherto unexplored territory can visualise land yachts racing to Calais, rounding the buoy and racing back.

"They may call me in when they've got a problem but really I'm finished. Twenty-three miles is not a bad walk before dinner - land yachts my arse!"

"Peter, when I was a youth with a bicycle we used to have 'twenty-fives' sort of time-trial events. 'Twenty-threes' on your bridge would be great, no hold ups with traffic or big policemen with notebooks."

"I remember 'twenty-fives.' I used to have Cycling magazine. Our hold ups will be resonance from the shrouded turbines, eels and pilchards will get confused, beached whales will be lining the coast in panic. Think what that will mean. Unshrouded turbines will be quieter but less efficient."

"Unshrouded turbines?"

I can't get all of this, most of it is beyond me. At school the nearest I got to maths was logs and anti-logs, supported by the myth that Isosceles was the inventor of the triangle. Like a monkey's uncle I listen to him: tidal turbines are the same as wind turbines except that moving water is over 800 times more dense than air which means tidal turbines can generate useful power at slack water where the air turbine in calm conditions would simply stop turning. A shrouded turbine is cowled to create a Venturi effect, which provides increased flow velocity through the turbine to generate four times more power than an unshrouded turbine. A tidal site spanning twenty miles of the English Channel will produce hundreds of megawatts of energy. He gives me an estimated product but I can't recall it.

He's going on about the seismic hazard of girder bridges, dampers and actuators; and cable-supported bridges and their problems with flutter and corrosion causing strands of cable to snap apart like on the Severn Bridge. "Yes really! No, it's pre-stressed concrete, Alan. There's nothing pretty about this bridge, it stands like a pier against the sea. It says 'Look at me, I stand forever!'"

The Channel Bridge says 'Look at me, I stand forever!'

He seems reluctant to draw a sketch for me. Obviously official drawings are kept closely guarded for there are competitors in the Big Bridge field; he mentions one: "Fluid Dynamics are pretty big and we don't want them pinching our stuff."

"Our stuff." He speaks as if he still belongs in there. The likelihood is that his lengthy absences back home may have had something to do with bridges, a secret subject he never mentioned before - so why is he talking about it now? But he draws a sketch in pencil so that I can erase obvious errors and I can add brief descriptions. I chat to cover my concern. There is something quite flamboyant in the way he dismisses competitors, as if to say 'What the hell does it matter now!' Does Shirley know that he can't see well enough even to write descriptive notes? Of course she must know. So why is she going home first for Peter needs an escort, dammit? I feel there is something crashingly final just around the corner. But we are not pushy people. We must just wait and see.

The shape of things to come. This massive structure was to cross the English Channel at its narrowest point where tidal flows are strongest and masses of electricity would be generated, a renewable source for ever and ever Amen! I am not surprised Peter is tightly held by the concept, hiding behind geological research with his tilt chambers and his birding books. He has done some work on boundary clays and published some stuff that he doesn't want to talk about - stuff he regards as insignificant. But, unheralded and un-noted, his work for Span Structural Concepts PLC is now part of engineering strategy to be revived in years to come.

"It's bound to happen," he says. "Somebody somewhere will get a grip on long span bridging and tidal generators. It's our dead-scared government - the longest-running farce in the West End! The cretins won't touch it. Anyway I don't think I'll be part of it Alan mate. I'm seventy early next."

"Good God! Are you really?"

Not like Peter to wax lyrical - 'Look at me, I stand forever!' Now I hear that Maeve has taken Peter by the ear, stormed at him for disregarding Shirley's distress, their children to meet her at Gatwick - "I mean, really!" And with Shirley safely out of reach Peter will deal with the last items of removal. Now the revised plan is that Shirley and Peter will return together. We have to look inside for the dynamics of behaviour for Peter is not fit to travel alone; it partly covers the reason why Shirley never liked pictures being taken of her, a privacy tactfully accepted though not specifically enjoined, for if the local press get the story the Uffingtons may be exposed in print. Therefore a better mode of ending is a final swift cut allowing both ends of the reel to curl away unexposed before Tenerife's sprinkling of Indian traders could leave her at risk. "I told them; Say nothing, just go!" says Maeve briefly. "Some Indian families have strange customs. But she's English! I always thought of her as English." Maeve, the widow of Chief Petty Officer Catchpole, prefers things shipshape and Bristol fashion. "Shirley is a chemist. She can always find work," is her final cheesing off.

We appreciate Maeve's intervention, for alarm bells were ringing in our ears. What if Peter wanted a private scenario to end his life in peace? That deep and desperate need to end life strives to hide its purpose behind a smile and a nod. Since Maya the goose lady we've got suicide on the brain! Lizzie in tears suggested that Shirley wanted to give Peter the opportunity to end a life condemned to blindness in the way he preferred. We should not guard him closely, hinder his passage by being irritatingly close at hand. We just mustn't do that. Our friendship would become too awkward to tolerate comfortably. We must stand and whistle in the dark waiting for the end.

We never get to the bottom of it. If Maeve knows. she's not saying. Now they are gone and we have the iron horse and cart to remember them by. And a postcard, typical Oxford scene, to say all is well. Peter seeing a specialist, looking for a house, shopping is expensive, weather sunny for November. Keep in touch. Love to all. Pete and Shirl.

<< Previously: The Iron Horse

Next: The Bridge (large image) >>
Next: The Bridge (text version) >>

Cristimar home page

Return to home page

Click here to return to Alan Mann's home page

     Text & paintings © Alan Mann 2006 - 2009