The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

New Bridge to Lyndesfarne: Chapter 38

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Kevin carefully peeled the metal foil from the top of a bottle of a very fine Islay scotch whisky, and poured a small measure into a rather nice cut-glass tumbler. In fact, he remembered, this glass was the only one of the set that he now had left, the rest either having being chipped in the dishwasher, broken during a party, or just abandoned when he left (or at least had been thrown out by) his ex-wife all those years ago.

He stood up and quietly toasted himself in the mirror, sipping at the peaty spirit and then wincing slightly at the unaccustomed strong taste. He was at home, in the lounge of the Manchester flat. Earlier that evening, he had dug the bottle out of the back of a kitchen cupboard, where he had stashed it ages ago waiting for a special occasion. Well, he thought, flopping on the sofa, this was as close as I can expect to get to such a circumstance.

Bottle of fine Islay Scotch Whisky

The occasion in question was the final sign-off of the design of the New Bridge, meaning that everyone concerned was officially happy to start actually building the thing. He did feel a certain sense of satisfaction, he admitted to himself, of a job well done. This was not the rush of energy experienced when his ideas first start to happen, when the bare bones of the solution begin to emerge, and kick starts the drive, the determination, to make the whole project an actuality.

No, this was altogether a much drier experience. The completion criteria for the New Bridge design were described in huge detail, and every last point had to be addressed. So, ahead of the formal sign-off and go-ahead to start, there were many weeks dedicated to the production of documents and reports, each of which was subjected to a formal and excruciatingly comprehensive review.

This mind-numbing process was amplified by the document tracking process, which seemed to be in place entirely and only to allow the project management (who were not actually producing anything) to nag incessantly when a complex document was delivered even a half-day late. This process also insisted upon equally detailed tracking of the document author's responses to a reviewer's criticisms, leading to the effect known to Kevin as "document ping-pong".

Manchester Office block

The sign-off meeting itself had been immensely tedious. It had taken place in the uninspiring surrounds of the Manchester office, and lasted all day, with the usual breaks for dry sandwiches, stewed coffee and the resulting inevitable comfort breaks. The meeting room had been stuffy and overheated, since the windows did not open and the air-conditioning seemed to be entirely ineffective. Good air conditioning is undetectable, though Kevin, so that the environment is so conducive to effective working that you do not notice the machinery working.

Tweedledum's company, who would be constructing the Mainland side of the bridge, eventually accepted the recommendation to proceed, with Tweedledum himself delaying the proceedings with his usual mixture of bluff and bluster. Peter Brenner, professional old woman and Project Manager, had fretted over details so minor and so open to interpretation as to be almost entirely vacuous.

There had been a similar approach to acceptance from the Lyndesfarne side. Panit also seemed determined to find fault with everything. Kevin had his work cut out to come up with answers to the objections, but his characteristic approach of common-sense answers and occasional brilliance dealt with these issues. The project manager from the Board of Construction, whose name Kevin never had managed to discover, seemed to be engaged in a nit-picking war of attrition with Peter. At least Craz, the Overseer, seemed to be relaxed about the whole thing, being able to give the impression, at least subliminally, that he could build anything.

All-in-all, the meeting had been unparalleled in its tedium and occasional idiocy, and Kevin was hoping to forget it as soon as possible. The whisky might actually help with this, he considered hopefully.

As far as Kevin was concerned, the real design completion - the one which met his own personal satisfaction - had happened quite some time before. This was when he had completed the computer simulations of the bridge's movement under extreme weather conditions.

It was not known widely enough, in Kevin's view, that bridges are mobile structures designed to bend and flex with the wind and weather. It was conventional, these days, to construct elaborate computer-aided design simulations of the behaviour of engineering structures, based on a mathematical model of the forces between each section. This was particularly true of modern bridge designs, which have significant portions stressed in tension, so that the elasticity of the construction materials (especially the high-grade steels frequently used for cables) was a significant factor in the architecture.

So, extreme conditions, for example, storms with heavy rain (adding to the weight) and strong cross-winds (distorting the bridge a long way from its resting state), all contributed to a complex movement which could, if badly designed, lead to the collapse of the entire structure.

The computer model where not always as extreme as that part-floating bridge in New Zealand, where the effect of tides augmented the impact of both rain and winds in causing extremes of movement.

Even so, the graphical images of the bridge flexing under this abnormal load, displayed on the screen of his powerful laptop computer, were entirely compelling. These pictures were slightly specious, since these animated simulations were grossly simplified from the true model, and really little more than computer-generated cartoons. The amount of computer power to perform real simulations was considerable, and required the resources of one of his firm's server farms. Nevertheless, the animations were impressive to watch, and gave Kevin a certain sense of security knowing that his metaphorical baby would stand up to anything that the world - either world - could throw at it.

He had taken special care of the additional complications of the crossing, and different physical rules encountered in the two worlds. He was as confident as he could be that the simulation work would correctly predict the behaviour of the real construction in the cross-over zone, even under extreme stresses. Part of the complex design interplay with Bret was to ensure that the movements of the each half of the bridge would be similar to the other, so that the strain on the central section, where neither set of physical rules could be entirely depended upon, could be designed with precision.

The trouble, Kevin mused, was that these kinds of achievements were difficult to communicate to anyone. It was really rather a lonely position to be in. It was far easier for someone - a layman - to comprehend an actual construction than even the most compelling graphical simulation. However, the real bridge was, in many ways, merely the physical instantiation of something whose existence, in some metaphysical sense, had occurred a long time before.

Still, he considered, I know that the new Lyndesfarne bridge can be built, and that it will stand up for a hundred years, if constructed correctly. In any case, he chuckled to himself, it will be an impressive sight for anyone who can be bothered to stop at look at it properly. Surely, he concluded, after all that work, the actual construction must be plain sailing.

Kevin treated himself to a spot more of the Scotch, then carefully closed the bottle and went to bed.

Kevin's whisky glass

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