As part of my forthcoming consultancy website, I’m working on some blog pieces for it. A version of this will eventually appear on that.
As you’ll see from the main page and my business cards, I’ve chosen a picture of the rail bridge that spans the river between Fife and Edinburgh as a main image for the consultancy. Why? Well, there are a few reasons.
Known locally as the Forth Bridge, not to be confused with either the 1964 Forth Road Bridge or its 2017 replacement the Queensferry Crossing, the rail bridge is, of course, an iconic structure with UNESCO World Heritage Structure. It makes a bonny picture. But that’s not why I made it a key image on this site.
Why then? One reason is it symbolises the bridge between my childhood home and the city where I studied: much of my professional and personal life has involved shuttling over it in one direction or another. Although the express bus from Glenrothes is often the more practical way for me to get to Edinburgh, there’s still something magical about being on a train crossing the rail bridge, the diagonals of the structure forming red brush strokes on your carriage window.
In April 2004, as part of the Fife Council team representing Fife’s interests at the Public Inquiry on Edinburgh’s congestion charge, I was taking the train over for the Inquiry’s first day when I saw what I reckoned to be a good omen. As the train drew into North Queensferry Station, the last stop in Fife before the Bridge, I saw the writer Iain Banks – a North Queensferry local – buying his morning paper at the station. Neither of us saw each other – I knew him slightly by then – but still.
In Banks’s 1986 novel The Bridge, the Forth Bridge turns into a fantastical city state for a man in a coma after a car crash on the Road Bridge. The coma patient’s alter ego is a stranger in a strange land. The Bridge hosts a byzantine, unknowable society that seems to acknowledge it lives on a bridge, and yet remains strangely lacking in curiosity about what lies beyond it. The narrator is eventually compelled to find a way to escape, only to find himself in a war zone when he does. The Bridge symbolises many things for Banks in the novel: an interim state between consciousness and unconsciousness; a mid point between the narrator’s former life and his post-coma future; and, perhaps, the kind of safe space we all retreat to at times of trauma.
Then, of course, there’s the story of the Forth Bridge’s construction. It was built in the shadow of the Tay Bridge disaster, when an inadequately designed rail bridge connecting Fife and Dundee failed during a storm, sending a train and its passengers to their deaths in the river below. As a result, Archibald Arrol’s design for the Forth was – if anything – over-engineered, and has withstood everything the sometimes ferocious Scottish weather has thrown at it since.
The Forth Bridge, then, symbolises resilience, and building something with the benefit of experience. Even the old saying about an endless task being ‘like painting the Forth Bridge,’ in other words no sooner reaching one end of it than having to start again, has resonance for me: how many times in any job do you have to do that? In most lines of work, and in any organisation, the care and maintenance of the underlying structure, seeing projects to the end, is inevitably a cycle.
I suppose at this point I should say something more about the connection with my consultancy. So here goes: the kind of work I do, the experience I bring, can be about bridging a gap for clients, whether that’s a knowledge or skills gap, or simply a distance an organisation has to travel before it can create its own structure without outside help.
And, of course, it really does take a bonny picture.