Brian Monteith: How can we build a bridge between the past and the future?

FilmingThe 39 Steps on the Forth Bridge in 1958. Star Kenneth Moore can be seen pointing on the right.

FilmingThe 39 Steps on the Forth Bridge in 1958. Star Kenneth Moore can be seen pointing on the right.

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Possibly my earliest memory is of going across the Forth Bridge when my grandma took me on a day trip to Arbroath, where many of her family were from.

I can easily recall that bag of Oddfellows that we ate on the journey north, pulled by a steam train. I could have been no more than four, but probably younger.

Alan Stubbs oversaw a shocking run of defeats at Rotherham. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

Alan Stubbs oversaw a shocking run of defeats at Rotherham. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

We threw coins out of the window of the carriage as we crossed the bridge, ha’pennies no doubt. A thru’penny bit was still worth something back then.

I retained a special fascination with the Forth Bridge, and any other railway bridge for that matter, because my grandfather was, at the time, a British Railways bridge inspector and the beautiful red structure was in his domain.

Similarly I can recall crossing the Forth using the old rather small car ferries before the first Forth Road Bridge was opened in 1964. The long queues of cars stretching up the hill to Dalmeny, while they waited to be taken on board was probably the first traffic jam I ever saw.

These simple influences were to stay with me, from becoming a trainspotter in my adolescent years (before I discovered girls, natch) to visiting Queensferry (North and South) just to take photographs, drink at the Hawes Inn and then get the last train home, or sail between the two piers in a friend’s dinghy.

Taking the train to Aberdour or Kinghorn beaches on Victoria Day was always a pleasure and if I was given the choice of driving or using the train across the bridge, I would normally opt for the latter.

Watching, as a kid, Robert Donat and Kenneth More starring in their two cinematic versions of The 39 Steps as John Buchan’s Richard Hannay, simply enhanced the romance of the iconic structure.

The scene when they escape the grasp of the law by pulling the emergency cord as the train crosses the bridge was never in the book, but I’m glad Hitchcock added it to his adventurous interpretation.

So with all of this attachment towards the Forth Bridge I was delighted to see that it was voted in a poll to be recognised as Scotland’s greatest man-made wonder – and then puzzled just a week later a different poll found that only 54 per cent of the public recognised the bridge.

The UK survey of British engineering landmarks had been conducted to help draw attention to the need for engineers – 90,000 a year for the next five years – but exposed not just an ignorance of our built heritage but a basic lack of geography.

My grandfather never trained to be a bridge engineer, he started out as a blacksmith and ended up in the railways and progressed from there.

I wish the universities and colleges success with finding willing recruits, but it is going to take a complete cultural shift away from studying arts degrees if it is to be achieved.

Pearl of Africa coming out of its shell

As I write today’s column I am finishing up my two week’s work in Kampala, Uganda.

I have worked in many difficult regions, including some in other parts of Africa, but I have nothing except good things to say about Uganda. As always, the people are a delight, and they are very proud of their country. Rightly so, if they can improve their roads then, sitting on the north bank of Lake Victoria, I would say there is strong tourism potential.

The local produce is good and plentiful, it is not called the Pearl of Africa for nothing. I hope they go for a trade deal with the UK when we leave the EU. Again I found fewer beggars in African streets where there is genuine poverty than I do in Edinburgh city centre. People are keener here to sell you something as you are stuck in a traffic jam – from trainers to loo brushes or framed prints – than come up to your car with their hands cupped. They do have potholes to trump Edinburgh, though, and that’s saying something.

After a very difficult period in the seventies and early eighties Uganda still has its problems but it has come a long way since, and I expect in time it will be seen as an African success story.

I’ll always wish Alan Stubbs well

I’m sorry to see that Alan Stubbs is out on his ear at Rotherham United Football Club. Stubbsy had a shocking run of defeats and won only one game out of 14 so they have parted company as the team now faces relegation.

I thought he was daft to take that job after winning the Cup with Hibs, but I’m sure had his own reasons.

I can only wish him well as one of the “team” that helped me see the Hibees lift that Cup and bring smiles to so many Edinburgh faces.

Force is out of touch in Police State Scotland

I see the grumbling is mounting about the centralised Police Scotland, or as I prefer to call it, Police State Scotland, for being out of touch with local communities.

Merger was a rushed SNP policy built on the idea of saving money but it hasn’t delivered the savings and now real cuts in the service are being made.

There was nothing wrong with Lothian and Borders Police that could not be sorted – but there was lots wrong with Strathclyde Police that required it to be broken up into smaller units.

All the evidence showed the smaller forces had better clear-up rates and community support – now we have Strathclyde police running Scotland.

You can always trust politicians to make something worse by trying to fix it.