Friday, December 23, 2011

Twenty-fifth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Reaching Londinium in eight days, they passed through Aldersgate and pushed through the throngs in the narrow streets to the river. The air was a little better there and they followed the river downstream to the Walbrook. They followed this upstream, around the old Governor’s palace to the bridge that led past the old Temple of Mithras, now a Christian church. The houses pressed in close on them again as they passed the road leading from the forum to the bridge. Finally they reached the outskirts of town and followed the Philpot creek back to the banks of the river Thames. There they found their tower.
The tower was erected on top of an arch that spanned the creek allowing boats to access the wharves inside the walls of the city. The arch was connected to the walls but was clearly built before them. The stones were older, more crooked and the tower in the center of the arch was leaning to the east. The arch itself was impressive and looked solid. It spanned fully forty feet across and rose to a height of thirty feet above the water. Judging by the marks on the walls, Gwilym figured that there was still five feet of tides left to go.
He knew that he couldn’t take his boys up into that dangerous structure so he found himself a nearby inn that would accommodate his family and Fred for the next year. There was a young girl who could look after the twins during the days so he set up a schedule with her. After dinner, he put the boys in her care and Fred and Gwilym went to the building site to meet the team. As they approached the tower they were stopped by a watchman who told them to go upstream to cross the creek, it was too dangerous here.
“My name is Gwilym and this is Fred. We’ve been sent by Sir Kay to rebuild this tower. Can you tell me where to find my team?”
“Roight, sirrah. They’re all assembled and waitin’ fer ye. They’ll be drinkin’ at the Eastcheap tavern. Roight there, sirrah.” He pointed back the way they’d come.
Gwilym and Fred made their way back past their inn to a dingy old tavern. The fireplace was leaking smoke into the place and a dozen men stood around the bar or sat on the few benches. They all looked with curiosity at the newcomers as they entered. “A round of drinks for all the workers on the Byllynsgate tower! Courtesy of King Arthur and Sir Kay! Paid for by your new Project Manager and foreman, Gwilym and Fred!”
A loud cheer greeted this announcement and the men came around to meet the two. The barman poured the drinks and Gwilym raised his in a toast. “Here’s to the safe and successful completion of this tower!” Another cheer erupted and the men drank deeply. 
Lots of questions were asked of the two men, most of which they were able to answer from the charter they’d memorized. Some questions did not have ready answers but Gwilym promised that they would find all the answers tomorrow.
As the evening drew on and some men were making motions to retire for the evening Gwilym called for attention again. “Tomorrow morning we meet here two hours after dawn.” Another cheer. “We will do a little drinking and a lot of planning. We are going to understand this project before we even move one stone. And we’re going to waste no time, moving stones all over the place.” Yet another cheer from the men, which seemed to confirm to Gwilym that they were experienced in the kind of messed up projects that he was trying to avoid. “See you all then.”
At dawn the next morning, Gwilym and Fred inspected the tower and surrounding land to make broad plans, such as what they needed to move first, where they would store the materials and where they would place the arch supports. Then they went to the tavern, paid the man in advance for the food and drink that he would provide, and set up some wood planks on the benches to make a broad table. Then Gwilym placed a bag full of smooth wood shingles, each about 3-inches square, in the center of this table. Next to this, he placed a quill in a bottle of ink.
The men started drifting in and Gwilym invited them to break their fast. He asked that they drink more water than ale, because he wanted their minds sharp for this planning session. He asked each man to introduce himself and name his skill. Gwilym wrote this information on a scroll, checking off skills present with the skills he needed based on his previous estimates. When the team was all assembled he asked if there were any more sawyers. One carpenter said he could bring a friend the next day to add to the team. Gwilym smiled and asked him to please do so.
“Gentlemen,” began Gwilym, eliciting a laugh from these rough working men. “Allow me to read to you the royal charter for this project, written by Sir Kay and signed by the High King himself, King Arthur.” This quieted the men and brought some murmurs of approval from the men as he unrolled the impressive scroll. Gwilym read the charter out loud to the men repeating certain areas twice to emphasize points.
“So now that we know what we’re doing and where and why and who will do it, we are going to determine how we are going to do it.”
Gwilym reached for the bag of small shingles, drew a rough sketch of a finished tower on the first using the ink, and placed this in the middle of the top of the bench. “This is the goal of the project. A finished tower.” He looked at the men for evidence of their understanding and received nodding heads in response.
“Now to get to a finished tower, we need to do six things. First we need to support the old bridge.” He drew a supported arch and placed this on the left of the table, slightly below the level of the previous shingle. “Then we must remove the old tower.” He drew a bridge missing a tower and placed this about a foot to the right of the previous shingle. “Then we need to remove the bridge.” He drew an empty creek channel still containing arch supports and placed this shingle a foot to the right of the last one.
“Next we build a new supported arch, a completed tower and finally remove these supports.” He drew pictures on three more shingles and distributed these to the right of the previous three, revealing the structure shown below.

“So this is the structure of how we are going to rebuild this tower.” The men surrounding Gwilym nodded in agreement and looked at each other with impressed looks on their faces. A few of the older men rolled their eyes as if to say, ‘Wow, he’s really spelling it out for us like we’re idiots.’
“If we are in agreement with the basic structure, let’s get into more detail.” Gwilym started making quick drawings or using simple, easily understood pictures to lay out the steps below the drawing of the arch missing the tower.
“While some of us clear out some space east of the tower, I will be numbering each of the stones on the existing tower so that we can put them back the way they were. Then we take the tower down in layers and place these layers next to each other in the order they came off, with the stones in the same position they held in the tower. We throw away any wood inside, it’s all rotten now.” He had laid out five shingles, all clearly understood, below the second shingle. “This is called Decomposition,” he said to his team.
“Meanwhile, one of us can be
buying wood for the arch supports,” he drew a pile of lumber and placed this under the second shingle, “and they may as well be buying wood for the new arch at the same time.” He placed an identical shingle under the fourth shingle. This act shocked many of the men while the wisecracking veterans stopped clowning and watched carefully.
“Also, we’ll need to let the boat captains who use this stream know that they either need to find other docks or stay in the wharf all winter while we support the arch.” He placed a picture of a man approaching a boat under the first shingle. The men all laughed at this, picturing irate boat owners trying to reach the river. Gwilym looked around, saw the approving looks, and realized that he had the men now. He continued describing and laying out shingles in their appropriate places.
The table soon looked like this:

“Now, if I were a tyrant, I’d tell you to do exactly what this says and we’d get to work. But I’m no tyrant. I value your experience. What have I forgotten? What did I get wrong? What is done in the wrong order? What could be done better? I want all your input now so that we don’t have to redo our work later.”
The men were hesitant to begin with but, following the veterans, they all gave their input within their own specialties. The sawyer told Gwilym that they needed different wood for arch supports because they would be half submerged. The lead mason told Gwilym that they may be able to reuse the old foundations; saving lots of time and that he could assess that as they were reaching the end of the demolition. Others questioned placing the stones in layers as there was probably not enough room so they agreed to place two layers on top of each other.
In this fashion the men worked together, moving shingles, replacing them, adding others until they all seemed satisfied. Then Gwilym asked them this question: “See that tower on the top of this Work Breakdown Structure? If we do all the work below, will we end up with that tower, the way the charter wants it?”
The men thought for a while and one of the younger men said, hesitantly, “No. The charter says we need roads leading to both sides of it. I don’t see any roads in this…structure.”
Gwilym clapped the man on the shoulder and shouted, “Good work, Charlie! Where should we place the road shingles in this structure?”
Charlie was pleased by the confidence of the older man. He swelled up with pride, thought for a while and said, “We need to build the road foundations early on since we’ll need them to move the tower stones to the empty land. But they’ll get destroyed over the winter with all the moving around we’ll be doing. So we’ll need to add more rock as the winter progresses and we’ll have to finish it off last thing. He drew some crude road drawings on three shingles and placed them under the first, second and last shingle.
Once everyone seemed satisfied, Gwilym again looked at the men and asked the same question: “If we do all the work below, will we end up with that tower, the way the charter wants it?” The men thought carefully and then, one by one, looked at Gwilym and nodded.
“A round of ale, barkeep!” shouted Gwilym. “We have cause to celebrate. Now we know WHAT we’re doing, WHY and WHERE and finally HOW we will build this tower! We’ll eat our dinner and start work.”
After the men ate, Gwilym set the men to work. “You carpenters figure out how much wood we need for the arch supports and the tower and go order it. You masons inspect the existing stone and order enough to replace the broken ones. You three clear some space for placing the old tower and the rest of you, start clearing a road.”
Gwilym and Fred transcribed the Work Breakdown Structure onto a scroll. Then they went out, Fred supervising the men while Gwilym painted numbers and letters on the existing tower stones in preparation for the orderly demolition.

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

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