Extract from Is: Chapter 8

"The great tunnel at Box. It's on a 1 in 100 incline. Box," she added, seeing I was still confused, "is a place."

"Of course it is." I said, trying to make out I knew all the time.

"It's near Bath."

"Oh, right."

"It's nearly two miles long, eight times the length of the Thames tunnel. And, when it was finished, Box tunnel was the longest tunnel ever built. It took over two and a half years to build."

"Slow workers were they?"

"I'm being serious, Robert." And she was. When Is was like this, she was in no mood for jokes or sarcasm.

"The men had to dig it with picks and shovels and blast through the rock with gunpowder. They got through a ton of gunpowder and a ton of candles every week."

"What did they need all the candles for?"

"To see by of course. The whole tunnel was built by candlelight - that's all they had. At one point towards the end there were 4000 men and 300 horses labouring night and day on it to complete it on time."

"And it was?" I asked.

"What?"

"Completed on time?"

"Oh, yes,” she said with what seemed like real pride in her voice, "in June 1841. But the most amazing thing of all about it is that, on the 9th of April - if you look from the west end at dawn - you can actually see the sun rising through the tunnel!"

"Really? How?"

"The tunnel is aligned exactly with the position the sun will rise that day. It's the only day of the year that it does that. Isn't that amazing?"

"Well yes, but I don't understand what's so special about April the 9th?"

"It's my birthday."

"No it's not. You told me your birthday is September 15th."

"Isambard's birthday. You know what I mean.

 

'Is' by Derek Webb is published by Troll Carnival and available from your local bookshop as well as from Amazon  Waterstones or Gwales