Happy New Year, Everyone! Here’s hoping we all have a peaceful and prosperous 2014. I can hardly believe we have reached 2014, for it seems like yesterday that everyone was worrying about the so-called ‘millennium bug’. What a waste of effort that was!
And I hope you had a good Christmas. Here’s our Christmas cake, in front of a crèche I bought a few years ago in Poland. It’s most unusual. The figures emerge from rough branches of birch, the bark giving way to the carved upper torsos and heads. I carried it back on the plane on my lap in a carrier bag, and amazingly none of the fine twigs on the tree were broken.
Our Christmas was rather overwhelmed by the final preparations for the unveiling of the memorials to the victims of the Tay Rail Bridge Disaster, due to take place on the 134thanniversary, December 28. All of the organisation and raising of the funding was the work of the Tay Rail Bridge Disaster Memorial Trust, of which David is chairman. One desperate worry was the weather. A series of storms with exceptionally high winds has battered the UK throughout December. Would there be one on The Day? It was, after all, a storm with an exceptionally high wind, funnelled down the Tay between the hills on both sides, that caused the bridge to be blown down (along with other contributory factors). There’s an account of it in my husband’s book, The Fall of the Tay Bridge.
Fortunately, the contractors were able to erect the memorials on both sides of the Tay in intervals between the storms, so that was one worry out of the way, but the planned fireworks, scheduled to take place at 7:15 p.m. in the evening (the time of the accident) from a barge moored to the bridge in the middle of the river, were plagued by problems – so many people to be informed: police, local councils, ambulances, harbour master, coast guards, lifeboat, bridge master, Network Rail, insurance, and on and on. For example, initial estimates for insurance were for thousands, although the display was taking place in the middle of a river! In the end, it cost £250 for £5 million cover. The firework company, Reaction Fireworks based in Durham, however, was splendid.
Then the stewards (required by the council) who had said they would be available, suddenly said they wouldn’t be, with only a few days in hand. Another company was found, but rang us at home in the late afternoon of the 27th saying unless they were paid by the close of business that day, they wouldn’t appear the following day! Payment was being made through the firework company, so David phoned them, only to discover that they were out on the river, in the pitch dark, setting things up, in a howling gale with the river as choppy as the sea. (It’s a very wide estuary here.)
Luckily it was all sorted, the weather calmed down, though it was very cold, and everything went ahead. First the memorials at Wormit Bay on the south side of the river, from which the train had departed, were unveiled at 10:30. You may spot Sir Menzies Campbell amongst the dignitaries. As well as local celebrities, a large number of descendents of the victims took part, and the Wormit Primary School choir sang `Bridge Over Troubled Waters – quite beautifully.
Ceremony at Wormit Bay:
The river from the south:
Then at 12:30 a reception was held at Discovery Point, the exhibition centre for Scott’s Antarctic expedition, next to which his ship Discovery is moored. The ship was built here in Dundee. Guests at the reception were all those taking part, the Trustees and their families, and the choir. After a buffet lunch, the choir sang a medley of Christmas songs.
I felt that the children should be given something, for they had been practising for weeks, so we made up gift bags, each containing a bag of chocolate coins, a fruit bar, and commemorative card. I wanted them to have something permanent, so when the two hundredth anniversary comes along, they’ll be able to tell their grandchildren, ‘I was there.’ I designed the cards, our younger son made them up on his computer and printed them on photo quality card, and David signed them. On the front they show the iconic picture, which is also engraved on the memorials, with text on the back explaining the occasion.
Then at 2:30 on to the memorials on the Dundee (north) side of the river, where once again the descendents were involved as well as local provosts (the Scottish equivalent of mayor). One of the descendents, whose family lost four members, gave a very moving address, drawing attention to how young so many of the victims were, including a number of children.
The choir sang Bridge Over Troubled Waters again, a very emotional moment. As my husband said in his closing remarks, at least we could all feel that now a long-overdue debt had been paid to the victims, for in all these years there has been no memorial to those who died in one of Britain’s worst rail disasters. At the time (1879) it sent shockwaves not just through Britain but around the world, that this engineering triumph, the longest bridge in the world, had collapsed without warning. It undermined confidence in railways and bridge-building.
Engraved on one of the granite slabs:
The ceremony at Riverside, Dundee:
The names of those who died:
The unveiling ceremonies had involved a few hundred people, but it is reckoned that at least 10,000 came down to the river on both sides to watch the fireworks that evening. I tried to take some photographs, but an ordinary camera is not up to the job. However, the local newspaper filmed them and put a video up on YouTube, which you can see here:
Now and then you can glimpse the bridge which replaced the fallen one and was opened in 1887.
Our elder son arrived with his wife and two daughters to stay with us the day after Boxing Day, so they were very much involved with all this. Our younger son, who lives locally, watched the Wormit unveiling with his wife and four children, and also saw the fireworks. Unfortunately, the rest of the family were too far away.
As David has been on the Trust for several years, and chairman for the last couple, a huge amount of the burden has fallen on him, including virtually everything to do with the Reception and the fireworks, and he has been pretty stressed, so it’s a relief it all went off so well, even the fact that, by the time for the fireworks, the wind dropped and the river was a flat calm!
This December has not been a month for serious reading, but there has been some craft work. I finished David’s heavy cabled jersey in time for Christmas:
I made this cobweb-fine scarf for a friend, displayed here on the bust of our eldest daughter:
For the Christmas tree, I crocheted half a dozen snowflakes:
And I’m halfway through a pair of socks for myself:
Our youngest daughter sent me for Christmas a lovely yarn, plus the circular needle and pattern for a cowl. I started it on Boxing Day, finished it three days later, despite all the excitements, and am now wearing it:
In the midst of all this, our girl cat, Tirza, was taking terribly ill with heart and breathing problems on Boxing Day and had to go into intensive care, with oxygen and a drip. The vets though it was all up with her, but she rallied and has come home. The next few weeks will be crucial, so we have to take very great care of her.
Time to make a few New Year’s resolutions, before midnight strikes . . .
Best wishes for the coming year, to you and yours.