Thursday, 11 November 2010

An Ugly Sky.

Here at Other Aberdeen, we're naturally in favour of public transport for a town the size of ours. And, in common with a great many, we mourn the passing of the trams. Not that we were around when the trams were running - we're not that old! So it's a sort of vicarious nostalgia that we have for this most electrically-driven form of sustainable zero-emission transport (notwithstanding the remaining filthy sources of grid electricity).

And there we have to check ourselves. Regular readers know that we are suspicious of that sort of "ooh, it's not like the old days" nostalgia that wants to turn back the clock. We most certainly do not want to turn back the clock, and the difficulties which we in Scotland seem to have in delivering big-ticket infrastructure projects shouldn't be dismissed. The Edinburgh trams project has significant problems; we await with interest the final outcome and doubtlessly public enquiry into the cost and time overruns, specification variations and all the rest. It's disappointing.

But what really troubled us was sight of this photo which we came across online:

Look at the web of powerlines above the road and pavement. What a mess!

Our attitude towards trams is, therefore, a work-in-progress, we'll be coming back to this subject again and again.

These ones were gorgeous, though - imagine travelling on the top deck of this modernist beauty with its wraparound and wrapover windows. And look how mannered the area now disastrously blighted by the Bridge of Dee roundabout once was:

Oooh, it's not like the old days!


John Aberdein said...

Alan, 'Amande's Bed', set in 1956 bespeaks,in jolts & smooth electric glides, a certain relationship with – okay passion for – Aberdeen's trams. Here, taking enormous liberties with your blogspace, is how a time-and-motion consultant, Royston from Chicago, alon with his Scottish sidekick Cran, see the problem of trams...

Today at last they were able to get Time-and-Motion’s staples out, stopwatch and pen, and spring-loaded clipboard, that put them at advantage, and others ill at ease. A council official had given them a street map of Aberdeen with tram routes marked in red. The routes made an arthritic red spider, whose striped body
was Union Street. They started at a place called Castlegate, that looked like a nerve-centre,
and travelled on all the routes in turn, counting whatever can be counted: the number of stops, the length of stops, the number and gender and approximate ages of passengers mounting and dismounting, plus the top speed and average speed, on each of its routes, of each of the species of tram.

Though there were only two species: the blunt and the streamlined. Three if you counted the open-tops that sailed down the Beach Boulevard in summer time.

The old blunt tram was simple: hexagonal ends, driver in his bow cabin, and a gaping single entrance at the stern. The new streamlined tram was like two tall torpedoes welded in the
middle. It had two bows but no stern, a Janus tram, with a cabin for the driver at each end, and pneumatic doors on port and starboard side.
Tram tactics at a terminus, say Bridge of Dee, Bridge of Don, Sea Beach, Hazlehead, were perforce very different.

The old blunt tram had a loop she bogeyed round, a loop of rail she negotiated at half a knot, till she faced the way she’d come.The long supremo was magically and noisily different. At a terminus, the driver moved his handle to the Zero Power option, sallied from his first cabin the full inside length of the car, entered an identical cabin by an identical door, and sat facing the way he had come. The two conductors meanwhile were striding along, upstairs and down, clacking the backs of the hinged seats over from 10 to 2, so to speak, so that fresh passengers could plunk down happy, facing their journey’s end. For though some may prefer to gaze on where they have been, mulling petty history, massaging incident into myth, and accidents of change into malign catastrophe, yet most prefer to read the future, preferably twenty seconds in advance, by gawping and gyping out of a broad-paned window, at lurid posters in the passing shops, at the attempted suicide of tram-racing dogs, and for early signs of their destination, so as to stand up swaying well in time, elbowing the skulls of seated fellows, and jabbing an anxious index at the red button, recessed in the tramcar’s roof, or proud on a steadying rail. Else, undescended as an infant’s testicle, they might sweep past their stop, the driver happily recovering schedule in a smooth electric glide.

John Aberdein said...

One to delete above...

Here is the continuation with Royston and Cran:

Royston and Cran sat on the lengthways seat at the door and counted and timed and remarked. They had a cardboard pass so conductors didn’t pester them, but conductors did. Conductor Ron Casey downstairs on the No 4 was a case in point. Heading up Union Street with his tram wedged with grumphy grannies plus a polio lad on calipers,he nodded pointedly to the notice that said Please give up your seat for ladies, the elderly and the infirm.

But could you work clipboard, stopwatch and pen while hanging off a leather strop? Manifestly not. Time-and-Motion’s men sat tight.
Ron Casey grunted. Cran stood up.
The Woodend tram got as far as Queen’s Cross and there she stuck, wheels skittering. The points were iced.

The driver climbed down stiffly with a sack: he shook a handful of salt on the frozen points. Then he opened his satchel and poured a cuppie of tea from his slender Thermos. He delved for the small Cod Liver Oil bottle of milk. His wife had forgotten it.

Royston looked down at the stopwatch in Cran’s palm. The stopwatch already said 4 minutes 50.

"He’ll be waitin the salt tae work."

The driver climbed back into his cab, and down with another coarse sack. A sprinkle of grit, for grip. He topped-up his tea, and screwed back the loose stopper using a makeshift greaseproof-paper washer.

The stopwatch said 7 minutes 40.

"Now what, in the name of the big monkey?
"Hing on. Hing on, Mr Royston."
"Don’t tell me. He’s waiting the grit to work!"
"Na. Tea’s probably too het for his mou."
"Pour it out on the goddamn points then!"

Ryan said...

The photo of Castle Street's tramlines is from a collection my Father rescued from the council Street Lighting Department's discards. It's intended subject was probably the lollipop lights - hence the compositional harsh cropping of the tops of buildings and the street with it's people & vehicles.
Dated as "1950s".