Fladda has been pondering again.....................here's the latest to Perrie O.
Dear Perrie Ossa,
Oh what a tale I have to tell. Settle down with a cup of coffee, put you feet up, take the phone off the hook – now read on……….
My eagerly awaited May edition of ‘Arachnid Monthly’ popped through the letterbox on Saturday and so there followed a very relaxing morning absorbing the latest antics of ants, tics and spiders. The centre-fold had a very fetching specimen with intriguing wrinkly legs galore; apparently a native of Yorkshire, the Arachnora Battycus has legs that would do justice to best Steinway. Pity about where the staples pierce the photo, but never mind.
My eyes eventually fell upon the Web page where stories of spiders’ activities abound. In particular, a submission from a Crawley member, ‘westcountryspiderman’ (rather original – not!), caught my attention and got the old synapses firing. He reports that the Edinburgh Tram project has been yet further delayed; this time due to spiders’ webs causing havoc with the microelectronic gadgetry that will (eventually) control the driverless trams. Clearly this is of some concern;
1, the safety of the system may be compromised;
2, no-one had mentioned the trams would be driverless before this; and
3, the highly likely scenario of the Morningside populous being confronted by a tram apparently being drive by a spider just doesn’t bear thinking about.
So, the whole Edinburgh tram fiasco is dropping further behind schedule, so much so that Tony Robinson is eager to do a series about it.
However, what got me going was the reference to the article’s headline ‘Scotland’s first tram system in Web of Intrigue’. Now, it isn’t the first tram system, oh no, not by a long shot chummy. So, I though I’d do a bit of research into which was really the first tram system in Scotland. Lo and behold there’s a Shetland connection.
We must now go back in time – no, not Tardis wise, just in your mind – to a time even before Clive’s record shop actually sold records, Wagon Wheels were made by Westons and were the size of real covered wagon wheels, Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America was written on tissue like blue paper, and – well, you get the idea.
A time when everyone believed that the earth was flat and everyone wanted to travel to those places far off that they could easily see, especially those residents close to sea shores who only had the odd passing galley to block their view of other lands. Indeed, from the top of the Aberdeen lighthouse Shetland could be seen easily on a clear day. (Orkney couldn’t be seen as Peterhead Power Station was in the way). Lighthouses were still needed because nights in those times were still fairly dark. Of course, the display of all these lighthouse lights around Europe was like Blackpool and Morecambe illuminations to an Aberdonian. Aberdonians had no reason therefore to go to Lancashire to see the real illuminations – there were no trains or buses anyway, even on a weekday. Interestingly, both Blackpool and Morecambe had their respective illuminations erected and paid for by the government of the day as a way of deterring the Irish from contemplating an invasion of England. The lights appeared to come from many lighthouse beacons, thus giving the illusion that England was many times larger than it really was – seems to have worked.
I digress, back to the trams.
A bright spark in Aberdeen spotted an opportunity to cut out the expensive and time consuming stage coach journeys to Shetland by building a tram link. (Remember, the ice age had frozen the sea around the isles of Europe) The good burghers of Aberdeen ever eager to steal a march on those folks ‘daan saaf’ in Edinburgh endorsed the project wholeheartedly and commissioned a flag-day to raise funds.
Thus, the Aberdeen Tram North Link project was born. Work proceeded apace and in no time at all the overhead cable was erected on poles across the ice, connecting the Beach Boulevard to Jarlshof. Jarlshof was picked because it, and Scatness, were at the heart of the Copper Age development which, coupled with Shetland’s tradition of spinning fine threads, lent itself to ensuring a continuous supply of copper wire.
All went well and soon the first trams were running successfully between Marks and Spencer’s and Cordona’s Amusements. The tracks were then extended onto the ice, heading for Shetland. However, the tides in Aberdeen kept cracking the ice and the rails were constantly shifting out of alignment. Despite many attempts to get the ice floes to stay put, including using vast quantities of ‘No Nails’ procured from Pegfix, the project soon folded. Not to be deterred, our Aberdonian entrepreneur thought he’d try a trolleybus system, thereby doing away with the need for tracks and rails etc. ‘Brilliant’ shouted the near bankrupt burghers, and so another flag-day was hastily arranged. A second, parallel, copper wire was quickly erected alongside the tram wire, giving the two-wire configuration needed by trolleybuses. The project was back on track (umm, well you know what I mean).
I have to get a bit technical here, but it is important to the story. The wire had to be kept under constant tension to take up expansion and contraction resulting from sunshine, big galleys accidentally ploughing into the wire before being catapulted back to Viking direct, etc. This tensioning was effected by winding the wires around an old whisky vat at the Aberdeen end. The vats being filled with redundant bag pipes (a result of Cromwell banning enjoyment and merry making). The tension on the wires being adjusted by the playing of different weighted tunes on the bagpipes as necessary. Cromwell’s mirth inspectors allowed this ‘music’ playing as it was part of an industrial process: also, it was debatable whether bagpipes were remotely musical in the true sense of the word anyway!
The wires at the Shetland end were simply nailed to the nearest broch.
Back to the story………
The first trolleybuses were ordered from DeeBay and a trolley traffic control centre erected and staffed at the Shetland landfall. Everything was looking rosy, Lerwick Copper Band were booked, the Ness Boating Club was suitably festooned with bunting, the SMUHA Guizer Jarl and his Galley were quickly invented and Sumburgh Airport runway was turned into a carriage and buggy park for the grand opening day. Aeroplanes had not yet been invented, so no safety issues - before you ask, smarty!
The government, driven by an EEC directive, were forced to bring in legislation banning the flat earth thinking and making the globe theory mandatory (well, flat earth warming or flat earth climate change doesn’t have the same ring, does it?). Overnight the whole project was thrown into disarray. Trolleybuses would no longer be able see each other approaching and thus could not take early evasive action, especially at night when the lighthouse lights would blot out the ‘buses headlights. And, as global warming could now take off like wildfire, the ice melted.
The trolleybuses ended their days being hauled by horses around Aberdeen, becoming the first public omnibuses in Scotland. The trams continued to ply the route between Marks and the Beach, later extended to Dyce in readiness for the invention of the aeroplane by Torvil and Dean. First trams in Scotland!
So endeth the tram and trolleybus saga – but, read on – its gets more intriguing.
Now, whilst the trolley wires were being disconnected at the Aberdeen end, the gathered crowd at Jarlshof were nevertheless making merry anyway – after all, it had been declared a Moneylenders Holiday and it would have been daft not to enjoy it. One nosey parker found himself in the trolley traffic control centre (now the interpretive centre) looking at the Shetland end of the electric paraphernalia. Standing in awe, he slipped his ear trumpet which landed across the two copper wires, causing a short – the wires had some residual current generated by the earth’s magnetic field (the earth, now being a globe, had acquired two magnetic poles). At that exact self same moment the technician in Aberdeen was busy emptying the ex whisky vat of its load of bagpipes, The groans and squeals of the intoxicated bagpipes were, unbeknown to the technician, being turned into electrical waves travelling down the wires. The slightly deaf, nosey Shetlander mistook the crackles as a call from his brother seeking his whereabouts. He therefore called back, “Is dat dee, boy?” The Aberdonian, having his head in the vat, heard this as clear as a bell and responded, “Aye, am Dee man, fit like”. Both men were unaware that these few spoken words had come from each other miles apart. Baffled by this interchange both men merely carried on about their business totally unaware of the significance of their recent vocal exchange.
And so history had been made – the first telephonic communication had been made by a Shetlander. No written record of this momentous occasion exists and its occurrence was only noted by word of mouth, being recounted at family gatherings around great log fires in homes all over Shetland, even to this very day. Others may have taken the glory, but we locals know better!
What became of the wires and poles?
Well, the earth’s new curvature put a tremendous extra strain on the wires which, coupled with the new metric system which increased distances tremendously, led to a catastrophic failure including much twanging for days after. Of the poles that didn’t sink to the sea bottom or float off to the two earth poles, some went to a museum in Warsaw (still there) whilst others were fashioned by Shetlanders into frames for drying sheep skins. These contraptions proved far superior to the traditional wooden frames and became much sought after by crofters throughout the isles. So much so that Harry’s department broch decide to stock both types and would happily offer both to prospective purchasers. The broch assistant would enquire, “Dus doo want a widden een or a tram pole een?” The response was more often that not, “Aye’ll tak the trampoleen.” Hopefully you can see where this is now going.
Correct. Over time the drying device became the thing that kids love jumping up and down on when their parents aren’t looking, and turned into the modern blue/black broch shaped plastic contraption that no self respecting Fjogstad front green would be without.
Of the wire? Who knows; but there are lots of ‘bronze age’ bracelets being dug up on a regular basis throughout the north east and Shetland. I wonder!