Mind pictures

Yesterday I had an email from Todd & Stephanie, a young couple from Arizona and was reminded of the time that Todd came to stay with me for a few days.  I took him around all the usual tourist spots in Northern Ireland.

One Sunday morning I drove him into Belfast, to Queen’s Island, the abandoned headquarters of Harland & Wolff shipbuilders and the birthplace of RMS Olympic, Titanic and Britannic.  It was before the recent redevelopment work in the area.  I stopped the car near the base of  the enormous Samson & Goliath gantry cranes.  It gave him the opportunity to take some photos.  There were shells of dilapidated warehouses and workshops standing like ghosts on the sides of the silent cobbled street.

When He returned to the car. I sat silent for a few minutes, then when he was settled I tried to paint a picture in words…..

Opening the windows to listen to the silence only broken by the occasional bird call, I quietly talked of the sounds of the shipyard:-

In the 1930s, passenger travel across the Atlantic was conducted almost exclusively by sea. All large ships were being built with steam turbine engines.  A journey by sea from these shores to America would take a couple of weeks.

I reminded Todd that in the heydays of the Shipyard, computers were unheard of and all jobs were manually executed.  The offices had high, heavy wooden desks where draughtsmen (and women  in wartime), sat on tall stools drawing the plans for great liners and workhorses,  The shipyard was busy during WW11, building 6 aircraft carriers 2 cruisers and 131 other naval ships; and repairing over 22,000 vessels. It also manufactured  tanks and artillery components. During this period the workforce peaked at around 35,000 people.

During the working day, shipbuilding was a noisy physical industry.  I suggested he  imagine the screeching of saws cutting metal into shape.   Sheets of steel being dragged and scraped into place, metal girders being cut and riveted or soldered together to form the shaping of the watertight hull shell.  Banging and hammering, banging and hammering was the order of the day.

As evening fell, a siren blared out drowning all the noise declaring the end of the working day.  As the shift ended, the steady throb lessened and stopped, only to be replaced by the sound of human traffic.  Shoes with steel toe and heel tips, to extend the life of the footwear, formed a dance as the heavy swell of men tapped the steady journey home in the gloom of dusk or darkness over the cobbles to the adjoining streets.  In winter, weary workers in long overcoats and flat caps chatted while their exhaled breath seemed to carry the words from one to his neighbour.  Some lit up cigarettes that formed tiny smoke plumes in imitation of the welcoming chimney smoke spirals from row upon row and street upon street of tiny terraced houses.

Nowadays so many work alone, at home with the hushed whirring noise of computers for company.  The day is now punctuated by the pinging of emails and text messages, while Twitter provides the instant ‘office banter’ with colleagues or other isolated fellow workers many miles, continents or time-scale  away.

I wonder what working life will be like for our grandchildren?

13 thoughts on “Mind pictures

  1. Rhyelysgranny

    Your description of the busy noisy shipyard is very haunting. Eerie reading while I sit here listening to the whirr of my computer. Like Christmas past. Christmas present and Christmas future.

  2. nick

    That’s a wonderfully evocative description of the shipyards, much better than the Colin Bateman play I saw recently on the same theme! I still can’t quite believe just how busy the shipyards once were compared with the minimal activity there nowadays.

  3. Grannymar Post author

    RG – The work place on every level seems to have changed so much – it is all computers and few people these days.

    Nick – We forget that so many of the liners were MADE BY HAND!

  4. wisewebwoman

    Lovely piece of writing, GM. I hear the sounds and see all the smoke, my God the smoke in those days clogged the lungs, the coughing/spitting everywhere would have been appalling. And the damp and coal dust.

    I see us all going back to worlds made by hand as this economic collapse continues like dominoes around all that is familiar.


  5. Grannymar Post author

    WWW – Was the turf smoke any less injurious than coal? I am of the same mind as you, home made and barter need to become the norm once more.

  6. Anil

    As evocative as ever. I could imagine the silence.

    There must be black and white pictures around of the institution (for it is one), maybe some intrepid street photographer had decided on documenting it and someone has it.

    What a treat it would be to go back in time with the visuals now that your prose has triggered curiosity so well.

  7. Grannymar Post author

    Judy – Our world is changing so fast, I wonder if we need to stop and work back?

    Anil – I found a short video about the building of the Titanic and I hope it is of interest.

  8. Baino

    Very evocative and you’re so right about working alone. Several people I used to work with in a busy and creative studio now work alone from home via their Mac’s and email. Seems such a lonely existence to me. Eventhough my workplace is quiet, there are people around to break the monotony and to enjoy a lunch break with.

  9. Grannymar Post author

    Baino – It is all about getting the balance right between peaceful working space and colleagues to bounce ideas off and ease tensions with a bit of craic!

  10. Alice

    Nice! I can’t help admitting, however, while I was reading it, how nice it would be to hear you telling it in person, as I heard you telling a story about young Ellie once in an audio on your blog. Your physical voice was as compelling as the story.

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