Posted by: billpurdue | October 18, 2008

27 The Tay Bridge, the USA in the early ’50s and a write-it-yourself book.

There are so many books being published nowadays that it’s very hard to keep track of all the good stuff, but I’ve recently found something that I really enjoyed reading which was published in 2006, the paperback appearing a year later. In the history of British engineering and railways, the failure of the first bridge across the River Tay in Scotland in 1879 is a landmark event. The blame for its collapse during a severe storm whilst a train was crossing it, is largely attributed to Thomas Bouch, the designer. Charles McKean, however, in his book Battle for the North [Granta £9.99 9781862079403] explains that there were many more contributing factors – lack of supervision during the construction (Bouch wasn’t a very “hands on” engineer) and what is described as a casual approach to surveys of the foundations seem to have been two of his major faults. However those employed in its construction made major blunders. When an accident occurred during the bridge’s construction for example, the damaged girder was simply carted back to the foundry to be knocked back into shape.

McKean’s fascinating story recounts the reasons why the Tay Bridge was built and the rivalry between the two major Scottish railway companies – the Caledonian and the North British. It also explains why the Forth Bridge, which would have looked very different if Thomas Bouch had designed it, turned out to be much more sturdily built than the first Tay Bridge and such an eye catching design. You don’t need a knowledge of engineering or science to enjoy this book, but if you’re interested to know how the author got all his information, you can use the very extensive notes section and bibliography at the back of the book. For a briefer version of events surrounding the collapse of the first Tay Bridge, there’s a website devoted to the disaster.


I’ve just finished reading a novel which I borrowed from a friend. I didn’t know anything about the book or the author when I started reading it, but the more I read, the more absorbing it became and, towards the end, it became a real page turner. Pearl and her husband Holland live with their young son in San Francisco in 1953. The Korean War is coming to a close and there is still segregation of black and white people in some states of the USA. Memories of the World War II as well as memories of who managed to avoid being called up are still vivid in people’s minds. Pearl and Holland seem happy enough, though Pearl has always known that there is something different about her husband, possibly some illness, which her husband’s aunts told her about before they married. The one day, a stranger calls at the door, an old friend of her husband’s – a white man – and gradually more, but not quite all, about her husband is revealed. The rather bland title of this book The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer [Faber £12.99 9780571240982 ] belies the way in which this moving story is eloquently told and how it eventueally unfolds. It begins with the words “We think we know the ones we love”; if you think you know how the story will turn out in the end, you’ll probably be mistaken.


Here’s a novel idea – a book that will help you publish your own account of your favourite football team’s year. All you have to do is buy My Football Year edited by Terry Pratt [ Interact Publishing Limited £19.99 9780954981990 ], then go online and select the reports, statistics, photos etc about your favourite team (unfortunately Mansfield Town is not included in the list), edit them as much or as little as you like, press “print” and you will receive all the material in a unique book with your name on it as the author. As this book came out in 2007 in time for the Christmas market, I don’t know how successful it was first time round. If it was, perhaps Interact Publishing might extend the idea to other sports.

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