Questions, Answers and the Cost of Bridges

Every so often, you get a reminder of why the internet and e-mail are such fine things. A minor example: a flurry of e-mails from readers this week, and I can tell you, there are few things more likely to lift the spirits of a writer – it being, as everyone always says, such an isolated and potentially lonely old business – than hearing direct from the readers (assuming they’re polite and friendly readers, of course).

The best thing is, it’s a two-way process, so I can fire a random question out into the virtual ether, and get an answer back in basically no time at all:

“The title Zimowe Gody means more or less Winterbirth. ‘Zimowe’ means winter (as an adjective). ‘Gody’ is the traditional Polish name for a wedding, but also may be used for other festivities (like your book’s Winterbirth).”

So now I (and you) know. Fantastic. Thank you, Pawel. Incidentally, googling ‘Zimowe Gody’ – an entirely pointless exercise due to my ignorance of the Polish language, but I couldn’t help myself – did at least reveal one thing of which I was previously unaware: Poland appears to have a frankly staggering number of online bookshops. Dozens of the things, as far as I can see. No idea why so many.

And the two-way thing works in reverse, so people can ask me questions or make suggestions, like Andy, who wants an extract from Bloodheir putting up on the website or the Facebook page asap, please, thank you very much. A little bit of patience is required on this front, I’m afraid. Such a thing will be along before too long, but it’s not going to be in the next few days or anything. There’s a good chance it’ll show up on the Facebook page first, but that’s not certain. This is, in fact, a rare example of something showing up in print before it’s online: I know, for I have seen it (and it is good) that Orbit US have produced a little sampler booklet containing short extracts from not only Bloodheir but many of the other fine books they’ll be publishing this year. But that’s not something you’re likely to stumble upon unless you’re in the publishing or bookselling trade, I imagine, so that’s no great help to Andy or anyone else, really. Sorry.

And to end on a morbid note, when I talked about the Forth Rail Bridge a few posts back, the Millau Viaduct was flagged up in the comments (thanks, Simon), as another bridge-type thing laden with the Wow Factor. Quite true: it’s a stunner, although it might be ever so slightly too perfect and clinical-looking for me to really love it. Not sure.

Thinking about these two amazing constructions raised a question in my mind, and thanks to the internet, finding an answer was trivially easy:

Number of construction workers who died in the three years (2001-2004) it took to build the Millau Viaduct: 0. Yes, that’s precisely zero.

Number of construction workers who died in the seven years (1883-1890) it took to build the Forth Rail Bridge: No one really knows, but probably something like 98.

How things have changed. Those Victorians knew what they were doing when it came to putting together brick and steel; health and safety at work, not so much. Just last year, a memorial was finally created in memory of those who died working on the bridge. But what I find more moving, for some reason, is that you can go and see the name, age, job and the exact day they died for many of them right here. It’s a strange experience, to scroll through those lists, and one that would be impossible without the amazing internet.

Of course, things have not changed so much everywhere. The death toll of construction workers is only one – and arguably not the greatest – of the costs associated with this infamous megaproject, but still: apparently, over 100 of them died. That’s a lot of dead workers, if true. I wonder if they’ll get a memorial? Or have their names listed on the internet?

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