Rivets and Onions

A couple of links for you today – one sad, one funny and thought-provoking!

Sad one first…   A report on the BBC today about the unveiling of a headstone for the ‘Titanic teenager’ – a boy called Samuel Scott, who was one of the 8 people killed during the 3-year construction of Titanic in the Belfast docks.  Believe it or not, that figure was considered to be a pretty light casualty record at the time – 8 fatal accidents, out of a 15,000-strong workforce over 3 years, wasn’t bad going in those pre Health-And-Safety days…

Samuel was a ‘catcher’ – a vital part of the 5-man team involved in every single one of Titanic’s 3,000,000 rivets.  After the heater had thrown the red-hot rivet from the furnace to the rivet team working on the ship’s hull, it was his job to catch the rivet in a metal tin, and then take it out with tongs and hold it up to the panel, ready for the massive hammers of the riveters to get to work.  The catchers on the docks in 1912 were often young boys of 13 or 14 – so Samuel was one of many involved in this dangerous, demanding work.

So much of the Belfast Titanic story involves moving at least some of the focus from the iceberg and the cold Atlantic, to the skill, risk, sweat and toil of those 15,000 men who built a wonder of the world.  So Samuel’s story is one worth remembering – I wonder what he would have thought if he knew we would be talking about him 100 years later?

Which leads neatly(-ish) to the second of today’s links – this article on the Onion website (Man Watches Movie Alone On Laptop) really made me laugh, but also made me think about the impact our lives make – will we, like Samuel, be remembered for anything significant in 100 years’ time?  What kind of difference am I making with, in Bill Hybels’ phrase, my “one and only life”?

UPDATE:  …and a picture from some friends who were at the service today in the City Cemetery to unveil Samuel Scott’s gravestone:

11am or 2pm, TQ Premier Inn, every day. Be there!

So, have you been on the Titanic Walking Tour yet?  Since April, every Friday and Saturday I’ve been proudly wearing the snazzy red jacket of a Walking Tour guide, as part of the team of dedicated Titanoraks showing visitors and tourists from all over the world around the incredibly rich Titanic heritage which still survives in the Belfast docks.

I’m loving every minute of it!  Every group is different, and every group contains some characters – and some of the stories, anecdotes and personal connections to the old docks are fascinating.  In the group in the picture to the right, the chap in the blue was a friendly, good-natured German tourist who was trying to teach me the correct pronunciation of the word “Krupp” (the German manufacturer who built the yellow cranes).  (German tourist : “It’s pronounced Krupp”.  Me: “Krupp.”   German tourist: “No, no, no.  Krupp.”  Me: “Krupp.”  German tourist: “No, like this – KRUPP!”  Me: “KRUPP!”  etc etc.)

Over the last few weeks, many groups have been composed of more locals than tourists, and (while it’s great that people from all over the world are travelling to Belfast) it’s fantastic to see Norn Irish people start to take real interest and pride in some of our most evocative heritage.   We’ve kept our heads down about Titanic for the last 100 years, while the rest of the world tapped into the huge interest (and made a correspondingly huge fortune) from any connection to the most famous ship in history.  Time we started making the most of our Titanic past – especially since (as we tell everyone, every time, on the walking tours, until they can repeat it like a mantra) She Was All Right When She Left Here…

So on the tour a few weeks ago the group was joined by some roving reporters from the NI Tourist Board, who have now produced this rather brill little video.  (They also brought along two models to be pretend tourists, just in case the group that day weren’t pretty enough.) The first half of the vid is about the Titanic Boat Tour (which is also highly recommended) and then in the second half it’s over to the inimitable Mr Colin Cobb (and you’ll see some footage of Yours Truly in full tour guide mode, complete with extravagant hand gestures).

Suncream and storms

Another first on the Dock Walk this week – the first time we had to have a stop-off at the beginning for everyone to apply suncream! It was scorching out in the TQ today, the sun glinting on the sea as we listened to Bible readings and worship songs under the warm sun.

It has been a terrible, sad weekend on the world stage.  The tragic events in Norway have shown the awful human cost of extremism and fundamentalism, while the death of the massively talented Amy Winehouse has shown the human cost of reckless hedonism.  Our Wordlive reading this week told the story of Jesus’ disciples encountering a fierce storm as they travelled across the lake; their reactions reflected that helpless sense of events slipping out of control – of human beings powerless to stop the storms of a dangerous world.

Out in the sun-blasted TQ, we reflected on the storms we all face – individual, national, international…  It is a dangerous and sometimes dark world.  But we face the same choice as the disciples: do we keep trying to cope, with our own skills, strength and resources – or do we turn to the storm-stiller who is with us in the boat…?

Radio days

So the week of early-morning-praying is done!  (not by me personally you understand – but by my disembodied voice floating from the radio of all those intellectual souls tuned in to Radio 4 at the crack of dawn.)

They’ll be on iPlayer for a few more days (I think they stay online for a week after broadcast), so if anyone wants to catch up with them the links are below.  They all had to be precisely one minute and fifty seconds long (a real challenge for me – as those of you unlucky enough to have heard me preach will know, it usually takes that long for me to say Hiya! at the start), and to move seamlessly and without ceremony from chatting about life, the universe and everything into praying a short prayer for the day.

You’ll be shocked to learn there was a Titanic theme throughout!
On Saturday, the topic was the transformation of the Titanic Quarter itself
On Monday, I told the story of my “lightbulb moment” about the role of a Chaplain
On Tuesday, we looked at the incredible, dangerous rivet-by-rivet building of Titanic
On Wednesday, we remembered (again) that 62-second Titanic slide down the slipways
On Thursday, we talked about the huge, bold vision of those who conceived of Titanic in the first place
And on Friday we returned to one of my favourite themes and stories – Goliath (in crane and human form) and the challenge to look up to God rather than down at our problems.

And then just to round off each prayer, if you listen on to the end of each iPlayer segment you’ll see that Prayer For The Day is always followed by a farming bulletin, which every day this week was headlined by exciting (OK, rather disturbing) news about a badger cull across the UK.  So, be blessed and encouraged as this prayer leads you throughout the day – now let’s get some badgers!

The excitement is building… No, the excitement is built!

Since Day One of my odyssey in the Titanic Quarter, there has been a huge billboard standing beside the construction site of the new Belfast Metropolitan College campus, proudly proclaiming, ‘The excitement is building…”  That billboard and slogan have been an appropriate welcome at the gateway to the TQ every day of The Dock’s life – until now…

I know this might be a strange thing to get excited about, but I was irrationally pleased to be there at the exact moment this billboard was finally dismantled – to reveal the gleaming BMC entrance underneath.  A concrete (OK, wooden) example of  the vision and planning and hope of the past few years genuinely becoming glass-and-steel reality.  No more need to cast the vision, to promise and raise expectations – BMC is sitting there, bold as brass, looking ready to open its doors this coming September.

My only regret is that they didn’t do it a week earlier! – for those of you who’ve been getting up at 5:45am to listen to Prayer For The Day this week (hi Mum!), you’ll know that this is exactly what we were thinking about on Saturday morning:

A few years ago, the vision of the Titanic Quarter was launched – a series of artist’s impressions of a new urban village; pictures of gleaming apartment blocks, office complexes, colleges, studios and visitor attractions, thronged with people.  Back then, it was hard to walk the wastelands of the old docks and visualize this dream taking physical form.  Even as foundations were laid three years ago, it was difficult to believe that this building site would ever become a thriving community.

But I now have pictures snapped with my mobile phone camera which look practically identical to those early concept pictures; it takes a close look to tell them apart.  The vision is becoming reality.

It’s easy to become discouraged in the middle of a big undertaking.  Starting a business, completing your education, breaking a habit, raising a family – for these things there is no quick fix; profound change doesn’t happen overnight.  We sometimes feel we are living through the building site, and find it hard to see the day when the artist’s impression becomes the photograph.  Lord God, for all of us who are undertaking a work in progress, and all of us who are ourselves a work in progress, give us patience, and courage, and hope – a sure and certain hope that big dreams can become reality.

(PS more of the PFTDs are now up on iPlayer – here and here.  Hmm, can you spot the running theme?)