Yes, well done, you at the back, Roger Bannister did indeed break the four-minute mile on that date in 1954. Just six years before Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act on the same day as Princess Margaret married Tony Armstrong-Jones and a year after Tony Blair was born. As it happens, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, a little later in 1966, were also sentenced to life imprisonment on May 6th and it was Orson Welles’ birthday. (Never let it be said your local newspaper does not have the enhancement of your general knowledge and possible potential to win on Eggheads at heart.)
But I was thinking of something a bit closer to home. Clue: it happened just up the road here in Kent, the Queen was there, and despite the worst of the fear-mongering, we didn’t all get wiped out by rabies.
I speak of course of the opening of the Channel Tunnel.
It was on this very day, back in 1994 that the sub-aqua link between England and France was officially opened by Her Majesty and President Mitterand.
I have no recollection of it at all and can only assume that since I had spent the previous twelve months in a haze of exhaustion after the arrival of The Child That Never Slept, that I was probably having a catnap when the news footage came on, the whole event thus passing me by.
I have now been belatedly mugging up and can tell you that the structure, recognized as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers, on a par with the Empire State Building and the Panama Canal, is 31.4 miles long, with an average depth of 50 metres below the seabed, and the longest undersea portion of any tunnel in the world.
I have only been through it twice. Whereas my highly risk-averse colleague Mr Mike You-won’t-get-me-up-there Pearce (he wouldn’t even come on the roller coaster at Dreamland) frets about falling out of the sky, I feel a slight sense of unease about all those tonnes of water hovering over my head.
So I hesitate to mention it, knowing a proportion of the readership gets rather more exercised by my carbon footprint that I do (there was a small outcry and some hilarious abuse when I once admitted flying to Manchester) but on the many occasions I have been to France since the tunnel opened, I have been inclined to let the plane take the strain.
Having, however, had the recent experience of being stuck in a traffic hold-up on the M25 (three hours), endless queues for security at Gatwick (at least half an hour longer than usual), an extra long wait on the runway after we’d “missed our slot” (a further forty-five minutes) and a ninety-minute flight during which the back of my seat was consistently and rhythmically kicked by the small boy sitting behind me, who also regularly shrieked, I am wondering if I should rethink.
Teaching here now at Chez Castillon in the Dordogne, up to an hour’s car ride from Bordeaux airport, I have been joined by two other Thanetians, who arrived fresh-faced and bright-eyed, having made the journey from Broadstairs via the Eurotunnel shuttle, in shorter time door-to-door than I had, and having had considerably more sleep. Perhaps it is time to put aside my fear of fire and flood and broken-down trains (in 2009, 2,000 passengers were trapped down there for 16 hours, a thought that fills me with horror and dread) remember instead the thousands of successful journeys that have been completed since and be brave for the 35 minutes it takes to cross beneath the Channel.
Sorry to inflame a different faction altogether, but it’s at times like these that I so miss Manston….
You can read the original article at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Channel-Tunnel-chance/story-29252022-detail/story.html.