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The Flat Cap on ... Tunnels

Today The Flat Cap has been looking at the price of Eurostar tickets and this led him to think about tunnels in general and find out more about them.

On a visit to his Swiss neighbour (Johann) The Flat Cap learned that the recently completed 57km (35-mile) twin-bore Gotthard base tunnel is now the world’s longest railway tunnel and provides a high-speed rail link under the Swiss Alps between northern and southern Europe. Johann said it will revolutionise European freight transport by taking a million lorries off the roads, although drink had been taken when he made this proud claim – see below. He also boasted that it had overtaken Japan’s 53.9km Seikan rail tunnel as the longest in the world and pushed the 50.5km Channel Tunnel linking the UK and France into third place. Johann invited The Flat Cap to celebrate this Swiss feat of engineering by drinking copious amounts of beer with him and as a good European, and neighbour, the offer was readily accepted. There then ensued a fierce debate over what is the best burrowing animal with Johann arguing for moles and The Flat Cap opting for rabbits. Johann recalled “The Mole” was the name of a tunnelling machine in the TV Series Thunderbirds, and given a rampant rabbit is the name for another piece of apparatus entirely (and no good for digging tunnels) The Flat cap was forced to concede defeat.

The Flat Cap on Tunnels

Arguably the most famous tunnels in history were those in the film “The Great Escape” which were named Tom, Dick and Harry. Released in 1963 it is now law that the film be broadcast on British television every Christmas; and it’s consequently become even more popular then the Queen’s Speech. Actor Angus Lennie appeared in the film and starred as the “Mole”. He subsequently went on to achieve fame as cook Shughie McFee in the soap opera Crossroads; the pinnacle of any acting career in 1970’s Britain. Other co-stars such as Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Donald Pleasence weren’t so lucky.

The idea for a tunnel under the English Channel goes back as far as 1802 and was first proposed by French mining engineer, Albert Mathieu. Because people in England didn’t learn French at school until the twentieth century Albert had trouble convincing the people of Kent that it would be a good idea. Another issue was the design. Albert suggested a two level tunnel with the top one being paved and lit by oil lamps, and used by horse drawn stagecoaches. Unfortunately nobody could agree whose job it would be to scoop up any horse manure and there were arguments over which type of oil to put in the lamps. Sadly for history, and Anglo-French relations, it was almost another two hundred years before the language differences could be resolved and engineers could design a poo-less tunnel.

Not all tunnels are built for human convenience. In the Netherlands more than 600 tunnels have been built to increase the population of endangered species such as the European Badger. Equipped with comfortable beds, soft lighting and state of the art music systems they provide a convivial atmosphere for endangered animals to meet up discreetly and mate in one of the many subterranean suites. The tunnels also allow the animals to cross busy roads without getting run over by traffic, or be fatally injured by people wearing heavy clogs.

Not quite as luxurious but equally practical are the Cu Chi tunnels found under the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. These are a complex network of connecting tunnels that form part of an even larger network that spread throughout Vietnam. The tunnels were used frequently during the Vietnam War by Viet Cong to store food and weapons, hide, communicate, and provide sheltered areas for medical attention. Whilst U.S. troops scurried about above ground the Viet Cong would snack on bowls of rice and wait for things to calm down. Unfortunately living in tunnels isn’t very pleasant as creature comforts such as television and wi fi tend not to work underground. This means you can’t get the weather forecast or keep up to date with the latest football scores. On the plus side it’s a lot safer than wandering about in fields whilst the world’s most powerful nation drop lots of bombs and stuff. U.S troops did try to destroy the tunnels, so the Viet Cong would booby trap them to discourage unwanted guests.

Whilst querying the price of a cheap day return from London to Paris The Flat Cap spoke to a man in the station ticket office called Alan, and he was able to provide some interesting tunnel related facts:

  • In the Sixties television series “The Time Tunnel” the main characters would tumble helplessly toward fantastic adventures, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time. The parents of the show’s creator-producer, Irwin Allen, had their own convenience store and became millionaires by supplying thousands of sheets of aluminium foil to the television company. The foil was largely used to dress the aliens and people from the future who appeared in many episodes

  • Despite its name The Lincoln Tunnel isn’t anywhere near Lincoln and is actually a well known tunnel in the USA. It connects Weehawken, New Jersey and Manhattan, New York. Stretching 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometres) under the Hudson River, the Lincoln Tunnel has an average daily traffic of around 110,000 vehicles. Most of the vehicles are taxis driven by immigrants who provided the inspiration for the hit television sitcom “Taxi”.

  • Actor Christopher Lloyd learned to drive taxis by appearing in the above sitcom. It was this skill that led to him being selected for the role of Emmett “Doc” Brown in the Back to the Future films, where he was required to drive a futuristic car, and then a train, at high speeds

  • The Tunnel of Love originated as a romantic amusement park ride in the Victorian era. It allowed unmarried couples to engage in fleeting physical contact, well before the advent of the mini skirt and internet dating

  • The Tunnel of Love is variously a book, a film, a song and a miniature railway – jolly confusing when playing charades

  • By rearranging the words “combs a cat” you can get the word “catacombs” which are subterranean spaces, a bit like tunnels. Ernst Blofeld who appeared in a number of James Bond films was always combing his cat

  • At 137 kilometres (85 miles) in length, the Delaware Aqueduct in New York, USA, is the longest tunnel in the world. Miniature speedboats ferry tourists up and down the tunnel at speeds of up to 40 mph, and it is one of the city’s foremost tourist attractions

  • Arguably the world’s most colourful tunnel is The Graffiti Tunnel in Lambeth, London. The idea for it came from the world’s most famous graffiti artist, “Banksy” who got his name because of his uncanny resemblance to veteran England goalkeeper and World Cup winner Gordon Banks

  • The London Underground is the world’s oldest underground railway, although technically only about 45% is below ground. In 2001 Transport for London launched a competition to rename it, but abandoned the idea when 94% of Londoners voted to stick with the existing name. “Red Ken’s Railway” (named after then Lord Mayor, Ken Livingstone) polled just nineteen votes

  • There are a series of tunnels under the City of Liverpool that were built by Joseph Williamson in the early nineteenth century. Nobody quite knows why they were dug: the most likely explanation being that it gave the Liverpudlians somewhere to hide whenever unwanted guests such as in-laws or the rent man came calling

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