Tuesday, 7 August 2012


Here’s something you can do at home with your children or grandchildren.
Take a box of Sugar Puffs (OK, a box of Coco Pops will do just as well).  Turn it on its side and shake all the cereal onto the bottom edge of the box to provide good ballast.  Then stand it on its edge on a tea tray, like a section of the Berlin Wall or a block of 60s apartments or the Lever Building (which looks like a box of Coco Pops after all) fallen on its side.  Then shake the tray about a little bit.
Now, despite all that ballast, what happens?  Yes, it falls over.  Now ask your child (or grandchild) which side they expected it to fall on.  Yes, you say encouragingly; it fell on its front or back, didn’t it.  Did you expect that to happen too?
For greater reality, you could write Costa Concordia along the side or Disney Fantasy or Adventure of the Seas or the name of any of the current fleet of 60s apartment building shaped cruise ships steaming round the world. 
Now why did none of the engineers or designers involved in the ‘design’ or construction of these multi-storied ships think that, if some accident befell them, they might fall in any other way?  And thus, with half the life boats under water and the other half stuck on the ‘roof’ of the recumbent tower block, why did no one think that it might be a bit tricky to launch the life boats? 
The case of the Costa Concordia is a very sad tragedy; lives have been lost, the passengers have lost all their possessions, an anticipated delightful holiday has turned into a nightmare ordeal.  Here’s a pic I took in Istanbul harbour last year.  I must say, it did strike me then that there was an awful lot of ship up and not so much down or sideways.  But one assumes that someone had done the tea tray test and all would be well in the choppy waters of the Med or even the rolling breakers of the Atlantic.  It didn’t occur to me that one of these gigantic slab-shaped things could simply fall over if it hit a rock in shallow coastal waters.  In the centenary year of the Titanic disaster, you’d have thought that someone might have given thought to something more than size. The little Turkish boat in the foreground looks more like the sort of ship I'd have drawn if I was a child ship designer and more like one I'd be comfortable on as an adult too.

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