The end of this month will see the long-awaited opening of the Edinburgh tram system. To mark this historic occasion, Stephen Midgley has provided us with a Reader’s Gem of truly epic proportions (on time and under budget, I might add):
The Harrowing Tale of the Edinburgh Trams
I. Heart of a City Filled with Dismay
Sound the trumpets, beat the drums,
For the opening day of our capital’s trams!
Rejoice and sing, ye travellers of Edinboro’,
For ’tis the end of all your misery and sorrow.
At last the work is finished on the new tramline
Which the people have awaited for a very long time;
’Tis an epic tale of hope, folly, chaos and calamity,
A harrowing transport saga which I’ll now relate to ye.
’Twas in the year of 1956, on the 16th day of November,
Which the citizens of Edinburgh would long remember,
That the last of the old trams ran along Princes Street,
And thereafter other modes of transport the people’s needs must meet.
“Fear ye not”, said the leaders of the city’s Corporation,
“For there are buses and other means of transportation;
Besides, many folk now have conveyances of their own
And so there will be no cause for ye to moan.”
But as the years went by the traffic did greatly grow,
And journeys through the city became ever more slow;
And the Council, as by then ’twas called, encountered much opprobrium,
For on the capital’s streets ’twas chaos and pandemonium.
Motorists also were in great dismay and woe
Because where for to park their cars they did not know,
And misery and frustration were plain to see in their faces
Because there were not sufficient parking spaces.
But the council devised many ways their coffers for to fill
From the pockets of the folk who in the capital did dwell,
So the parking office clerks did dance in their glee
As they raked in every meter charge, clamping and recovery fee;
And the hearts of the parking attendants felt light and gay
As they affixed their penalty notices to windscreens without the least delay,
Stating: “A large amount of money you must speedily pay,
Or else your heart will be filled with even more dismay.”
II. The Council’s Magnificent Master Plan
But in the year 2001 the council announced to the Edinburgh folk,
“We intend for to solve all your transport problems at a stroke,
For we have conceived a cunning plan,
Namely, the return of the electric tram.
Like the world’s great cities, we will be as good as the rest,
Such as Moscow, Buenos Aires, Berlin and Budapest,
Or Prague, Milan, Toronto and Amsterdam,
Where the people can travel everywhere by tram.
So we will have tramlines in several directions,
All meeting in the centre, with excellent connections.
Our plans are bold, the lines well placed and long;
What could there possibly be for to go wrong?”
Some brave souls expressed grave reservations
Concerning the council’s costing calculations,
Saying the trams’ revenue would be less and the expense would greatly rise
But alas! the council paid no heed to what the doubters did advise.
Countless meetings and discussions took place,
But the tramlines soon diminished while the cost did rise apace,
Until eventually there would be just one line instead of three
And even this far shorter than ’twas meant to be.
By the year 2006 with the contractors ’twas agreed
That the project without further delay would proceed,
With one line from the airport to Leith, via Princes Street,
And in the year 2011 the work would be complete.
But the laying of the tramlines saw great trouble and delay
Which filled the people’s hearts with dismay,
And the closures and chaos in the streets of Edinboro’
Did cause many a citizen’s brow deeply for to furrow.
For some streets were dug up and closed for several years,
Reducing traders and shoppers alike to tears,
And businesses protested with all their might
At the terrible effects of planning blight.
The streets were forever full of cages, and men in yellow jackets,
Their machinery all the while making a fearful racket.
And the slow progress of the project caused great despair,
Especially when Princes Street was dug up for a second time, I do declare!
By now ’twas far behind schedule and well over budget,
But the council continued to try for to fudge it,
Because unfortunately the thought had not entered their minds
To agree upon the cost ere the contract was signed.
One option they faced, which I must not fail to mention,
Was the embarrassing prospect of complete cancellation,
But the councillors could not bear with shame for to blush
If down the lavatorium their entire tram project they would flush.
After many more months of dispute and delay
The contractors unto the city council did say:
“Tell you what we’ll do for you, squire,
If to have your new tramline you still do desire,
You can have half the line for double the cost.”
To the council this seemed too good a bargain to be lost,
For ‘twas said that in arithmetic they were none too bright
And that some were scarce able for to read and write.
So they replied: “Your generous offer is just what we need”,
And so without dismay ’twas agreed,
At St Andrew Square the line would now stop short
Instead of continuing as far as Leith port.
III. The Battle of Haymarket
Then came a great battle, fierce and notorious,
Fought ‘twixt the councillors in a manner most furious
In the year of 2011, on August the 25th day,
Which will long be remember’d with horror and dismay.
For now ’twas proposed to shorten the line even more,
To avoid further rising costs which would cause distress most sore.
So there would be no trams along Princes Street after all,
Although the tracks had already been laid and were plain to be seen by all!
But instead the line from the airport would finish at Haymarket,
And if people wanted to go any further they would have to take a bus or walk it.
The Haymarket battalions faced the St Andrew Square brigade
Who were for keeping the line into the city as already agreed.
Oh! what savage slaughter was seen on that day
As both armies with the bayonet did charge without dismay.
This way and that the bloody battle swayed
As both sides their arguments vehemently made;
And many councillors on the floor dead or wounded did lay,
But when at last the fight was o’er, ’twas the Haymarket hordes had won the day!
The calamitous decision was announced without delay;
Oh, heaven! how the people’s hearts were filled with dismay,
Because all sensible men and women confesses
That the city council must have taken leave of their senses.
“I don’t believe it!” people in the streets did say,
And the Scottish press did have a field day;
The Evening News at the councillors much ridicule did poke
With its front page headline exclaiming “WHAT A JOKE!”
Depicting them as clowns, each one with a red nose,
And inviting voters the silly elves to depose
As soon as the next opportunity arose.
But worse was yet to come, for the very next day,
To the councillors’ horror and great dismay,
The Scottish Finance Secretary, John Swinney,
Did heap upon them still further ignominy
By issuing a statement without delay
In which to the foolish council he did say:
“When the government agreed to chip in with a few bob
’Twas on the assumption you were going for to do a decent job,
But you’ll not be getting a penny more from us
If you expect travellers to get off the tram at Haymarket and wait for a bus.
So your government grant you can now forget,
For the remaining millions you will no longer get,
And any further subsidy we will only pay
If you see to it that your tramline goes all the way.”
And so, after all the fearful carnage and slaughter,
The Haymarket plan was now dead in the water.
Then the council yet again met for further discussion
And agreed to revert to the St Andrew Square option.
So the outcome of the Battle of Haymarket was reversed,
And the foolish proposal would forever be cursed;
So let us be thankful its proponents were unhorsed,
For of all possible choices ’twas by far the worst.
IV. Tramway to Paradise
Now that the project no longer was doomed,
The work on the tramlines once more was resumed;
And at long last, on the 31st day of May in the year 2014,
The tramcars are here, and most handsome to be seen.
So finally they’re running, although several years late,
And let us all pray ’twas worth the wait,
But after all the havoc, the trials and tribulations,
’Tis now the time for joyful celebrations.
So, proud citizens of Edinburgh, hold your heads up high
As the trams along their new lines speedily do fly,
For a splendid conveyance is the electric tram
And to gainsay it there’s few people can.
Let us hope those one billion pounds have been well spent
And that the service will be extremely efficient,
And may the twelve new bridges be well built and strong
To defy the Storm Fiend as the trams roll along.
But, citizens, I warn ye to beware of the tramcar’s dangers,
Especially if to this mode of transport ye be strangers:
Pedestrians, pay heed to its stealthy approach
And take care upon its path not to encroach.
Ye car drivers, watch and listen for the trams, and to them give way
Or else your hearts will soon be filled with dismay,
For if to obstruct the tram’s progress ye durst
Your car will undoubtedly come off the worst;
And never park your vehicle on or near the line,
For ’twill quickly be removed and you’ll pay a large fine.
Ye cyclists, be warned to cross the tramlines at right angles
Or else you’ll be unseated, and your front wheel mangled.
Tram passengers, heed my advice and do not dare
To board the tramcar without paying your fare,
Though if to observe this rule ye should fail
At least you’ll not have very far to trail,
For the tram stops at Saughton, close by the jail.
But now at last I must conclude my muse
By urging the people their new tram service to use,
For ‘twould be a great pity, and by no means funny,
If it all turned out to be a ridiculous waste of money.
So, ye travellers of Edinburgh, be advised by me
And step aboard your new tramcars with joyful alacrity,
For the tram doth bring an end to all your misery and woe
Provided ’tis to the airport ye wish for to go.
Stephen Midgley, with acknowledgments to William McGonagall
With additional, grateful acknowledgments to: Edinburgh Evening News, The Scotsman, Edinburgh Council, Edinburgh Trams, Scott Griffith, Chris Hunt at McGonagall Online, Pete Gregson at Kids Not Suits, Aldo Broon at Edinburgh Trambles, and the makers of the Hitler Downfall parody video Edinburgh Trams Fiasco.