Women are literally boring…..


Tunnels, that is.

Back in August, I met Catherine, co-founder of a new and utterly brilliant blog called ‘Women Are Boring‘, which shares fascinating research by women from all over the world. She wanted to interview me about my book just before my Dublin launch (you can read the interview here), and I’ve been a regular reader of the blog ever since. A few months ago, my friend Jess (@jesswade) suggested that, as a lover of tunnels, maybe I should write something on tunnel boring machines…. and a post was born!

The first couple of paras are here to whet your appetite, but if you want to read the whole thing (and I very much hope you do), you’ll need to head over to WAB

All over the world, Tunnel Boring Machines (or TBMs) are chewing their way through the packed subterranean network of your nearest city. But something you might not know is that they’re all given women’s names. Naming a machine after a human isn’t that weird, right? Many of us have named our cars after all, but it goes a bit deeper for TBMs. According to tunnelling tradition, a TBM cannot start work until it is officially named. But exactly where we got the tradition of naming them after women remains a bit of a mystery.

Some sources suggest that it comes from the 16th century, when miners, armourers, and artillerymen prayed to Saint Barbara. Legend has it that Barbara’s father had locked her in a windowless tower when he found out about her conversion to Christianity. Later, a flash of lightning struck him dead, and since then, all trades associated with darkness and the use of explosives have recognised Barbara as their patron saint. Today’s tunnel engineers see themselves as fitting that description, and so give TBMs women’s names in Barbara’s honour. Others suggest that the tradition comes from the link between miners and ship-builders – their physical strength and similar skills often saw men switch between trades as the need arose. Boats have long been given the pronoun ‘she’ (again for reasons unknown), so perhaps using women’s names for tunnelling machines started there?

Regardless of its beginnings, this tradition is carried out throughout the world today, as a sign of good luck for the project ahead. And, perhaps surprisingly in our increasingly secular world, most tunnelling projects still erect a shrine to Saint Barbara at the tunnel entrance…..

Now, off you go to the main WAB blog – you won’t regret it!