“The time has come”, the walrus said, “to talk of many things. Of ships and sails and sealing wax and cabbages and kings.” (Lewis Carrol) All these things and more can be found at the Maritime Museum at Portsmouth (‘Pompey’ to locals).
Portsmouth was a massive naval station and shipyards. At one time 25,000 people worked there. There is only a minor naval presence now. However, three very special ships are on display: the Victory, on which Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar and was mortally wounded ; the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship which sank in careless circumstances – she was sailing out to battle, left the lower gun ports open, was unbalanced and a swell flooded her; and the Warrior, the first iron clad warship, for a time the most threatening warship in the world which never fired a shot in anger and quickly became redundant because she had both sails and steam engines.
Each ship is special in its own way. Do click on the links! Particularly poignant are personal items of the sailors from the Mary Rose – leather shoes, a jerkin – the ribs of the wearer impressed into the leather, a skeleton, nit combs, a wooden tankard with an illiterate man’s mark carved into it.
Museums aside, you can meet the most interesting people if you are open to the possibility. Whilst having a conversation with the chap at reception in the hotel – solving the financial problems of Great Britain, and making commentary on the current move being driven by some in Scotland for independence – a wilder and thinner version of Billy Connelly checks in, hearing the end of the conversation. Where is he from? Glasgow! Oops!
Shortly after, dinner at a nearby pub brings the Billy Connelly lookalike back on the radar. He’s in a good humour … and hadn’t been back to ‘Pompey’ for 20 years since he left the Royal Navy. Neil’s been around the block more than once, and was just checking out some of his favourite haunts from the past before considering catching up with some mates he’s not seen for a very long time. At first glance he’s not the sort of person you might ordinarily have a conversation with, but in the breakfast room the next morning he’s quite chirpy although hobbling (immediate thoughts – bit of a dust up?). Turns out he has a degenerative condition of the spine – the conversations you have over a full English breakfast – and is doing a bit of a walk down memory lane before major surgery.