When I was a teenager, I didn’t have boy band posters on my bedroom wall. I had a tea tray decorated with an oil painting of a giant air craft carrier parked outside St Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
There is some history to this rather strange object. Back in the early 50s, my Granny had been looking at paintings of Venice and, using a photo of my Granddad’s old wartime ship when it was stationed there, made one for herself. Then, on New Years Eve 1956/7, the family were told he had been drafted to another carrier and would be at sea for yet another three years, and she smashed the painting in anger (sometimes when my Mum tells this story Granny smashed it over her knee, sometimes she had an axe). She later painted it again, and it was set into a tray of inlaid wood that Granddad picked up in Rio during his travels on the Albion. The object said a lot about the sometimes fiery compromises of their relationship as well as the juxtaposition of the delicate beauty of Venice with a blundering big warship in the middle of it (let alone the odd glamour of either image mixed with the domesticity of a tea tray). I’m not sure why I ended up with the thing. I guess no one else wanted it and I just thought it was bit weird and kind of cool. I’m not sure where it is now.
I remembered my old Granny’s bit of aircraft handicraft when I was in Greenwich this weekend and spotted A BLOODY ENORMOUS WARSHIP parked there at the moment.
Yes, the caps lock was warranted. Seriously, it’s one of those huge objects it’s hard not to sound stoned describing. It’s, like, really, really big. And the smoke! There’s smoke coming out of the top. And grey, very smoothly grey. It’s HMS Ocean, the Royal Navy’s largest ship. There are some good images in the press especially after it had a near miss getting through the Thames Barrier (e.g. report from Channel Four and gallery on the Telegraph). According to the Mirror, this time last year the ship was anchored off the Libyan coast but it’s currently in London for a pre-Olympics “anti-terror exercise”. Apparently they focused on air security at the weekend, with river operations taking place between Tuesday and Thursday. As the Telegraph dryly put it, defence secretary Phillip Hammond dismissed suggestions he was going “over the top” as the Royal Navy’s largest warship sailed up the River Thames.
If you’re around town at the moment and have a free moment, do try to see HMS Ocean for yourself. Whether you think the UK should be spending money on ships like this or not, let alone whether you think it should be part of Olympic security, it’s a rare chance to see such advanced military technology up front. I kind of think the Imperial War Museum outreach team should be running workshops on the river banks. As my mother joked, that’s a proper live, modern warship, none of this “heritage” stuff they have further up West. If you look carefully at the picture of the bottom of this post, you can see the masts of the newly refurbished Cutty Sark in the background. They make for quite the comparison.
Go see it. Have a think about whether you want it in your city. Or anyone else’s. Go, have a good stare at the thing. Have a good think about our deployment of this great human power we have that is advanced technology.