Air craft

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.

20 thoughts on “Air craft

  1. Raine Carosin

    I don’t know what to comment about your current situation with the Olympics (I’m dead scared of BIG things), but about you growing up with the tea tray, i think it’s kind of you to share it on the sometimes “wobbly” web… it always brightens my day to have a glimpse into some one else’s world… odd what we remember, and odder still, what we don’t… thanks so much for sharing…

    Reply
  2. Tim Jones

    Nice post. Reminded me of visiting Portsmouth Navy Day in what I guess must have been 1982, because the harbour was filled with these – as you say- giant warships. And these had real holes in them because it was the real deal. I remember one particular big, empty, rusty, Exocet hole in, i think, HMS Glamorgan maybe – have a pic somewhere. Made big impression on me.

    Reply
    1. alice Post author

      Good point about the holes! HMS Ocean looks v slick, at least from the banks of the river. I guess the old ships and tanks and planes in museums get cleaned up for display, so we sometimes forget how battered they are, though some are quite battered.

      Reply
  3. Steve McGann

    My father would take me down to the Mersey as a child. The huge warships would still dock there back then. It wasn’t the absolute size that frightened me but the incidental, oversized details. The huge steel chain links that held it to the shore. The waves displaced by massive props. Like a good cathedral, I enjoy technology that seeks divine sanction through its own confounding scale. Ozymandias with added missile-tracking ;-)

    Reply
  4. rpg

    We’re just off to Greenwich in half an hour to see her. I’m actually from a military fame, so this sort of thing doesn’t freak me out as much as it might otherwise.

    Reply
  5. martin zaltz austwick

    On the one occasion I went to Venice, two separate cruise ships passed; looking out towards Venice itself from the Lido, these ships completely dominated as they moved in between me and the small city. They looked overscale, ridiculous. Likewise, when I was in San Fransisco earlier this year, a cruise ship dominated the embarcadero skyline like a second city, as they frequently do.

    Visiting New York City for the first time, I felt beaten over the head with the sheer scale of its architecture, like capitalism was shouting loudly and impassively from every wall. The bullets and missiles and shells (oh my) aspect of the HMS Ocean is less intimidating, or impressive, than the physical scale. I think that’s sort of interesting – that’s the bit we should feel interested/emotional about, but it’s still the size (for me at least) that awes, shocks and all the rest.

    Reply
  6. Dawn Foster

    I’m furious about the Olympics. It feels like being turfed out of your bedroom as a kid, for guests you don’t want to visit and hadn’t invited. I’m sick of working class Londoners being turfed out of their homes to make way for the Olympics, Brick Lane’s cobbled streets being tarmaced over to make way for the Olympics, being told we’re not allowed to use cycle lanes, and will be fined for using them in our home to make way for the Olympics. And now missiles and soldiers are being put on flats in Blackheath and Bow, with residents who weren’t asked if they were comfortable with SOLDIERS AND GUNS ON THEIR HOMES being evicted for daring to go to the press. And now a warship on the Thames. It’s like going to a pub with your friends and wearing knuckle dusters. If you advertise that you expect trouble, you’ll get it.

    Reply
    1. alice Post author

      It’s worth noting that in that Telegraph piece Hammond specifically mentions the boat race protest. Maybe I’m being terribly naive, but I can’t help thinking the navy’s biggest warship is a bit of an over reaction to Trenton…

      Some of my fave reads on subject:

      “welcome to lockdown London” Stephen Graham: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/mar/12/london-olympics-security-lockdown-london

      The Olympics Scam, long read from LRB archive by Iain Sinclair (2008) http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n12/iain-sinclair/the-olympics-scam

      Succinct rant from Andrew Simms from a few months ago: http://transitionconsciousness.wordpress.com/2012/02/25/andrew-simms-decimates-the-london-olympics-in-15-eloquent-tweets/

      Reply
    1. alice Post author

      Wow. Yes, heart warming but… um, well, I sort of felt like I was intruding watching it. I do wonder what my Grandparents would have made of that. The bit in the loo around 1.5mins in is something special.

      Reply
  7. Rebekah Higgitt

    By the wonders of modern technology I read this post and am writing this from the Greenwich riverside. I can testify that this ship, as I look at it right now, is *huge*. Suspect that locals will be in for a noisy week as the helicopters it’s carrying test take off and landing.

    Lots of people are here having a look, not many seem to be thinking about its significance. (likewise the nearby D-Day ‘experience’ ride – troubles me a lot!)

    Reply
  8. Julian Kingston

    As a local on a peaceful boat up Deptford Creek it’s not just helicopters. They were checking us out on the night tide with their blacked out RIB’s and machine guns. The thing is surrounded by river police too. Not as bad as when Ark Royal was up many years ago when I was visited and heavily “questioned” as a subversive because I had a Greenpeace sticker on my wheelhouse window. All this fuss when all any terrorist would need to do is row out to the wreck of the Montgomery in the estuary and drop a grenade over the side, The consequential tidal wave does not bear thinking about…..and I suspect they’re not.

    Reply
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