Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ocean Liners at the V&A

There are three major museums in South Kensington, but when I was young there was really only two: the spaceships and robots museum (aka Science) and the dinosaur museum (aka Natural History).

On the other side of Museum Road I knew there was something called the Victoria and Albert (V&A) but it seemed to be all about textiles, clothes and plates, which was clearly really dull.

So it is only recently that I've been inside and found out that V&A has a fantastic courtyard (one of the best in London) and is only mostly dull, for there are sometimes exhibitions of interest, such as the one on the moment about Ocean Liners.

This exhibition covers the world of the ocean liner when it was a glamorous way to travel, so from the end of the 19th century to the start of the 2nd World War (mostly). It's also limited to a few of the big firms and routes, with a large emphasis on the transatlantic route to New York.

So nothing about the Blue Funnel Line then.

It was full of interest, from the old posters (like the one above) to magnificent models, such as this cut-away that shows the different levels of opulence from 1st to 2nd and finally 3rd class in the bowels of the boat:

There is of course mention of that most famous of all liners, with this deck chair from the Titanic:

There's also focus on the glamour of liner life during the roaring twenties and fabulous (darling) thirties when top movie stars and socialites graced the decks of the super-ships battling for the Blue Ribbon:

Post war the emphasis was on leisure, swimming and sunbathing:

Then air travel took over and the super liners ended up dismantled or in the case of the Queen Mary, turned into a museum in its own right.

At the exit, film clips show the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Leonardo DiCaprio, as if to remind us of how they influence us still. The memory of those glamorous vessels, and the rich and famous that sailed on them, remains strong; echos of those glorious days and nights at sea.

An exhibition worth popping into the V&A for, even if, like for me, it isn't your usual haunt.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Thames Tideway Tunnel - April 2018 Update

In the last few months those travelling on the Thames, such as the commuters in the Clippers zooming up and down between Putney and Gravesend, will have seen more and more tunnel boring machines (TBMs) appear on the riverbank.

The one at Fulham (with cutting head above) has been assembled from parts (as blogged here) and similar constructions can been seen at other sites, such as by Battersea Power Station. In total there are 5 TBMs on this project.

The acoustic shed that was under construction (as described in this blog) is now finished and within it a shaft is being cut down to the level of the tunnel:

This pic must have been taken a few weeks ago as its now just over 20m down of the total 50m depth where tunnelling will happen.

The soil is being removed by barge down the Thames. When the TBM is fully operational it will be continually generating waste and which a series of conveyor belts will transport onto these lighters 24 hours a day.

A couple of years ago I walked the Thames Tunnel, constructed between 1825 and 1843 by the father and son team of 20 year old Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Sir Marc.

This project will take a lot less time to complete and use a lot higher tech but its fascinating to see this new part of London's infrastructure take shape.

Images from: Thames Tideway Tunnel

Thursday, April 12, 2018

William Dampier on Ascension Island

Recently SV Delos has been on Ascension Island.

Well I say recently: what I mean is that they recently published a set of videos about their time on the island, in practice they were there back in July 2017.

While I can't see myself ever getting to what looks like an amazing place, it appears an alleged relative of mine did, namely William Dampier. I've posted about him and his amazing life before and my go-to book on the subject is A Pirate of Exquisite Mind. So after watching the Delos video I picked up my copy, looked in the index under Ascension, and yes there it was.

Dampier was on his way back from exploring the waters between north Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea as captain of the Roebuck. Alas his command was rotten and worm-eaten and while passing Ascension in 1701 it sprung "a great leak". After frantic attempts to save the ship (not helped by a carpenter who felt the best idea was to cut an even bigger hole) he was forced to beach the Roebuck on the shores of the island.

At the time Ascension was uninhabited and described as a "desolate island" but the castaways found a spring, turtles, goats and land crabs on which they survived until rescue came from some passing Royal Navel vessels and an East Indiaman.

Three hundred years later relics of that Roebuck were unearthed by archaeologists on Long Beach, Ascension including the ship's bell and a giant clam-shell, one of the specimens Dampier was returning for the Royal Society.

The bell is now on display in the museum on Ascension and the incident was depicted in a set of stamps issued by the island government showing Dampier, the Roebuck, its grounding and then recovery of the bell by divers:

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Thames history fades

This is the Lots Road Power Station, built between 1902 and 1904, and it stands where Chelsea Creek meets the Thames.

The photo above shows the view as of spring 2018 (in black and white) and you can get an echo of what it must have been like for about a hundred years: focused on a working river - much like the previous post about Greenwich.

Not for much longer, though, as this empty shell is about to be transformed into Chelsea Waterfront including two glass and steel towers containing apartments that gleam with polished granite.

But I have decidedly mixed feelings about this: what London needs is affordable housing, costing between £ 300 - 500k not multi-million pound condos for those looking for "a study in sheer opulence".

Does their glossy brochure describe the London I know?

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Dire Straits: Single Handed Sailor

Bit of a blast from the past this morning

Two in the morning, dry-dock town
The river rolls in the night
Little gypsy moth, she's all tied down
She quivers in the wind and the light

Yeah, and a sailing ship is just held down in chains
From the lazy days of sail
She's just a-lying there in silent pain
He lean on the tourist rail

A mother and her baby and the college of war
In the concrete graves
You never want to fight against the river law
Nobody rules the waves
Yeah, and on a night when the lazy wind is a-wailing
Around the Cutty Sark
The single-handed sailor goes sailing
Sailing away in the dark

He's upon the bridge on the self same night
The mariner of dry-dock land
Two in the morning, but there's one green light
And a man on a barge of sand

She's gonna slip away below him
Away from the things he's done
But he just shouts "Hey man, what you call this thing?"
He could have said "Pride of London"
On a night when the lazy wind is a-wailing
Around the Cutty Sark
Yeah, the single-handed sailor goes sailing
Sailing away in the dark

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Transgender ship demands right to be called he

Traditionally all ships have been identified as female but in a shock move this morning a representative of the world's ships has said that in future they want to be referred to as "he".

"Gender is a dynamic concept" he said. "It makes many of us uncomfortable that the sailing community would force one particular gender upon the ships and boats of the world. No longer are all sailors male: now we have women racing in the Volvo and Olympics just like the men."

The move was supported by gender neutral monarch Neptune, who noted that river and sea gods can be either gender and therefore welcomed this introduction of diversity into shipping.

Editors note: following a top-level all-staff meeting involving JP, Sassi and (reluctantly) Buff it was agreed that forthwith this blog will use the gender neutral "it" to describe all boats, ships, yachts, dinghies or other marine craft.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Drug Boat Dreams and a Savage Way to Sail

A shout-out for two sets of sailors met at the Delos meetup back in February.

First up there's the Drug Boat Dreams otherwise known as Targ and Teeps. They bought at a government auction the yacht Golem (as in Jewish folklore) which had been trying to smuggle £120m worth of drugs to Europe. It had to be pretty much torn to pieces inside by the National Crime Agency to find all the packages of cocaine, so it went for not that much but has required a lot of work to get it back together. Recently the mast was put back in and rigged.

You can follow their adventures on Instagram here: note the emphasis on cobalt blue, which fortunately exactly matched the colour of my macarons:

Then there's a Savage way to Sail, a solo circumnavigation being planned by an ex army sailor to raise money for charity. There's a web site here which describes the route and yacht and also a MyDonate page here for those wanting to make a donation. The yacht chosen is Coralle a Camper & Nicholson 40AC.

One of the charities is Turn to Starboard which offers sailing as a means of re-engaing and re-habilitating ex-servicesmen from the UK's military.

Good luck to both Golem and Coralle and the crews of both!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Boat Race 2018 - a video

Rather than taking stills, this Boat Race decided to shoot only video and put the result on YouTube, as can be seen above.

Must admit can see why the BBC has 30 plus camera and a mesh style radio communication network to pass video up and down the Thames: the rowing eights are going so fast you only get to see a snapshot of the race.

However in this case it was all over by Hammersmith Bridge so got to see the most important thing.... Cambridge ahead!

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Boat Race (and spring) is coming

Spring seems slow in coming this year but one sign of it is already here, namely the Oxford - Cambridge University Boat Race.

Traditionally held in early spring it is scheduled for tomorrow and this afternoon there was a trial run complete with cherry pickers, a helicopter and two rowing eights.

Winter is going.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The beast from the east returns

Blighty is currently being hit by another cold snap, a few weeks after the last one which was dubbed by the media "the beast from the east".

However the temperature is still above 0C so the snow is melting rather than settling, hence its not very photogenic. Instead here's a photo from Geneva showing one of the marinas frozen over, something which hasn't happened to the Thames since 1814 when an "elephant was led across the river below Blackfriars Bridge".

No chance for an Elfstedentocht here on the Thames. If you haven't heard of this its a 200 km ice skating tour / race held in Friesland in north Netherlands whenever the ice is thick enough, which apparently is not very often.

You can get a feel for it (and the intense cold) in this Public Service Broadcasting (the band) video:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Remembering Stephen Hawking

There's been a lot in the media about the sad news of the death of Stephen Hawking and it made me remember my old Cambridge days.

He was a familiar sight then and I often saw him sitting in his wheel chair zooming along the streets of Cambridge, zipping across roads with an alarming speed.

While I studied in the same department as him - the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP to its friends) - he didn't teach us undergrads.

One of my post-grad friends who was lucky enough to have him as a lecturer invited me to the senior common room for tea when Hawking was there - not sure if that's enough for me to claim to have had tea with him but it was certainly memorable.

He wasn't always right and like all humans he had his failings. But he asked the big questions about the universe and came back with some big answers. He made science accessible with a recurring role in shows like The Big Bang Theory. He stood up for what he believed in politically.

And he showed that humans are defined by their mind more than their body: despite doctor's early prognosis he was to live a full life.

It reminded me of Charles Darwin who it is often forgotten was ill for large parts of his life. Darwin also noted that "Even ill-health, though it has annihilated several years of my life, has saved me from the distractions of society and amusement".

But Hawking seems to have enjoyed those distractions of society and amusement as well as doing great science: