[18 February 2005: the following is from a notebook I carried around with me all day yesterday when I was in Portsmouth. I thought I’d type it up so you could read it—it’s EXTREMELY long, but I thought you might find it interesting. I suggest reading it throughout the day, so you can get a sense of me walking around, then sitting to write, then moving around again. Anything in brackets is something I added today to explain, but other than that it’s verbatim—symbols, spelling errors and all. Each paragraph is a new page. Portsmouth is a small town on the southern coast of England, with a deep harbor. There has been some kind of dockyards there since the 1400s, and the Navy still has a presence there. I visited the historic dockyards, where the HMS Victory, the HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose are docked, along with a ton of museums, souvenir shops and family attractions.]
Well, it took me like 7 hours to get a train, but now I’m happily speeding towards Portsmouth. LOVE trains. Was thinking how Napoleon [I just finished one of his biographies] spent all this time & energy bringing the message of “La Republique” to the masses—and now we see him as a madman. Of course, at one point he became Emperor, so people had to follow his lead, but his early years are faintly reminiscent of G. W. Bush. Spending money + lives. The difference, of course, is Democracy (viva la republique!) and instead of handing Bush unlimited power, we’re going to kick him out of office in three years. (not. soon. enuff.) So. –oh, & public sentiment, of course, is AGAINST our beloved emperor [emperor with an ironic strike-through] president. We don’t see it as our duty to bring democracy to Iraq. I wonder if that’s just laziness. Could
Be another symptom of the lethargy of politics—a stronger symptom of the thing which makes people not vote. If people are flooded with new ideas & new freedoms, they are surely more galvanised to act. Witness the French c. 1789. Witness the Iraqi people c. 2005. I’m not saying Bush is Bonaparte ‡ Napoleon. [I distinguished Bonaparte the general from Napoleon the emperor, as did the author of the biography] I’m just thinking how he would be if he were an historical figure. Would he be in power? Or would he be overtaken by the kind of men who put him in power? Back then it sounded like there was let politicizing, more coups—well, you know what I mean. Speaking of George—[censored] pain in my right side again. Had some toast & peanut butter & coffee for brekkies, but hungry again. Not enough sleep last night. When I got
up (scribble) it was cloudy & I thought “figures” but now it’s sunny [it was sunny all week] …ah sun. We just went into a brick tunnel—covered with ivy. Oh, look, pretty countryside. Ah. Anyway. Napoleon. What kind of man would he be today? Somehow I doubt he has the temperament to be a politician—he was a soldier 1st, wasn’t he? Probably more akin to a clan-chief in Iraq…one of the mullahs, perhaps who incites such fear, loyalty + violence. Wellington [British general who defeated him at Waterloo] said that Napoleon on the field was worth 40,000 men. Could you imagine? Imagine a modern leader who would A) lead and B) be so inspiring it could double or treble a force? *sigh* But then of course we’re talking about pitched battles w/humans & not planes + tanks, are we? So maybe all this speculation is stupid. After all, history has moved on, hasn’t it?
And how. There are similarities though. Just as there are similarities between Bonaparte + Bush, so too Napoleon + Saddam Hussein. Let’s stick HIM on a small island somewhere. Ha. Napoleon didn’t recognize the authority of the English to banish him either. And Saddam may have a point. Who has the authority to try the heads of state? Apparently—other heads of state w/more firepower. We need a “council of Kings” or something—a tribunal of retired presidents and (scribbled over misspelled word) ministers perhaps, Jimmy Carter & Nelson Mandela. Where do I fit into history? I have no desire for
power. [fame and glory: yes, power: no] If I were a woman 200 years ago—I suspect somehow I would not be easily married off & what else is there for women to do? Write & travel, apparently. J How different would things be if I had married by now. Wow. That’s what I should do: find me a politician & if he ever got out of hand I would remind him of L’Empereur & Bush II.
Well, I’m here! I know—already?! Train much faster that expected. Portsmouth is not what I expected either—it’s more, ah, dunno really, industrial? [looking back this makes sense—this IS where they build ships, after all] The tours don’t even start until 10AM… if I’d’ve known that, I would have slept another hour. Ah, well. But there is a very strong sense of SHIP HISTORY! here—a conscious effort. There’s a stone chain path in the flagstones to lead you to it all…right now I’m sitting on a bench (which has a
“wavy” pattern…) looking @ the HMS Warrior—Britain’s 1st metal ship, according to the sign. It’s a proper ship, I think, not retro-fitted like the Merrimack or the Monitor…or were those steam powered? Gah, can’t remember. I think it’s funny that when I was younger my parents dragged me to all these historic sites & I had v. little appreciation for the scope of them until now (Ford’s Theatre, anyone?) –and now here I am inflicting history on myself. J I can see the Victory’s masts from here & feel the familiar sensation of geekery coming on…the HMS Warrior has a figurehead. I wonder when they stopped doing that..
[having bought my ticket and walked about two blocks to where the Victory is] First impressions—It’s really small! (as with all celebrities) I mean—damn—It looks like a toy. People fought in this thing? Well, it’s clean, of course, &
brightly/freshly painted. There are ropes EVERYWHERE. To support the masts…in case they were shot off? Dis-masted. [yes, and also to take the weight of the wind under sail, as well as allow access to the sails: dismasted is one of my new favourite words] It’s hard to picture a battle. Smoke, I know that much, and it would be louder, louder than I can imagine it. Screams, cannons, guns, all on top of normal ship noises: canvas, ropes, wood creaking…I think she’s dry-docked. That’s deeply disappointing. Right. Well. Let’s go see where Nelson got shot.
I was going to eat at the Ship Anson down the road—but when I walked in the door & was greeted by a couple dogs (to which I bent over & offered my hand—they were puntables [very small, shi tzuhs, I think]) some yob @ the counter beered out “Watch yer fingers!” [Like I had never petted a strange dog before. Jerk.] At which point I thought: Yeah. No. Ignoring me is better than letting your
customers shout @ me. Well, anyway. Now I’m @…the Emma Hamilton. [Emma Hamilton was Nelson’s mistress for the last seven-eight years of his life.] Mmm…hot beef sandwich--£4.50 & a pint o’ Scrumpy Jack. Wanted fish & chips, but £7.00? Nu. But, okay. The Victory was WICKED cool—once I got onboard, it really hit home how (okay, there are pictures of Nelson + Emma on every available wall. Altho “Eye of the Tiger is playing. Woot.) crowded & close the quarters were. Me, at 5’7”-5’8” could clear the beams on the (hang on, lemme get this right) [they gave us a map of the ship with the names of the decks on it, I consult it here] orlop, lower & middle gun deck, & the hold I was stooping. [the decks are, from bottom to top: hold, orlop, lower gun deck, middle gun deck, upper gun deck, which is out in the open, and the poop deck, which covers the back quarter of the ship—admiral’s quarters] So you gotta figure the men were smaller than me. Except apparently, for Admiral Hardy who was 6’4”. [and only a captain in 1805, my bad, he became an admiral later] SO COOL! aw, so much history! I love it! (O, hey “99 Luftballons—haven’t heard this one in awhile)
Mm. Good sandwich. Then, below decks they had a spot—on the orlop deck, had to check—where Nelson fell. [I mean died, my bad—he was shot above decks] It was kind of eerie. The orlop, my brochure advises [advises is crossed out] informs me, is below the waterline & therefore safe from enemy fire, so it’s where the surgeon had his operating room during battle. (note: on display: 1 bottle of anasthetic, 7 saws.) You could see how Nelson was brought down here & put aside so the surgeon could work & keep an eye on him. The painting on display was not entirely accurate—the ceilings were much higher than they were in real life & I don’t think Hardy was there when he died. [The painting they showed was the winning entry in a contest to portray the death of Nelson. Next to it was the beam he was lying against when he died with a gold laurel wreath and “HERE NELSON DIED” on it. Next to it was a water barrel, which was how Nelson’s body came home—preserved in brandy. Not sure if that was THE barrel or not. They weren’t shy about the great Nelson here: this spot is marked as “the shrine.”] Anyway. Everytime the landlady says “My Love,” I think of Mrs. Lovett [from Sweeney Todd] --& she does it
roughly once per sentence. The ketchup packets say “Sachets of Excellence,” which is funny.
The kids running around the Docklands are driving me crazy—but I guess I shouldn’t begrudge them (see. earlier. entry.) Maybe when they come to the U.S they can geek out about Washington, or Lincoln. I don’t mind. I’ll share.
Maybe if I get a dog I could name it “Orlop.” Haha.
After the Victory I saw a sign for the Mary Rose Museum &, being naturally curious, I went in. A nice lady handed me a recorded museum guide & I went into see the Mary Rose…which it turns out was Henry VIII’s flagship that sank in 1584—no, 34? I’ll check…1545. Okay. So now I’m standing on a
balcony overlooking the rotting-being restored-remnant of the starboard side of this ship. My jaw absolutely DROPPED. I mean—this ship is 500 years old! And then when I went through the museum & looked at all the artifacts I only became more impressed. [The Mary Rose was heading out to engage the enemy (France, naturally) with all her gunports open when she heeled over too far in the wind. Water poured in and she sank quickly—as the king watched. 500 people died. The ship came to rest on its starboard side, which filled with mud and thus she was preserved.] Wow! All the things they recovered—clothes & weapons & plaes. Pins & needles & dice the size of my little fingernail. The kids were legion—this museum was aimed @ them—and there were costumed guides walking around. They had a “try-on-Tudor-clothes” exhibit & I was DYING to try on Henry VIII’s getup, but I figured walking around the Victory w/my left hand in my pocket was enough. Strumpy Jack…affecting focus…but, yeah, the Dockyards
are WELL brilliant—I’m going back now. Well, a ticket + brochure was £19, so you betcherfur I’m going to get my money’s worth. Now I’m off to see the WWII cruisers—oh, and the H.M.S Warrior, I suppose. J [turns out the “WWII” cruisers were actually Navy property—on their base and definitely off limits to tourists. They might even have been commissioned ships. So I took a couple pictures and left it at that.] And then, of course, the Trafalgar Museum.
Right. Better get going.
I leave a drink of beer in my glass-for friends who are not here. Miss you all.
Compared to Victory, Warrior is huge & clean & spacious—I can walk upright w/out fear of hitting my head. [HMS Warrior was built in 1860—a hundred years after Victory—as a deterrent to Napoleon III. It worked—Warrior never fired a shot. Ten years later she was outdated and turned into a training school, then an oil “hulk”—a storage container that could not move under its own power. In 1968 somebody realized they had the last remaining Victorian ship storing oil and it was bought and restored. Warrior has a steam-powered propeller, but it was not fuel efficient, and so she used sails when not needing to move in a hurry.] The guns are enormous—breech loading. It’s all very tidy—this ship was restored in 1979, not refit like Victory. Think I prefer V. [V. for Victory—at this point I’m literally walking around taking notes] The gun ports have numbered buckets for fire—order & empire instead of V’s “GR” [George Rex—King George III] leather buckets.
Pewter tin? plates instead of wooden trenchers, but there’s still a bucket for tobacco juice…the implements are still the same: ramrod et al. [It struck me how things looked the same, only the materials and level of quality had changed—tables hung by metal strips now, instead of ropes, oil lanterns instead of candles] It’s very industrial & clean—all stations are identical. This is hip is an odd combination of steam & sail. Poor sail.
Something else you didn’t see on Victory…a room w/iron bathtubs & washing machines w/mangles. Everywhere, cannonballs as big as bowling balls, painted red. [compared to Victory’s softball sized ones, or Mary Rose’s cannonballs which were stones chipped into shape] Little girl asked her mom why they’re red. Mom: “Good ? I dunno. Maybe these’ve got more powder in them…” Cannonballs don’t have powder, but, a certain size? [to be identified more easily] Then again, it might just look nice. Stupid Victorians.
Found a kindred spirit on board the Warrior: apparently the cannonballs are painted red so they don’t rust. [Murray, a volunteer guide who’s worked on the Warrior for 13 years and who keeps interrupting his stories to encourage small children to try out a hammock, also informs me that Prince Edward, Queen Victoria’s son, sent Warrior as an escort to pick up his bride, Princess Alexandria, from her home in Norway. (I think it was Norway…) The Princess was so impressed with the ship she sent a letter to the captain telling him so, and he had a special engraving put on the ship’s wheel: “The Princess is Much Impressed.” I spent a good twenty minutes talking to Murray, who finally had to go excuse himself and extricate a small child from a hammock.]
[riding home on the train] I can’t believe it’s 6’o’clock. I spent all afternoon wandering in + out of the Royal Navy Museum and the shops…they had an exhibit with a waxwork of Nelson & SO MUCH NELSONIANA…[mostly collected, I learned, by an American and donated in the 80’s] I mean, it was just too much. The NMM [National Maritime Museum—I recognized some of the artifacts which had been borrowed from the Docklands] exhibit was at least somewhat balanced, but this was WAY overkill. I kept thinking…”he’s just a man.” [Nelson’s last words were: “Thank God I have done my duty.” Duty. He did what he was told…well, no wonder the nation’s so grateful] Yeah. I was excited to see the Victory et al. But really. It was too much. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of my travels & reading, it’s that you can’t live in the Glorious Past—as much as the present sucks… You gotta do it. Although, clothes from back then were more fun. Anyway. I hope I’m “Nelsoned-out” because I’m exhausted. As the museums were closing & people were hitting the shops there were SO MANY
kids… then I went to Gunwharf Quay—an outlet mall. [with a hugely inappropriate name, I thought, haha] Nelson DIED so I could go shopping!!!!!!! J But as I was walking around, I started getting this headache…ugh. I really want some ‘feine. [caffeine] Been a long time since that morning cup of coffee. Stupid. Kids. I moved carriages because the other one had a pack of pre-teens in. But now there’s some under-10s…could be worse, I suppose. I could be their parents. J I didn’t but [buy] anything at the museum except 4 postcards and a little pewter statue of Shakespeare. [Going to start a collection.] Why he’s in a museum about Tudors, I’ll never know…I alfo bought a bag @ the outlet mall—it’s bigger & the strap is longer, ‘cos I don’t like the one I’ve been using. Need more room for my writing. So…day’s expenditures…£19 entry fee, £7.50 lunch, £1 postcards £Shakespeare
£1.60 card. Hm. Seems I spent more. [yeah, I forgot train fare--£20] Would have spent more on a model or something useless with the Victory on it, but I couldn’t find anything random enough. I think it’s interesting that this country can caricature Shakespeare out of all proportion, but the only souvenirs you can buy of Nelson are appropriately dignified & expensive chyna. Bad headache. No Coke. At least I’m not hungry. Wow, what a good day. So exhausted. I’m going to sleep good tonight.
[Thus ends the day’s doings. I forgot to write about seeing the Victory’s foretop sail from the battle of Trafalgar, which was in a long low black room. You could see the cannonball holes and the rent from where the spar broke. (Or was it the boom? I’ve learned more nautical lingo in the past day than in my entire life.) Again, it really brought home how violent these battles were—cannons, damn. They also had a video playing of a re-enactment battle which pretty much visualized for me my earlier musings: crowded quarters, smoke bringing visibility down to nil, noise, fire. The Victory is still a commissioned warship, with a Navy captain and a crew—as opposed to Warrior which is a tourist attraction. (Although, since the Warrior is in the water, she does have a captain and skeleton crew) The Navy also had a building called Action Stations, where kids could see what it was like to “feel the excitement and danger of today’s Navy!” I tried not to be cynical—after all, I was there to geek out about Britain’s greatest naval triumph—but “get ‘em while they’re young!” did float through my head once or twice. And for all my moaning about kids, I thought it was great they had all that stuff for families to do. Although, if I bring my kids—I’m DEFINITELY going to know why they paint the cannonballs so I can give the right answer without having to look stupid.)