WHEN is a museum not a museum . . . when it’s cleverly disguised as an old warship.
I have to say that if I suggested visiting a museum my two boys would hardly jump for joy. They’d go because at nine and seven years old I still call the shots but they would hardly be enthusiastic.
A tour back in time on HMS Victory however is so far removed from their idea of a museum that they were racing ahead of me to be the first ones through the dockyard gates.
To me HMS Victory never loses its magnificence. I have toured it numerous times but each time still feels like opening a time portal to the past.
This time I had the added joy of seeing my sons really appreciate it for the first time.
We were also blessed with a first-class tour guide who was knowledgeable, personable and witty with the look and attitude of someone who has many nautical miles under their belt.
The boys were bowled over by how much can be seen of life onboard Nelson’s ship. It also made them appreciate the life they are now living and the fact their biscuits come without added ingredients such as weevils.
Having joined a tour, or two, in my time I was delighted by the different things I learn each time.
In this outing our guide was keen to pass on his knowledge of where phrases we use everyday come from.
These included “flash in the pan” “going off half-cocked”
and “loose cannon”, which all come from things going wrong with cannons during battle. “Three square meals a day” emanates from the shape of their plates and even “shake or show a leg”, which according to our guide originated from when members of the fairer sex were allowed on board ship and could stay in hammocks after the sailors had got up however they needed to show or shake a leg to prove their gender.
From HMS Victory we headed down the gangway to catch the next harbour tour. It is 20-plus years since I first took a harbour tour and I can still remember being overwhelmed by the sight of the British warships. This time as we motored past HMS Liverpool, which was being decommissioned and facing an uncertain future, I began to feel an air of gloom.
However, the sight of HMS Dauntless and HMS Dragon made me realise how much technology and design has changed over the years and that the older ships are becoming relics themselves.
The busy Portsmouth ferry terminal, bustling Gunwharf Quays and areas of harbour refurbishment managed to lift my spirits and by the time we finished the tour instead of thinking our Royal Navy was on its knees I had the feeling it was just trying to fit in with the modern world. For the boys however it was simply a great boat trip and the chance for a Kit Kat!
From here we raced for Action Stations to have a go on some of the simulators and see the Navy’s gadgets and gismos in action.
The climbing wall proved a lure for both my little monkeys and while they were happily engaged I decided to try my hand at commanding a warship.
If I have learned nothing else on this visit I am now in possession of one very important fact. If we are at war and I am the only person left who can steer us into a battle on the high seas we are well and truly doomed!