Sunday, 23 February 2014

Southampton Ship Show

A few weeks ago, I found out the Ocean Liner Society was holding a 'ship show' at the Novotel in Southampton on February 22nd. They'd always held a show in London, I'd last gone to that one in 2003, but stopped doing them because it became economically unviable to do so, at least so I heard. Having not been to one of their shows for years - the recent South Coast Ship Show in November was not one of theirs - I decided to go along, which I duly did yesterday morning.

The Novotel is a twenty minute walk along West Quay Road from Town Quay, which is no problem on a day like yesterday, which was spring-like and pleasant, unlike the terrible hurricane-force storm - the latest and worst in a series which had battered the southern half of the country in recent weeks - we had a week ago, which destroyed parts of the Isle of Wight (including homes) and dumped even more water on the already saturated south of England.
I didn't take a camera with me simply because I have a recurrence of a shoulder injury sustained after a fall at home late last year and lugging a DSLR and lens(es) to and around the show and back didn't appeal. As it was, there was not much on the move. So, it's going to be a bit wordy but light on pictures I'm afraid.

As well as the vendors and exhibits, there were two talks, both of which I went to. The first one was by Ron Hancock, the Port of Southampton ambassador, who spoke about 175 years of Southampton Docks with obscure facts and personal reminiscences. For example, after a terrible series of storms which battered southern England - much the same as we've had from Christmas until last week - Brunel's Great Eastern called at Southampton to offload the dead and injured. William Whiting wrote 'Eternal Father Strong To Save' in Southampton after watching people being brought ashore from the ship, which had anchored near to what is now the oil terminal at Fawley. One was a friend of his, the ship's captain, who had survived the storm but drowned when the boat carrying him from the ship to the docks capsized and sank in Southampton Water.
The hymn is used the world over, being adopted by the Royal Navy and the United States Navy and also used by NASA and various air forces, with the lyrics adapted to suit.

During World War One a.k.a. 'The Great War', 850,000 horses passed through Southampton Docks but, tragically, less than 50,000 returned. A truly horrific statistic of a horrific conflict. The war started a hundred years ago but that really got me - and before anyone rolls their eyes, I know the human sacrifice in this completely pointless war was bad but it's been well-documented in the 96 years since the Armistice, while the animal sacrifice has been, largely, forgotten. Being an animal lover, this particularly appalled me...I cannot bring myself to watch War Horse, I know I'd be a blubbering wreck long before the end.

Ron's talk was excellent and it's good to know that Southampton Docks have a bright future, and it is now one of the most productive ports in Europe.

The second talk, and the one I was really looking forward to, was by the designer of Queen Mary 2, Dr. Stephen Payne, who gave an entertaining and interesting talk entitled 'Genesis of a Queen 10 years on: would I have done anything differently?', about how he designed Queen Mary 2. His interest in liners was fostered at the age of five, by the BBC TV programme Blue Peter in 1965, when Valerie Singleton did a cross-Channel trip from Cherbourg to Southampton aboard Queen Elizabeth. In January 1972, the ship burned and sank, a victim of arsonists, in Hong Kong harbour, which was shown live via satellite on the show. The ship was featured in the Blue Peter annual later that year (I also got the Blue Peter annual every Christmas when I was a small kid in the 70s) and Stephen was put out by the article stating that no ship like that would ever be built again, so he wrote a letter of complaint, which got him a blue Blue Peter badge.

The story of how he came to design the ship as a liner and not just a cruise ship was interesting. They had to overcome the ship yard's 40% construction premium (a result of the much thicker steel used and higher criteria for) and, because of this, Stephen then had to increase the ship's passenger capacity to help make up for the 40% extra cost. He covered design, construction and sea trials. An amusing snippet to emerge was that one of the publicity shots of the ship, showing her bulbous bow, had to be doctored because, apparently, the Americans considered the bulbous bow to be 'obscene'! I couldn't believe my ears. Seriously?! I know the Americans as a nation are notoriously prudish but this is prudishness taken to new levels. It's bordering on insanity and completely moronic.

Anyway, it was a very entertaining and informative talk and, afterwards, myself and my friends Andrew, Vitor and Christian had books signed by him and our photo taken with him. I am not a shy person but I suddenly found myself a bit tongue-tied and could only mumble something about how I'd travelled on QM2 once, hoped to go on her again and how superb she is! It was as if I'd met Iron Maiden, Motörhead or Anthrax when I was a kid back in the 80s (I was a metalhead - I still am!).
Commodore Ron Warwick was also there and he also signed my copy of Stephen's QM2 book. I have to admit I was nervous about approaching him because, when I was a ship-obsessed teenager back in the 80s, the Commodore was a bit of a hero to me, and I thought he'd be a bit austere and unapproachable but he was friendly and made a couple of jokes as he signed the book.

There were plenty of stalls selling loads of ship-related goodies and books to part you from your hard-earned. I knew there'd be model dealers there, so I went with the sole intention of buying one or two for my collection and bought one of Hamburg Express, one of the big new 13,200 TEU monsters (funnily enough I saw her passing the forts in the Solent last Sunday) and one of Queen Victoria. I would have got more but it's easy to go mad and spend too much. There weren't any ferries I wanted, and no more container ships, and some of the other cruise ships and liners were even more expensive.

It was an excellent show and, as I am a confirmed southerner and therefore completely biased, I think Southampton, with its rich shipping history, is the perfect place for the Ocean Liner Society's Ship Show, I really hope they are back next year.

Hamburg Express in model form

And in the Solent last week

Queen Victoria as a model

And the real thing, as seen last year in Southampton

And my entire 1:1250 collection (I have others, but they're all sorts of sizes and quality) lined up on the dining room table. I need a proper home for these, rather then the top of a book case, because they're potential victims of dust and the cats (one furry fiend has already broken the fore mast off the Queen Elizabeth, which I have had to glue back on - I know it was a cat because telltale hairs were left at the scene of the crime!)