I have never been fond of enclosed spaces. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I suffer from claustrophobia - but that's probably only because I have never travelled in a submarine. Not only must this be like being encased
in a sardine tin but a submarine, don't you know, dives to great depths. Enough to give the shivers to someone who won't even duck her head under water in the swimming pool.
It may therefore surprise you to
hear that I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport yesterday. Especially as nobody expected me to set off to sea.
Mr B had been looking forward for ages to this trip, organised
for our Merry Band of Questers by our friend Shirley. We would need to get up at 7.30 a.m. at the latest, I informed him, if we were to catch the coach at 8.45. So determinedly had I worked to fix this in his consciousness - that in the end it was I who overslept
and didn't wake up until nearly 8 a.m. We had a panicky half an hour getting ourselves up, dressed, breakfasted and out of the house. It was only the fact that we were not the Very Last To Board that made me feel a little better.
Mr B wasn't able to climb the steps that led to the entrance of HMS Alliance, the centrepiece of the Museum, so we had to miss the first half of the tour (we sat in the cafe and enjoyed a bacon bap - there are always compensations
for disappointments in life and a bacon bap is one of the best) but then we were whisked up by lift to catch the last part of the tour. This meant that I now know all about escaping from a submarine which, given my concerns expressed above, might come in useful
one day. Or possibly not.
My friend Jean the Ever Helpful pointed us in the direction of a room in which a film was playing showing Life Inside HMS Alliance so we did manage to watch the cooks struggling to
produce suet puddings (known as babies' heads) in the most cramped kitchen space imaginable and submariners cutting through mouldy bread to find an eatable slice. None of this, it goes without saying, made me hanker after Life Under The Ocean Wave but it did
make me appreciate those who do. It also made me appreciate the kindness of Jean who is good at identifying ways of bringing pleasure. She belongs to our Bird Watching group and never fails to bring out the Werthers Originals half way through our monthly morning
ambles. Everyone needs a friend like Jean.
Do you know why submarines fly the Jolly Roger? Apparently when they were first commissioned in 1901, the "High Ups" in the Navy considered them to be "underhand,
un-British and no better than pirates." In response, the submariners adopted the pirate flag as their own. This was just one of many excellent stories related by John, a submariner man and boy, who gave us an excellent talk while we were munching our sandwich
lunch. He also solved for us a puzzle about the Naval Hospital we had passed on our way to the Museum. Why, we had wondered, did it look more like a prison than a hospital? John explained that the hospital was built in the days when men were still press-ganged
into the Navy - so if by chance they fell ill the powers that be wanted to stop them escaping when they felt a bit better. Well, fancy that!
There was still lots of time after lunch to explore. Here was The
Turtle, the first ever submarine used in warfare in 1776 during the American War of Independence. Here was the Captain's Cabin from HMS Conqueror, the submarine which sank the Belgrano in the Falklands War. Still a controversial action, according to the televised
commentary which we watched sitting on what would have been the Captain's narrow bed. Views were equally divided among the Questers but then we are an opinionated band.
On the way home our coach driver took
two diversions, one through Chichester city centre, one through Arundel town centre - presumably to avoid lengthy traffic queues at roundabouts. To me, who will sit patiently in many a traffic jam just so long as I have good old Andre Rieu entertaining me
on the CD player, negotiating the narrow streets of city and town in a massive coach seemed like unnecessary extra trouble. I did, nevertheless, silently applaud her skills of manoeuvring.
Just as I applaud
the submariners who secretly, silently go where I would most definitely not...