Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chichester and Portsmouth - Day 2

Once I arrived at Portsmouth and Southsea Station (having caught my breath in my mad dash to catch my train), Brian (Dad) and Ruth (daughter) drove me to their home where we all sat down to dinner. Barb and Brian are family friends of my parents' from way way back. It all has to do with singing and Glendon College and the 70's. Some of the earliest pictures of me are when I was captured with my parents attending various O'Sullivan / Couchman family weddings. Barb (friend, wife of Brian, mother of Frances and Ruth) kindly extended the invitation to me to visit them for a weekend, and I was so happy to be able to work it out and run away from London for a couple of days.

(Lol, "Wife of Brian." The Impressive Clergyman does Monty Python.)

We had the kind of wonderful family meal that I remember having with my parents, where the family sits down together but people have to eat at different speeds so they can leave at various times to get to various rehearsals, and then everybody will come back together later on, sort of. They very kindly listened to all my stories from the archive that day, and I enjoyed hearing what Ruth and Frances are up to - various wonderful scholastic, musical, artistic and athletic endeavours. We had cups of tea and treacle tart (YUM) and sat down to a zany Brit comedy I hadn't seen before. Probably because we don't have a TV. 

After a cozy sleep in their guest room, Barb set off with me on Saturday morning to show me some of the sights of Portsmouth.

Photo op! Brian and Barb in front of their home.
Brian drove us down to the historic dockyards of Portsmouth to see some of the installations there. This is kind of the main touristy thing to do in Portsmouth, so Brian, Frances and Ruth have probably all done it like five bajillion times. So, it was just Barb and me this trip. Our first stop was the HMS Warrior.

This ship, when it was unveiled in 1860 under Queen Victoria, was Britain's first iron-hulled, armoured warship. It was such a leap forward in technology and was so scary that, so I am told, it never had to fire its guns it battle; all the navy had to do was kind of trot out the Warrior and all the other ships would just get scared and run away. We wandered up the gangplank for a look around.
Spinnaker Observation Tower

Forth to glory, men!
A view of the Isle of Wight from the bow of the Warrior.
Fear me, little sissy warships!
After we poked around below decks for a bit, we wandered over to another ship for a guided tour - the Victory. This was the ship on which Admiral Lord Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar, and on which he died.

The Victory is technically still the flagship of the Royal Navy, and was unveiled in 1765. It is the only surviving warship that fought in the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars. The ship has been in dry dock for a long time now, and some of the stress is showing - apparently extensive preservation works are underway. But, interestingly, a docks employee was quick to assure us in strong terms (when Barb asked out of interest) that there is nothing at all wrong with the Victory and the media were grossly overstating the structural woes of the ship. Okaaay.... it's looking a little fatigued to me, but what do I know? Well, we got our PR fix for the day and were ready for the tour.

We boarded the ship and the guide gave us a wonderful tour full of historical details. He explained how a cannon works and how different types of shot are used to take out masts, hulls and people - eep! We learned about the mess hall and the powder magazine, on-board discipline and medicine, and how on a calm day it takes EIGHT people to control the wheel of the ship - as opposed one guy with braids and mascara, as Disney would have us believe. (omg don't hate me Johnny, I love you...) In a storm it would take more like twenty people just to keep the ship in control, which sounds like a lot, until you learn that it would have taken something like three hundred and fifty men working in concert to hoist the ship's anchor.

After the tour, Barb headed off for a coffee break and I took myself to the Mary Rose Museum. You may not have ever heard of the Mary Rose - I hadn't. But wow, what a story!! The Mary Rose was the flagship of Henry VIII's navy (incidentally, did you know that Henry VIII was the first ruler to develop a standing army to man his ships, rather than assemble a horde of untrained occasional crew when he needed to fight, i.e., an actual navy). So one day Henry is watching a sea battle with the French from his fort in Portsmouth, and the Mary Rose, the pride of the newly-established navy, is doing great. She fires all the cannons on the one side of the ship, and then goes to turn around and fire all the other cannons on the other side. But nope, instead of doing that - she sinks.  Just sinks. Apparently it only took a matter of minutes. Poof! (Well I guess 'glug' more like.) 

Can you picture it? "Come about! Fire cannons!" "Nope wait, something's not right..." Bloop bloop bloop... <> Henry must have had a fit! So of course the French are convinced it was their handiwork, and Henry's people don't know what to think, and modern-day historians have various theories, but the really exciting thing is - in the eighties they went down and pulled the remains of the ship back up!

Didn't know THAT, didja??

The ship was amazingly preserved under layers of silt, and they went down and got it, and found all kinds of amazing artefacts down there, and now they're putting together a museum to display the wreck and the amazing things they found on it. I wasn't able to see the actual wreck - they are in the process of very carefully treating it so it is preserved - but there is a wonderful installation there with a lot of the artefacts and lots of history and info about the wreck. So cool!

So after that went went for a lovely lunch, and Barb walked me around the shopping district of Portsmouth. Frances and Ruth joined us, and we poked around the shops.

This shop was very adorable, with coffees and teas and related accessories, but I held back.
After that we were pooped, and Brian came to pick us up. Barb made another tasty family meal, which was crowned by Frances' home-made chocolate-orange cupcakes, topped with Terry's Chocolate Orange segments.

Yum.. but what's everyone else going to have?
We had a browse through some old family photos and generally caught up. Barb is studying for ordination and we swapped seminary stories a bit. Frances is putting the finishing touches on a four-voice musical composition for school which she played for me on the computer - very impressive! I was lamenting that I missed the end of an interesting video at the Mary Rose Museum relating to testing out cannon technology that they found on the ship, so Frances pulled out a great BBC history special that she had on tape, that was about that very topic. Same era and everything! The hospitality in Portsmouth is particularly fine. 

The next morning Brian drove me to Havant to get the Sunday train back to Chichester, for my continuing adventures. It was such a pleasure to visit the O'Sullivans and get to know them all a little better. I hope our paths will cross again soon.

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