Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Knot-Tying Competitions, Garish Figureheads And Name That Caterpillar If You Can (Please)

On the basis of our ticket remaining valid for a year and there being too much to see in one sitting, we returned to the Historic Naval Dockyards this morning to finish The Victory and have a wander round the museum.

This time we got chatting to one of the Officers on board, who was a mine of information, and pointed out the difference between the original ship's timbers (uneven because cut by hand) versus those replaced after Trafalgar, where the ship sustained mucho damago (smooth and even). The lower decks were the only floors that are original because the rest was blown apart in the battle (as was the mast, a section of which is on display inside the ship, complete with peppered musket-shot damage and a massive hole where a cannon ball went straight through it. V impressive and it brought the whole battle into real focus). 

Ascending to the lower deck, the difference in the original floorboards was apparent by their sheen - the polish of a two hundred year's worth of feet. I had noted a change in the atmosphere on the lower levels when we visited last time and had wondered what it was about. As a healer I pick up on atmospheres and after talking to the officer it made sense: that part of the ship is the old part, and the echoes of a thousand people's stories, their triumphs and tragedies, are contained in its planks and beams. If you close your eyes you can almost hear them.

L had scampered on ahead as is his wont, and when I finally found him he'd attached himself to another family who were being taught how to tie nautical knots by a salty-looking white-bearded ancient-mariner type, who might well have been on board since the battle of Trafalgar judging by the look of him. 
The other family left, their children having been thoroughly terrified by the cranky old sea-dog's ferocious and dictatorial approach to knot-tying, and as I got within earshot I realised that, far from cowering away in terror as per the other kids, L was, in fact, giving the old mariner an informed and precise lecture on the use of slip-knots for tying up horses. Judging by the rather perplexed look on the old seafarer's face I suspect he wasn't used to children being anything other than awed and silent in his presence, and as a result he was uncertain how to react.

L can be pretty direct and not remotely twelve-year-oldish when he is in full steam, so I stood by quietly prepared to rescue the seafarer when the tell-tale glazing over of the eyes occured. However, it seemed that if the sea dog had met his match in L, then L too had met his match in the old sea dog. The beardy one wasn't having any of L's superior knot-tying-knowledge-in-the-horse-department-area, and challenged him to a knot-off by handing him a length of rope and gesturing at one of the rings hanging on a nearby cannon.
"Tie it there boy and show me what you mean," he instructed.

I wondered distractedly whether that was strictly speaking the proper use of an ancient cannon that had survived one of the most important battles in British history, and was now, by all accounts, revving up to play a central part in what might well turn out to be another.
L performed his knot, explaining the process as he went, and completed his example by tugging the rope free "so the horse doesn't hurt itself, you see?" he finished.
"Can't see," muttered the old boy. "What d'you want a knot that comes undone that easy for? Stock ropes are made for people to undo boy, not horses. Like this." And he performed a complicated and unnecessarily lightening fast twirling of the fingers to tie his own impressive knot on the poor unfortunate cannon ring. He gave it a hard tug at the pretend horse end and then got L to do as well for good measure. 
"See? Won't come undone," he said in a satisfied voice. "But if you grasp this end-" he gave the non-horse end a tug and the knot evaporated as if it was made of powdered silk. He grinned broadly in what I felt was a rather triumphalist way, given that he was 75 and L 12, but then L can have that affect on people. "Now that's a stockman's knot," said the sea dog, flourishing his knot-free rope proudly.

Clearly thinking he'd had the best of the argument and displayed sufficient knot-tying-knowledge to regain top-knot position, he glanced at me to see whether I was impressed. I was, a bit, but I was also worried, because I know my son and he had that look in his eye, the one I am told I used to get when I was his age and an adult was failing to take me seriously. I felt a bit sorry for the old man because when twelve year old boys get the bit between their teeth they don't give up easy. 
L put his head on one side, narrowed his eyes, thought for a minute as he weighed up what he'd just seen and finally said: "yes, but that's not the way you do it for horses."

Foreseeing a lengthy battle which had the potential to become not unlike Trafalgar in both duration and levels of attrition, and knowing we had to get back for lunch so F and J could catch their train on time afterwards, I tried to prise L away by pacifying both male egos in such a way that both would feel they'd proved their point (as a Mother Of Boys I am not without practice at this, and I don't feel it would be going too far to say that I am not without a degree of accomplishment at it).
L had clearly got the white-bearded one riled by this point because he wasn't going to give up and let us go that easily, so we had several more rounds of "but that's not the way to do it, this is," followed by "no, this is the way you do it."

In the end, and with growing frustration at the circular nature of the argument, I thought I'd settle it once and for all by playing my trump card, which is 35 years experience with horses. I assumed that would be the end of it, but it seems sea-dogs don't think much more of forty year old women than they do of twelve year old boys, because I immediately found myself on the receiving end of substantial sea-dog scepticism as to whether I'd been doing it right all those years.

It was hopeless, so I gave up, asked the old boy to finish by showing L how to do a figure-eight knot, which he did in such an impossibly complicated and fast to follow showing off way that I knew L must have well and truly rattled him. We thanked him and left the ship quickly before he could make a lasso and drag us back for further knot-related arguing.

As we walked down the gang-plank L said "I don't think he believed us mum."
"No darling," I said. "I don't think he did either. But on the other hand I expect you will feature quite heavily in his knot-tying related tales from now on, and that's probably something to be proud of."

The museum was peaceful and non-combative by comparison, and Full Of Very Weird Indeed Figureheads From Ships Of Ancient Times. Here an selection. They gave me the willies and I do not think I would like to be on my own with them at night. They look like they might come alive and start leaping about the place looking for their ships and the sea.

 HMS Grampus 1810-1897
(Formerly the Battleship HMS Tremendous launched in 1784)

HMS Asia 1824-1908
Built in Bombay of Indian Teak. I feel this one wouldn't entirely disgrace himself in a gay bar

HMS Carnatic 1823
A Battleship built in Portsmouth. The figurehead is an Indian Prince.

 HMS Malacca 1853-1869
A Frigate built in Burma, sold in 1869

HMS Centurion 1892-1910
Fleet flagship built in Portsmouth, saw action in the Third China War in 1900, broken up in 1910. It was the largest British Battleship to be fitted with a figurehead. He looks to me like he's seen something he would rather not have.
 HMS Warrior 1789-1857
This is the oldest figurehead in the museum, and one of the oldest in the world. I think it is my favourite. The others all have a slightly constipated look, but to me this one looks fierce and inspiring, which is what you want from a figurehead surely?

Back outside the museum we had a look at Monitor 33, which is one of only two surviving British Warships from the 1914-1918 conflict. She was built to bombard coastal positions from the sea, and was painted with "Dazzle Paintwork" which was supposed to make it hard to pin-point her through a view finder. Interestingly, it sparked a fashion craze for similar patterns in fabrics in the 1920's. How unlikely a place to find inspiration.

This is a view of Portsmouth Historic Dockyards taken from the roof of the museum building. You can just make out a watery patch in front of the large chimney. This is called the "Great Basin" and was built in 1698. The ships for Nelson's Navy were constructed in the dockyards around it and the Victory itself is just out of shot on the right, as is the Mary Rose in her smart new museum area.

The other side of the dockyards, with the Spinnaker Tower just visible in the left hand corner.

By way of a comparison, these are today's Navy Ships moored in the harbour

There was a display on slavery in the museum. Above are leg irons, and below, neck irons. Can you imagine having these awful things attached to you?

We've still more to do at Portsmouth and luckily because we don't live far we can go back as often as we like for the next 11 months. I want to do more of the Mary Rose exhibition without grumbling kids in tow, and there are various other displays which look interesting too.

On an entirely different but perhaps more in keeping with what you may have come to expect from this blog note, can anyone identify this caterpillar for me? I have looked and looked to no avail. The two white spots are on the tail end, he measures around 3cm in length, and I discovered him feasting on the leaves of one of our many cucumbers which are doing exceedingly well in the greenhouse this year. Pity I can't really eat them. Doubtless M will be taking them to work to hand out to his colleagues!

I have the pillar in a box with his favourite leaves so if no one can tell me what he is hopefully he'll survive and it will only be a matter of time before he emerges as something which will presumably be rather pretty and have wings. Alternatively he could turn out to be something else altogether, but I will be surprised if that's the case. Will keep you updated either way...

Wishing you all a peaceful evening,

CT :-)


  1. I often think that educational experiences are wasted on children. I've lost count of the number of times I've rushed through an exhibition because the accompanying children are 'bored'.

    I am afraid I have no idea about the caterpillar's identity. (But I could make it up for you, if you like!)

    1. Museums can leave me feeling a bit drained if I'm in them too long. In general I tend to prefer several short visits over one long one, which is fine if you live nearby!

  2. You are lucky to live so close to the Museum CT - I would love to go back. We missed so much - too much to do in a day!

    Sorry can't help re: caterpillar. Have looked in various id guides without success. Hopefully, someone else can help or you could try i-spot. Very helpful website - I have put fungi photos on there before now and got help.

    1. Thanks re i-spot, I hadn't heard of that before. I'm feeling stupid this morning- I didn't secure the muslin over the box so the pillar has escaped!

      Re the museum, there is too much to take in in one day and we all really enjoyed our second visit, which was taken at a slower pace :-)

  3. Second attempt at a reply! Those figureheads are creepy, but delighted you got back for another visit. I can't id that caterpillar-hope someone can-sorry CT.

    1. Thanks Suze. I've gone and lost the bloody thing now which is infuriating, and entirely my own fault for not securing the lid properly!

  4. I agree with you and Suzie - there is something very creepy about those figureheads. Just as well they were well out on the front of the ship (can't remember the correct term for it here) - and largely out of sight of the crew.
    Surely the ancient mariner should have been pleased that L was genuinely interested in tying knots. It seems a shame if all he wanted to do was impress.

    1. I thought he was being unnecessarily difficult about yielding the point given that a youngster was expressing a keen interest. I came away thinking he was a silly old man bent on showing off rather than encouraging the new generation to learn how to tie knots. Luckily it didn't really bother L who knows the slip knot is the correct one to use with horses for their safety anyway!


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them. CT.