Thursday, February 02, 2006

D'ye hear there...

I attended an event on HMS Belfast today. This was the first time I had been on board (although I had been aware of numerous 18 Plus events there over the years. I had a very quick trip round the major and ancillary spaces which left me determined to visit again for a more leisurely exploration.

The event was held in the Wardroom which was comfortable officer country, unlike the utilitarian other areas where the services are visible like some kind of technical exoskeleton. It was like a small town, with more than 940 men serving at one stage. Of course, towns need services, so there was a laundry, mail room, dentist and even a sort of onboard radio station, called the SRE or Sound Reproduction Equipment room.

My Dad was an Engineer in the Merchant Navy and I can distinctly remember visiting him on a tanker when I was about four. My Mum tells me we did it several times but I only remember the once. He showed us round the upper areas of the engine rooms and wanted to take us down to the lower level but my Mum declined. I remember it was very hot & noisy & the handrail was very hot as well. I had assumed it was a pipe but he told me in later years that everything got very hot despite the strong ventilation so it was probably just a handrail but a rather hot one!

A trip round the Belfast adds the killing dimension of course, my Dad's tankers didn't have weaponry and attack defences, or indeed armoured bulkheads. I was amused to read that the two large gun turrets on the forward deck are targeted on Scratchwood Servics (now London Gateway) on the M1 some 12.5 miles away. I'll bear that in mind next time I stop there to use the toilet!

Talking of toilets, there was a "night Head" not to be used during the day (although it wasn't obvious why). There was also a big poster telling you what advice you could get from your commanding officer. He couldn't help with getting a girlfriend or family planning though, although I recall from subsequent reading that ship issue condoms were available in later years (Belfast was de-commissioned in 1965).

By the way, the phrase "D'ye hear there..." preceded Tannoy announcements from the Captain, something I read about in a book written by a ship's surgen (in the style of Gervais Phinn & James Herriott). I'd completely forgotten about it until I visited the bridge when a recorded dialogue triggered that memory.

One thing missing from the Bridge (or more accurately, the Compass Platform) was a tiller or ship's wheel. That is because the ship was actually steered from the steering position six decks below (and an emergency position aft as well). The ship has considerable amounts of engineering resilience which is essential when you consider the purpose of a Frigate, critical points of failure are weaknesses.

I also saw the Mayor of London's palace nearby, which was smaller and less impressive than I was expecting, a bit of a letdown really, not unlike one well known occupant!

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