Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday 12 May 2012


We have visitors.
For the past week, the Navy's largest warship has been moored between us and Greenwich. A helicopter carrier which also carries Marines and their landing craft for a variety of amphibian duties, HMS Ocean is (along with anti-aircraft missiles on Blackheath and on various residential roofs in East London) part of the current exercise to scare us all silly reassure us that the powers-that-be have the means and plans to see off any malefactors intending to cause mayhem at the Olympics.

All week we have had helicopters buzzing self-importantly around and various inflatables and landing craft James-Bonding it up and down the river practising various manoeuvres. Whether all this is based on solid intelligence, worst-case imagination or just a show of determination, those who know aren't telling, and I'm not sure I feel any more or less secure than I did before they turned up; let's just hope we don't have to find out if it was necessary or not.

Either way, on Bank Holiday Monday the ship was open to visitors; even before opening time, hundreds of people were queueing up for the short boat ride over. The steep ladders up into the hangar area give you some idea of her size, but even so, it was a surprise to find the first thing on display was an ordinary white Transit van. Up a further very steep climb to the flight deck were yet more trucks and transporters and lifting gear, not to mention the helicopters. These were all roped off for the occasion, but the children among us were allowed to clamber happily all over the trucks and pose (under expert supervision, of course) for family photos with various types of alarming-looking guns. Down again into the hangar, some dozen or so of the ship's areas of activity each had a display set up, from Marines to radar operators to cooks to doctors, complete with a charity cycling team drumming up support. Even so, this massive space is only the top part of the ship: all the crew and what supports them are squeezed in below.

And, as required by modern PR techniques, we exited via the souvenir shop.

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