My feet are still aching.. and my face is doing a good imitation of the Last Human in Doctor Who as it cries out “moisturise me!” in desperation after the foolishness of getting extremely sun/wind burnt yesterday. But it was definitely worth it, and more.
We had a fantastic day. At the crack of dawn M arrived to transport the four of us to Ryde Pier Head to catch the catamaran to Portsmouth for the International Festival of the Sea. What an adventure! The queue was incredibly long, along one side of the road until almost in Portsmouth itself and then all down the other side of the road back again, but at least it kept on moving and there was plenty to talk about as we found ourselves getting more and more excited. We had the programme to look at while we waited and plan our day as we knew there’d be no chance of seeing more than a fraction of what was there… and we were right. We had the advantage over the long-distance visitors, though, as we could ignore all the permanent exhibitions, knowing with confidence that we would be able to come and see them whenever we liked (and we determined to fix a date to do so too, knowing what they say about good intentions!).
Just walking through the entrance (and being frisked by a rather dishy Royal Marine Commando 😀 ) we found ourselves straight into the middle of an exciting day as the boys were pressganged into King Henry VIII’s army. They were armed with sticks without spikes on the end, much to their disgust, and drilled with the rabble that were the enlisted soldiers in mounting an attack on the mums and dads. Needless to say, they thoroughly enjoyed that experience! Another street entertainment, however, had to be drawn to a rapid close when security came along and pointed out that they were blocking the emergency exit! So they went straight from their big entrance to their big finale without the performance in between (which was probably just as well as somehow they were having to work very hard to motivate the audience!).
Next, the Royal Marines from King Henry’s day were parading on the front: fife and drum playing; bugle calls; and the soldiers preparing their guns and shooting a volley in various different ways. It was amazing – even with the sounds of the festival loudly in the background to muffle the sound, the musket fire was deafening and we were glad of the warning to cover our ears. Whatever must it have been like when there was a whole army of them being fired? Here there were only five.
The boys were disappointed to discover that, while their uncle’s ship was at the festival, nobody was being allowed on it because they were very busy taking on a new crew and getting ready for the Tall Ships Race on Wednesday. Time for them to learn a new expression – “Pulling strings” 😀 A couple of mobile phone calls later and Uncle J up in Scotland had wangled us a private guided tour of the ship at the end of the day! Meanwhile, we queued for an hour for a tour of the Prince William, recent addition to the Sail Training Association. That was fascinating, especially boggling at the 7 miles of ropes – none of which are actually called ropes, of course, except for about six inches of bell rope for sounding the watch!
The boys were again disappointed that, while they were plucking up the courage to have a ride on the bosun’s chair over a massive drop into the dry dock, the opportunity passed and the marines running the ride went off for their break. But they were consoled by the fact that the dry dock was then used for a demonstration of archery. There’s something really amazing about watching expert archers (in full costume, of course) shooting shaft after shaft long-distance into the target. It was particularly interesting to see a contest between the longbow and the crossbow and see the archer fire nineteen arrows in one minute, while the crossbow archer managed only a (very respectable, actually) six. And seeing the arrows cut easily through the iron breastplate and chain mail of two model soldiers was quite breathtaking.
We didn’t get chance to go on Victory, deciding it would be best left for a day less crowded, but managed to get chance to look at the outside and marvel at her size and beauty. Then we went on to another treat for the Smudgelets – the Royal Marine Commando climbing wall. This wall was on a belt which went round as the kids climbed it, and as their turn came to an end the whole thing tilted and tipped them slowly off. Both boys loved the experience, although goodness knows why I spend all this money on Tiddles’ climbing lessons as he was next to useless, and Smudgelet’s optimistic “I can climb that easily” was soon wiped off his face as he struggled to get beyond the bottom foothold! The commando’s comment? “What a pair of fairies!”
Next on the agenda, and one of the highlights of the day, was a harbour tour. Forty minutes sailing round and seeing all the ships moored in the massive harbour basin of Portsmouth. The camera was definiteley in great demand and we were quite awed at the size and beauty of many of the ships, both tall ships and modern battleships. And on landing we were lucky enough to catch the demonstration of some remote control models about 1/12 size of Victory and other tall ships sailing on a nearby patch of water, the sun sparkling off their sails and their reflections quite vivid in the water as they glided about like swans in their glory. Magical!
For the boys, though, the very best bit turned out to be our illicit visit to Uncle J’s ship – a chance to see part of the show not open to anyone else, to explore the ship at will and chat to the crew about conditions on board, to see the bunks stacked three in a row with a space just big enough for a body between them, to hold the steering wheel and see the plaque with their uncle’s name engraved on it. They gazed longingly into the rigging, dying to have a go climbing the mast, and were fascinated by the navigation equipment. Tiddles is now saving madly for a cruise on her, and Smudgelet is wishing he were five years older! They have talked of nothing else all day, and even transformed the climbing frame in the garden into ship’s rigging to pretend they were part of the crew.
The only downside to the whole day was the fact that Wightlink had, in their wisdom, decided against increasing the frequency of the catamaran back to the Island, so we arrived back at the terminal, simultanously exhausted and longing to see more, only to discover we had to sit there for an hour to wait for the next boat. Hmmm… not so good. But we made up for it by investing in a couple of sandwiches and finishing off our lunch.
All in all, a wonderful, wonderful day which will stay in our memories for many a year. Four years before we get to go again. I can’t believe Tiddles will be 16 by then!