Everyone in the world has the potential to be a little quirky. Goodness knows John has his peculiar ways and he would no doubt describe my quizzical expressions and episodes of gambolling about the living room like a frisky spring lamb as somewhat perplexing. But the guys and gals at the Steampunk event John and I attended the other week elevated quirky to a whole new level. We travelled beyond unconventional into the Victorian era and entered a realm of surprising and enigmatic characters who could have just stepped off the set of Doctor Who or the 1954 movie 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. The Subaquatic Steampunk Weekend at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport was my first experience of the eccentric world of Victorian science fiction but hopefully not my last.
I was like a child in a sweetshop all wide-eyed and with a gormless grin on my face. Not the usual unflappable and sophisticated style I normally portray. But there was a lady there who looked like an emerald green dragon with bright orange hair and a boy who looked like a cyborg from the 1950’s in a tarnished metal face mask embellished with cog wheels and rusted springs. I couldn’t help but be mesmerised by the gadgets and gizmos, boutique fashion shows and dynamic performances of the singers and musicians that entertained us. Ichabod Steam and his Animatronic Band were especially fascinating and became the source of a lengthy quizzical expression on my face while I tried to work out if he was a pirate, one of the Three Musketeers or the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Eventually I realised that it didn’t matter if he was a romantic goth or a post-apocalyptic soldier. The occasion was full of fun and the people warm and welcoming – a fitting tribute to the Victorian era, the American Wild West and the innovation of the mechanical and digital world all rolled into one. Nowhere else would you see parasols and ray guns paired up with bowler hats and corsets. I might ask Father Christmas for a pair of aviator goggles this year!
The sky is a clear blue, the candyfloss clouds wispy, the silvery sea ripples gently away from the flat shingle beach. This is Stokes Bay, a slightly sloping shelf of pebbles in the Solent just south of Gosport (Hampshire) that offers a great view of the Isle of Wight and supports a wide range of community recreational activities on the large expanse of grass adjacent to its beach. The area is often used by large warships such as American supercarriers to anchor as Portsmouth Harbour is not deep enough to berth them, and this was the reason for our visit, to check-out the 1,092 feet long aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.
The ship loomed across the horizon and John took some photos while I stared in awe at the enormity and grandeur of this battleship. It is designed to support and operate aircraft that engage in attacks on targets which threaten the free use of the seas and it’s a Nimitz class warship named after the 26th President of the United States, Mr Theodore Roosevelt. It also provides a credible presence for the military and a conventional deterrent in peacetime. Along the flight deck were the turrets for air traffic control and the radar housing placements for navigating the ship as well as 80 or so combat aircraft ready to be launched forward into the wind. The aircraft are recovered using three two-inch diameter arresting cables on deck which can bring an airplane going 150 miles per hour to a stop in less than 400 feet. That must be the strongest two-inch wire in the world!
I shut my eyes and wondered how a cat would feel on a ship like that. It would be quite an adventure, patrolling the corridors and scenting all those pieces of equipment, meowing at the galley staff for titbits and sneaking in to the captain’s quarters for a nap. If I was ship’s cat, I’d sit in the bridge at the front with the officers reigning over the seas, and I imagine there’d be loads of scraps left over from the 18,150 meals served each day to the 6,000 navy personnel available to tickle my chin. This $4.5 billion ship towers 20 stories above the waterline and boasts a 4.5 acre flight deck. Its engines power 4 bronze propellers each 21 feet across and steering is accomplished by 2 enormous rudders. Much as I enjoyed imagining myself in a garrison’s cap and gold sleeve stripes commanding a naval war ship, the reality is that I prefer my simple life at home. So I’ll forgo the prestige and responsibility that goes with being a fleet admiral and settle happily for my snake toy, extra plump cushion bed, chicken treats and John for company.