Once upon a time I wanted to be a palaeontologist. I must have been 11 or 12. I liked dinosaurs, I liked digging holes in the ground and I liked puzzles. I also felt that having any sort of career with ‘ologist’ at the end could only be a good thing. There was also the sadist in me, looking forward to taunting people who couldn’t spell the word palaeontologist. I never did become a palaeontologist. It turned out that one needed to study for more years than I was prepared to do and that I only liked digging holes so deep. I’ve also discovered that some ologists, some as scientologists, are not such a great thing. And computers came along with their dastardly auto correct spelling feature dashed my hopes of faulting my friends spelling.
I moved on to a new dream. I wanted to join the Royal Navy. It was more realistic, offered the chance to see the four corners of the world and is traditionally a very sound career choice for a 17 year old Brit. I sent off for my application pack, filled it out, stuffed it in the envelope and per chance went on a sea fishing trip before I got to post them. I was very sea sick. Not a little, but very. I didn’t feel right for two weeks and couldn’t fish on a canal without getting nauseous for two years. I didn’t step on another boat for about fifteen years, until a trip in Nicaragua. Most people get their sea legs after a few days or weeks. Some, like Charles Darwin, are simply ill for the full duration. Which boat would I be in? I didn’t want to find out. I never did join the Royal Navy.
But I still have a fascination for the Royal Navy. I recently went to see the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Portsmouth. There are a lot of naval museums and ships in Portsmouth. I’d already seen HMS Victory and HMS Warrior. But not the Submarine museum, and seeing as they’ve just recently opened their all new, prize exhibit – well, it seemed worth the trip. The exhibit is HMS Alliance, the last remaining British submarine from World War Two.
The museum is also home to Britain’s first ever submarine, a diminutive and rather rusted little undersea demon. You can venture inside both subs. HMS Alliance is an impressively complicated beast, with pipes, handles, dials and switches from floor to ceiling along its entire length. You’re welcomed aboard by a uniformed and suitably bearded old sailor who once called the boat home. It’s nice to have a short introduction and explanation of life aboard a boat by someone who actually served on it.
Submarines are notoriously cramped creatures of the deep. It wasn’t quite as cramped as I had assumed. Sure, there were plenty of opportunities for me to whack my skull on metal, but I could stand up straight with a few inches to spare. But life as a submariner was never my cup of tea. In the end I switched allegiances to the RAF, and did actually manage to get in. Although that was not a long lived career choice either. I have plenty more photos on Flickr of the submarine and Portsmouth, of course. Just click here.
If ever you have the chance to visit the Submarine Museum, you’ll need to catch a boat across the harbour. There is a free waterboat on offer to ticket holders, but you must have a ticket for the entire Historic Dockyard. A simple Submarine museum ticket will not do. The boat runs hourly and is often full. My suggestion, regardless as to whether or not you have the full ticket, would be to catch the Gosport Ferry that is near the train station. It isn’t free, but for £3.10 you get a return ticket on a more spacious vessel that runs every 7 and a half minutes at peak times, every 15 minutes off peak.
My dreams of being a palaeontologist, Royal Navy seaman and RAF air traffic controller were never fully realised. I did fulfil one dream though, and lived abroad teaching English for a few years. Some dreams do come true. But reality is what it is. I never dreamt of a career selling home insurance to the over 50’s.