Thursday, June 30, 2005

Back from the fleet

My day with the fleet was amazing. I was on board a destroyer, HMS Gloucester, which took part in a fast sail past of the ships of the international fleet. As we cruised in a line of warships, each 200 yards apart, we had a superb view of the assembled hardware bobbing about on the Solent. The officers and crew looked after us well, and fed us in great style. Apparently the ship's cooks were delighted to have the opportunity to show off their skills by preparing something which costs more than their usual budget of £2.03 per man per day.

A storm delayed our transfer back to the ferry which was to return us to shore, so the officers looking after us took us to inspect the Lynx helicopter stowed in the aft hangar and generally kept us amused while we waited. Unfortunately we missed most of the son et lumiere show, but we were in a prime position to enjoy a magnificent firework display.

Apparently HM the Queen commented (before ordering that the mainbrace be spliced) that Nelson could not have wished for better. Vainglorious man though he was, I am sure that is true. Tears trickled down cheeks illuminated by the glow of fireworks as his death was reenacted.

300,000 people took part. Most did not have my privileged view of events. They brought their families and stood on the shoreline to enjoy the spectacle. Something drew them there. Perhaps, to be cynical, they just came for the show. I sense not. I think at some level they were enjoying a rare celebration of England. Nelson would be proud that, in an age of political "correctness" which all but forbids English patriotism, the celebration of his memory should revive such feelings.

Our government was not represented. How could it be? It can't be associated with the patriotism it is determined to destroy. The only sign of its miserable existence was the ludicrous order that the battle reconstruction should be between "reds" and "blues" not between the English and the French. Where is our new Nelson to sweep away such nonsense?

It was a great day. The quiet efficiency of the Royal Navy's officers and men was soothing when contrasted with the usual muddle ashore. I met many interesting people, including a retired admiral who told me with a smile that our current First Sea Lord must be "the first for some time to have had his ship sunk under him and to have been court martialled (and found guilty)". [The two incidents, I hasten to add, were quite separate. The first was in the Falklands War and the second involved the unfortunate loss of some confidential papers]. Charmingly the retired admiral added, in true PG Wodehouse style, "He's a good egg though".

There were lots of good eggs in Portsmouth this week. No doubt that's why the bad eggs from Westminster stayed away.

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