Talk about Chinese whispers. It seems that everyone, including me – and the Royal Navy – who was told about the open day on HMS Ocean yesterday got a different story about who was allowed on board.
The very chirpy personnel (they were all incredibly friendly; I can only assume that they’d given the grumpy characters sump-duty or something) talking to the (enormous) queue told us that they had been told every possible variant on who was allowed, ranging from SE10 residents only, through to all Greenwich Borough residents (the Greenwich Council website said borough residents, with priority given to most local, which I took to be SE10) and ‘local’ residents (i.e. Lewisham and Tower Hamlets) to a TV programme, I don’t know which, telling everyone on earth to turn up.
Given the extremely mixed messages and the compounding factors of the pier entrance being next door to a very busy bank holiday Clipper service and the ugly restaurants bang in the way, I think the Navy did pretty well, really. They gave borough residents prority but kept a ‘general public’ queue, taken from the main queue when you got so far) and every so often did a run for them.
I did have to smirk at the bolshy bloke who strode up to the front of the queue (when the people I was with had waited two and a half hours) brandished his council tax bill and demanded to be given priority “But I’m a Greenwich Resident,” he announced as he was told that 98% of the queue were residents and (much more gently than I would have done it) directed to the back…
By the time I got in the queue, it covered the entire frontage of the Old Royal Naval College and was right round the corner, almost to the central path (see above). The atmosphere was Britishly stoic; even when the rain came, people stayed and I didn’t hear much in the way of moaning, bar a few grizzling children. I also notice there seem to have been a muddle about baby carriages – the Greenwich council website said there would be nowhere to leave pushchairs, but there was a fairly large corral of them by the ubitquitous recruitment tent in the ORNC.
Of course the queue did allow us to take closer looks at stuff going on on the river – I was particularly entertained by the barge tugging the newly-spruced up podule for the London Eye:
They’d hired a couple of City Tours boats to ferry people across. I’m guessing different people had different experiences but I waited about two and a half hours to get on Ocean and about half an hour to get off. If it had been a nicer day I’d have enjoyed being a bit less cold, but I wouldn’t have swapped the experience.
We were allowed to wander as we liked through the ‘big’ areas of the ship – two levels of cargo-carrying deck and the main deck on top, which they’d put several helicopters, troop carriers and vehicles that I have no recollection of what they do but was very interested at the time
As I mentioned I’m sure they chose the jovial crew members to talk with us, but all the people I met were only too delighted to talk or show us what stuff did (I spent some time chatting with the woman who packs the survival kits – I love that they include a condom in them…)
One of the most popular displays was of the food rations you get at different stages of engagement – I couldn’t actually get close to that stand but I understand they have ginger beer:
I suspect what the Navy achieved from this day is a lot more intangible than much in the way of recruitments (no one around me seemed remotely interested in joining up) but that was never the point.
They’re going to be here for several weeks now and again during the Olympics and they are only too aware of the rubbish way we’ve been informed about the placement of missiles around our houses, on our commons and, in the case of some TH residents, on our roofs. LOCOG and whichever government departments in charge of this, have been utterly useless in informing residents what will happen, leading to a load of fear and anger.
If we’d thought about it, of course we were going to need some kind of security around the games – ever since Munich they’ve been essential – and scary though seeing SAMs on Blackheath is, the problem with having an urban Olympics is that there’s always going to be someone who has the security on their doorstep. Certainly my beef is more with the way we’ve been told so late, as a fait-accompli and so badly – I got a letter through my door that included only one of the leaflets it said it did, and an invitation to a similar open day at Oxleas Wood the day after it had been and gone.
What I got from yesterday’s event was the human element – that this ship is staffed by actual people with actual lives whom I got the feeling actually knew what they were doing. I enjoyed talking with them and If I see them around town I won’t be looking at them as intruders, but as people who live on the big boat I can see from the shore.
I’ve seen where they live (well, okay, I haven’t, we didn’t get to poke around the cabins or the mess rooms or the day to day living areas which, although fair enough, being a nosy old Phantom I’d have loved) and I’m cool with the fact that they have to be here.
I’m curious to know what you thought of it (I’m assuming you went – half of Greenwich must have been there) and what you got from it. I did get a couple of other things – not least the feeling that the Naval Lady is protesting just a leeetle too much that she is ‘relevant’ – I’m not sure I saw a single banner that didn’t pronounce the fact – and that the chaps at HMSO don’t proof-read their leaflets – ‘birth cabins’ anyone?
But for me the Navy’s real achievement for me yesterday was its people – thanks, guys. It was fun.
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