Monday, 21 March 2016

Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)

You know how people often say that they are never a tourist in their own county?  Would you believe that in 15 years of living in Kent, I have never once looked around the Historic Dockyard in Chatham?
This becomes even more shameful when you take into consideration the fact that the University of Kent has academic buildings on the site, and that Stephen has been based just opposite for the last 10 years.  I have run through the Dockyard trying not to fall over in heels on my way to a meeting, I have toured around it with colleagues, I have eaten in the cafes, I have even interviewed for a job in the Old Clocktower, but I have never taken the time to actually look around it properly.

I knew that it was the kind of place my father would love though, and so on a cold and breezy but utterly beautiful first day of spring, I left Stephen watching Man Utd vs Man City (Man Utd won, he was happy) and went on a proper tour of the Dockyard with Dad.
Full disclosure - because I work for the University of Kent, my staff card gets me free access to the Dockyard and its attractions, but Dad had to pay the full entry price.  He decided to upgrade from the £13 day pass to the £22 annual pass which gets him unlimited access for a full year.  Good job he did as well as the Dockyard is enormous; there is no way you will explore everything it has to offer in one visit.  I've had to split out what little we saw over two posts as well!
If you have seen Call The Midwife, Sherlock Holmes films, Downton Abbey, Foyles War, Mr Selfridge, The Golden Compass, The World Is Not Enough or Les Miserables, you may recognise some of the locations.... although it is still a working dockyard and museum, it is also a popular filming location.

The Dockyard is 400 years old, and some of the most famous British naval vessels, including Nelson's flagship, the HMS Victory, have been built and launched on the premises.  The first warship known to have been built at the Dockyard was the Sunne, a pinnace of five guns, launched in 1586, and the last was built in the 1960's.

Whilst we were there, the 1st Battalion 42nd Highland Regiment of Foot 1815 (also known as The Black Watch) were practicing their drills to the beat of the drum.  The Black Watch are a re-enactment society, dedicated to preserving; as accurately as possible, the uniform, drill, musketry, tactics and daily life of the regiment in 1815, the year of the Battle of Waterloo.  The 42nd Foot was the most senior of the Highland Regiments and the sombre appearance of the tartan and its original role of policing the Highlands led to the nickname 'The Black Watch'. Modern re-enactment organisations are now based all over the UK and abroad, including at Chatham. 
First stop on our tour was the No 1 Smithery, originally built between 1806 and 1808 and bought back to life in 2010 as a museum and exhibition space by the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, National Maritime Museum and Imperial War Museum.  The most interesting section, the model boat archive, unfortunately did not allow photo's for copyright reasons, but believe me when I say it was amazing, and an area that Dad is tempted to book a private tour in.  Kids would love it here, there is so much for them to see and do!

The Smithery is a Grade II listed building that, as the name suggests, was originally used for iron-working.  It also enjoys status as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and houses 4,000 ship models in total.  Inside is a totally immersive experience - you could spend hours in this one location alone.

There are the original forges used for making the metal pipes, great hulking masses of blackened iron surrounded by decades of soot and ash embedded into the brickwork.  Beyond is the Courtyard, a huge imposing space where the enormous anchors can be viewed in pits
Past the galleries (no photos allowed) filled with giant ship models, cutaways and original paintings, is the Pipe Bending room, where metal pipes were superheated in the furnace then bent around pegs in the floor to make them the right shape for the ships.  The original brickwork mixed with the steel girders are the type of details that modern architects can only dream about working with.
After spending over an hour moseying through the galleries, we headed back outside into the sunshine to go and ogle at the three historic warships in dry dock.

The HMS Cavalier, a retired C-Class destroyer, decommissioned in 1972.
The HMS Gannet, a Royal Navy Doterel-class screw sloop launched in 1878 and preserved in 1987.
The HMS Ocelot, an Oberon-class diesel-electric submarine, and the last Royal Navy vessel built in the Dockyard.  She was launched in 1962 and did her service during the cold war as an intelligence vessel then decommissioned in 1991. A tour aboard her cramped living and working conditions forms much of Part 2 of these blog posts.
All three vessels are open for exploration, although we did not have the time to explore the Gannet and the Cavalier on this occasion.  I did say that the Dockyard was huge!

Near the dry docks are other remnants of the Dockyards military past, including a Royal Navy Chopper and anti-aircraft guns.  The whole place is incredibly atmospheric, made even more so when you realise that this is still a working dockyard and some of the crafts practiced 400 years ago are still in operation on site, as we discovered in our Ropery tour.
As you may have guessed, the Dockyard is situated on the River Medway, and it is clear that this is still a working river for both leisure and business.  Part of this adds to the feel of the Dockyard as you are surrounded by the clangs of steel and industry from over the river and the smell of tarred rope.
We stopped at the Wagon Stop Canteen located inside the Railway Workshop for a bite to eat and drink halfway through our visit.  There is a big new project being undertaken at the moment to improve the catering arrangements as part of the Command of the Oceans project, so the Wagon Stop is very much a temporary holding alternative before the new facilities come on line.  I really enjoyed it though!  They specialise in Kentish pies and doorstop sandwiches surrounded by some of the locomotives and rolling stock that form part of the Dockyard Railway that criss-cross and ribbon their way throughout the entire site, and are still in operation today.  I had a cappuccino (machine, not freshly made) and a lamb cobbler pie, which was stuffed full of chunks of meat, piping hot and lightly flavoured with mint, potato and carrot in a rich gravy with a thick and crumbly pastry. Dad had a Kentish pastie, which was basically a lamb version of a Cornish pasty.  The two pasties and 2 cappuccino's came to £12 in total.
Right next to the Wagon Stop is the Nelson Brewery, which first opened in 1995 where it established a five barrel kit brewing up to 100 firkins a week. Now it has a strong reputation as one of the UK's major ale suppliers, all with suitably nautical names, brewing from a seven and a half barrel kit.  The Brewery isn't open on Sunday's but you can book tours by appointment and see them in action during the week.
When we first arrived on site, we asked for some advice from one of the guides about what to see. He told us that the submarine and ropery tours were a must (check back for the next post!) and that also we needed to climb to the top of 3 Slip, otherwise known as The Big Space, to look at the incredible roof space.

He was so right.
It is incredible to think that this space was built in 1838, and at the time it was Europe's largest wide span timber structure.  The scale of it is breathtaking and the weatherbeaten bleached grey timbers and criss-cross lattice steel girders are a photographers dream.

Below though is the real talking point.  The Big Space is not just named for the building's scale, but for the collection of really 'big things' housed underneath that grand roof.  On the ground floor is a Midget submarine, dozens of boats, giant tools, steam machinery, Kitchener's Railway Carriage, the D Day locomotive 'Overlord', bridge-building machine, mine clearance equipment and, just to add to the scale of it all, a Chieftain AVRE tank.
Also in The Big Space is a huge collection of RNLI historic lifeboats, in partnership with the RNLI Trust.  The 17 life-crafts shown have all saved lives in peril in truly life-threatening conditions. Like most of the exhibitions, this one is also interactive, allowing you to board the lifeboats, listen to audio recordings of heroic stories and imagine that you are at the helm, fighting driving wind, rain and high seas to save a life.
The entire space is just amazing, there are no other words for it.  It would take you a week to absorb everything there is in The Big Space and we didn't have nearly enough time.  We flew through The Big Space as the site was closing shortly, and still spent close to an hour there, just looking around and grabbing a few quick shots before heading back to the car.

Check back in a couple of days for the tours of The Ropery and the Submarine at the Dockyard....

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Half a year in single post....

Well now, I'm not really sure where to begin. Grab a cuppa if you are planning a read. This is going to be a long post.

It's been a really up and down six months and my head has not been into blogging at all. It's been like this since July and I've really struggled to remember why I enjoy blogging. To be honest the thought of even taking and editing pictures, thinking up copy or testing a recipe has made me just want to crawl back into bed and go to sleep. I'd fallen completely out of love with it and could not get up the energy to think of anything to write as nothing felt interesting or inviting.

I think part of that was firstly just tiredness and then the autumn and winter kicked in. Don't get me wrong, I love the warm clothes and cosy nights as much as the next person, but in terms of feeling excited about anything I tend to go into hibernation mode and only really start to emerge again when I start to sniff out spring.

I also had personal stuff going on that meant that actually, I had bigger priorities than a blog to worry about.

Now though, whilst I'm not completely there yet, I'm going to try and get back into it again. I was looking back through old posts over the weekend and remembering good times with friends and I realised that I would be quite sad if I didn't have that in the future. This blog was always supposed to be an online diary, somewhere to reflect and look back on, so let's try again.

With that, here is a summary of all the things that I meant to write about and didn't and that now it seems silly to go back to with a bunch of individual posts. I don't really want to lose those memories though, so I'm just going to throw them all in the mix here!

So in the words of Julie Andrews. Let's start at the very beginning.

Late July, and I made a paella dish that I was really proud of, and don't have the first blue clue now how I made.  Seriously, I wish I could put the recipe here, but I can't for the life of me remember what I did. It did taste good though.

Then there was the trip to see The Tiger Lillies with Sinead for a night of macabre performance and punk esq music. You probably know them from the Cravendale advert.  Brilliant night out, highly recommend if you get the chance to see them! Their music has a dark edge to it which has been described as being influenced by pre-war Berlin.  Cookie cutter pop this is not.

RV presented his tour de force, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) at the Marlowe Theatre Studio at the end of July.  I absolutely adored this production - I saw it three times and was still howling with laughter the last time I saw it as the cast raced us at breakneck speed through every Shakespeare play, including Hamlet three times.  Once of which was backwards.  I've seen the professional version and this was just as good.  Simply wonderful, joyful theatre with the brightest, gaudiest set I think the Players have ever designed, courtesy of Stephen and Nick. I painted Will's portrait. Look closely and you may be able to spot it.
At the beginning of August we spent a couple of weeks in Kalkan, some of which I have already shown you in previous posts.  In our second week there Steve and I got out and about and went for a drive along the coastal road to see some spectacular views where the cliffs met the ocean.
Just look at the colour of that water!  
Sandy beaches along the Kalkan coast are few and far between, and to compensate many 'beach' restaurants offer diving jetty's straight into the ocean down steep steps or ladders, with the bars on balconies up above.

There is the odd, rather crowded exception!  Just be prepared for a lot of huffing and puffing down the cliffs edge to get there.

Further down the coast though, near the ruins of Patara was another beach, one that was slightly more deserted.  We settled here for a bit after exploring the ruins, but the sand was so hot that actually getting to your lounger was a challenge all on its own! We didn't particularly enjoy it called it a day and headed back to the seclusion and peace of the villa for a swim instead.
The ruins that I wanted to explore though were those of Xanthos.  The history of Xanthos is written in blood and tears as it was conquered time and again through the ages, first by Alexander the Great, then the Persian Empire, then the Romans.  There are stories of the men slaughtering their wives and children rather than leaving them to the enemy and then hurling themselves in a suicidal attack against their would-be conquerors in 540BC.  We wandered the ruins in the late afternoon light, away from the main heat of the day and found the place deserted apart from the goat-herders and their goats and a small handful of other tourists.  I found the place to be incredibly moving and almost spiritual and it was with great reluctance when, faced with the very real possibility of getting stuck up the hill (which was littered with large rocks, thorns and overgrown shrubs) and a swiftly setting sun turning the way back to the car pitch black, I agreed to leave.

We spent Thursday mornings in Turkey in the market, strolling down avenues filled with traders selling everything you could imagine, from leather goods to ceramics, spices to underwear. Fake designer gear was juxtaposed with handmade craft jewellery as far as the eye could see and masses of fresh fruit and veg spilling out of containers inviting us to stock up on for cooking with later.  Late breakfast would be pancakes purchased from the women who sat cross legged on the tables, great pans filled with oil and batter in front of them, utterly impervious to the heat and noise.

When we got back my life got taken over with rehearsals for Arcadia, the play by Tom Stoppard I had been longing to direct for years. It became all consuming and obsessive, with detailed research being undertaken into everything from the costumes to the music to a reference guide for the actors so they understood what they were talking about. I was so pleased with the final result though - cast and crew were on-point and wonderful, and my set took people's breathe away. I loved to listen to the audience as they came into the auditorium before the play began and sat talking about the details in front of them. How clever were Stephen and Nick to build something so beautiful for me!  I'm constantly in awe as to the magic the set designers, constructors, light design and other techy people can weave for an amateur productio.
My absolute favourite moment every night came when the lights switched to night, the music from the garden party started in the distance and the fairy lights began to softly glow in the windows, illuminating the stage in a mix of deep blues and purple shadows.  It nearly broke my heart when we had to dismantle it for get out.
Arcadia will be my last play for a while - I've promised Stephen that we are going to have a year off.  Trouble is, I've got visions in my head for an adaptation of Electra.....

November saw a bunch of us up in ol' London Town for Jo's hen do. We piled into a small room in the middle of Camden Lock on a damp and windy Saturday for a quilting extravaganza, followed by a night out on the tiles.
Everybody got the change to make their own square and the quilt was then professionally finished and returned to Jo as a gift.  My square is top right, with a very obvious blue fox cut out.  I'm hopeless at craft!
I don't actually have many pictures of the night out - which is probably a good thing! 
The next day saw us hungover, tired and in need of food. We ended up in Ozone Coffee Roasters, a place that was far too hipster for us - they saw us coming and promptly made sure we were squirreled away into the basement. Although, thinking about it, this could have been due to the sheer volume of bags that we had. Packing light is an art that continues to evade me.

That coffee is a stereotypical blogger pic if ever I saw one. Total lack of imagination there, forgive me, I was still probably drunk. Coffee wasn't too bad either, if a little bitter. Food was OK, bit overpriced and I hate my bacon that overdone, but that is just personal taste. My main issue was the fact that it was full of people who were very pleased with how alternative and non-mainstream they were though - we all left and burst out laughing at how pretentious the entire place was! Seriously, when somewhere serves you tea in a glass with no handle so you can't pick it up, you realise that aesthetic is more important to them than the practicality of actually enjoying your meal. Poor Jo could only stare in longing as her desperately needed restorative cup of tea got colder and colder as she waited to not burn her fingers on the glass.
December saw the usual Christmas routine (I didn't put a tree up this year - that's how little energy I had after the play!), a shopping trip to Brighton with the girls for a LOT of Irregular Choice shoes (it was ostensibly a trip for Claire to buy her wedding shoes that got a little out of hand), and a horrible bug that I got just before Christmas day that meant the cat spent a lot of time curled on the bed to keep me company as I watched back to back trash TV and overdosed on honey and lemon. 
To cap off the festive period in true style, we had the wedding of Jo and Peter in that weird area between Christmas and New Year when you don't have any idea what day of the week it is. 

I also made an igloo cake as our contribution to the annual ham party.  I was pretty pleased with it! Jo's wedding cake was, however, better. How cute are the two little fox cake toppers (see, I didn't just make a fox for the quilt for the sake of it, there was method in my madness!)
Then came January, when the only time I actually ventured out of the house that wasn't for work was to go and see my sixth form girlies for a catch up lunch back in Bromley!  I don't get to see the ladies that often, so it is always lovely when I do!  Apologies for the picture quality, it's the only one I have of that afternoon!
Stephen and I threw a dinner party to try and counteract the January blues that required us to purchase an oyster shucking knife (middle class horror) and a bouquet of flowers from my favourite florist in Whitstable, Jane at Graham Greener, and I've spent the last few weekends searching for the perfect outfit for RV and Claire's wedding at the end of this month.
I've also read a LOT of books. 17 whilst I was in Kalkan alone.

So that's it - the last few months of my life captured in one very long winded post.

Let's see if it gets me back on blogging schedule.  I'm aiming for a couple a month to start with......