When I woke up yesterday (5.a.m again) I started work straight after my first coffee instead of browsing various blogs and news sites as I normally do. I turned on the radio, (well Internet radio), and on BBC Radio 2 there was a minute by minute account of the last two hours of the Titanic, as far as they could be ascertained. In case you missed it was exactly 100 years since the ship floundered; the radio program eneded at 2.20a.m. as the ship went down. I kept stopping work to listen.
When I was young and living in Portsmouth it was common to see the liners go through the Solent towards Southampton. Portsmouth was a Naval dockyard so we also got the big ships, such as Ark Royal, and a little before my time the Marie Rose, but it was the liners that held my interest. Later I remember they took a different route after (I think) someone drowned by getting sucked into the sea from their wash so I had to content myself with the Isle of Wight ferry. However I did take the little Red Funnel and Blue Funnel cruises from the pier to Southampton to see the 'big ships' and I am sure I saw Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, (certainly II but maybe I - it was a long time ago), and I longed to be able to take a cruise on those ships.
It never happened and the large cruise ships of today hold little appeal, (if indeed it ever really did as the romance it held, the idea of escaping a life for something unknown, doing my own version of 'king of the world' was the reality of being cooped up in a metal vessel with 2000 other probably unpleasant and bigoted people for days on end with no escape), as modern design has made them somehow wondrously efficient yet devoid of that something extra, that mystery. They really are just large lumps of metal now - it all started when they stopped painting the hulls black.
Maybe it is just nostalgia, a time with my father remembered, (as he alone used to take me on the Funnel lines, my mother never went), but it has never left me.
So Titanic holds a certain fascination for me that I can't quite pin down. I saw the few artifacts at the small Southampton museum before Ballard discovered the wreck, I bought his book and read it more than once, pouring over the photographs and I lapped up the radio program as it coolly described the events of that night, so well known to me but still able to shock and amaze in this retelling.
In the evening I watched the DVD of the Cameron Titanic - a good movie but like all his movies lacking in a strong narrative. I understand he wanted a thread to run through the whole movie but why invent so many characters when there were already so many characters who were real. Perhaps their families would have sued. Molly Brown would have been my choice of character to follow but there are plenty of others who do not bring up images of Debbie Reynolds. The movie completely lacks the sense of loss, (save for the tacked on comment by the salvage captain that 'he never got it' or 'he never let it inside him' right at the end), that the radio broadcast had. I do admire his attempt at authenticity given it is a Hollywood movie, it is no U-boat 571 after all, but the main two characters, the two lovers annoy me slightly. Why was it her that got to stay on the raft and not him, he was clearly an accomplished painter and a 'do-er', her accomplishments given her survival appear to be limited to riding a horse properly. And as she was the plumper of the two she would have survived longer in the water. But it is a movie after all.
I think the appeal for me of the Titanic story is the child-like dream of 'what would you do in that event'. A hero, of course, that goes without saying. Saving the life of beautiful girl who you later get to marry, (I never dreamt of being a train driver or astronaut). Those dreams wouldn't have occurred if the ship hadn't gone down in the way it did. I don't buy into the end of an era stuff, the rich still rule the world after all, probably more so, and they always will. They will get into the lifeboats first and there won't be any boats left for the rest of us. If we are going to get all allegorical the Titanic can be seen as not the end of an Imperialist era but a taster for what will happen when global warming really gets hold. Or is it climate change now - whatever the current moniker is for it.
What I do object to is the comments that it broke people's trust in science and engineering. The Titanic sank, and so many people died, not because of any failings of engineering, but because of man's vanity and greed. And that is not constrained to any era, unfortunately.
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