Sunday, May 6, 2012

Big thinker

Isambard Kingdom Brunel: now there's a name to remember. And not just because it rolls so splendidly off the tongue, but also of course because this man thought so big during his busy 53 years. Not just thought, but did. Ships, bridges, tunnels, railways, dockyards... His works are all over Britain, still standing, still used, and in Bristol today we got to know the SS Great Britain, the world's first propeller-driven steamship (just think how important that leap of imagination was) and at the time the biggest ship on the planet.

She's back in her home dry dock now, after a long and chequered career transporting gold miners to Australia, guano from South America (I'm guessing the Ballestos Islands off Peru), wheat from the US, coal to the warships of the Great War, storing wheat in the Falklands, and more. Hauled back to the UK in 1970, she's been beautifully restored and sits like Cutty Sark shored up and able to be walked around, this time under a layer of water on glass, the iron hull below carefully kept in a humidity-free environment (odd, to feel drier under the water than above it).

It's really well done, a big ship with lots to see, lots to learn and marvel at - and on this SUNNY bank holiday Sunday, was being thoroughly enjoyed by heaps of people and family groups, which was lovely to see. Bristol's waterfront was buzzing, with boats and a train, and the M museum was pleasingly full of parents teaching their curious littlies bits of Bristol's pretty lively history. Good day. And sunny, too. Did I mention that?

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