Saturday 3 August 2013

Rue Britannia

See, this is why, when I travel, I take copious notes in my little red 3B1 notebooks and snap away with my camera even when it's clear that the photos are going to be no good for publication: it's so that, even five years later, I can put together a story like this one about touring over Britannia with enough detail and personal comment for it to feel fresh. (And how appropriate, that this particular eking out of my resources was for a story set in Scotland.)

Within a day of its appearing online, I received an email from a man whose great-uncle was a Lt Cmdr on the royal yacht from the date she was commissioned, telling me about going aboard himself while she was still in service, and how much he regretted the socialist scourge that led to her eventual decommission in 1997. Given his family connection, that's to be expected - but even I am sorry that Britannia is now dispiritingly moored permanently to the wharf at Leith, used for corporate dinners and swarmed over by hordes of nosy tourists (like me). It's an undignified end for a grand old lady, after 40 years touring the globe, totting up enough miles to have gone to the moon and back, twice.

The photo in the museum alongside of the Queen, Duke and Prince Charles on the day of her decommission truly is a picture of sadness: they all look thoroughly miserable. Once I'd gone aboard and had a proper snoop around, from the engine room, all shiny brass and copper, right up to the bridge, including the bedrooms, cosy lounge (with fireplace, at the Queen's request, although because of naval regulations she had to make do with electric instead of the real thing) and crew's quarters, I could understand. Though there is grandness, as in the dining room which can seat 56 for a formal dinner, there's also plenty of scope for off-duty relaxing, and personal touches, and it really was true that this was the one place where they could be themselves. I haven't been to Balmoral, but if it's anything like Sandringham, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, there's not much scope amongst all those echoing rooms hung with grim-looking portraits and furnished with antiques for kicking off your shoes and having a snooze.

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