The Midland History Festival

What do you get when you see old friends for the first time in over a decade?  When you find yourself back in the arms of your family, in a place that your heart never really left?

What do you get if you throw in the regular ‘fives’ rhythm of training steel, the sounds of the smith’s forge, the smell of woodsmoke at night and new grass in the early morning?  The familiar rollercoaster of beer and combat, music and dancing, the fine meads of the Troll’s Bottom (you know what I mean) and the fast bodran of Greenman Rising.

Throw in being cleavaged by the Troll’s curvy wenches (don’t ask), a little woad, a lot of grease, and an excessively well-timed thunderstorm – and it seems that I’m back in the Vike.

There’s an old saying – you know who your friends are, because when you see them, no time has passed. It may be a dozen years, you may be a little greyer round the temples and wider through the middle, but you can pick up exactly where you left off. After that first wide-eyed moment of absolute culture shock, nothing had changed.

As we discovered in the car, insanity has bandwidth – you’ll know where it is, because it’s where your friends live.

The Golden Hinde

I’ve walked past her hundreds of times, thought how pretty she is, and walked on.

I’ve taken my son up to see her, but we’ve never actually gone on board.

Yes, she’s a reconstruction – she’s berthed in Bankside on the Millennium Mile – but she’s a flawless, full-sized replica of the 16th Century warship upon which Sir Francis Drake first went round the world.

And she’s amazing.

To Isaac, she was The Dawn Treader; his head was full of Narnian adventure. I couldn’t help the pirate echoes – my image of her suffered from too many movies.

It’s wonderful to see things that you’ve only seen in imagination – cannon, boarding pikes, belaying pins, the capstan, the bell and the compass, the brig and the galley. There’s more rigging than you can imagine – there are ropes and pulleys everywhere – and what must it have felt like to stand in the fighting top while it swung back and forth and the deck pitched and yawed beneath you?

It makes you shudder. Romance aside, this tiny little ship was home to sixty – sixty! – crew. Elizabethans may have been 5’4″, but surely there’s not enough room, heightwise (below decks, you go everywhere at a crouch) or roomwise (hammocks over the bilge, anybody?) to cram in that many people?

Drake’s cabin itself was nice and roomy – on a calm day, in a dock – but if you’re on the gun deck? Fighting? In a storm?

The Hinde is astonishing. She’s absolutely beautiful – lovingly reconstructed down to the last wondrous detail – but under all that warm wood is just a hint of horror. Pirates of the Caribbean, my arse.

She’s lovely to visit in London. But you wouldn’t get me to sea in that thing!