Explosion!" that's why, now you're interested, see? I especially liked the use of the hard hitting exclamation mark so I had a lot of respect for them straight away. This Portsmouth based museum looked like just the kind of place I love the very best, with dedicated passionate staff and an impressive repertoire of activities and exhibits which chart the history and importance of naval firepower. However, as much as I wanted to pay these guys a visit the 200 mile round trip from London was mildly off-putting. Also my life at the moment is a lot about doing boring but important computer based work with the website so felt I couldn't really take the time out, until.... My parents (being the older traveller) told me they were taking a 2 week cruise departing from Southampton and I was the lucky sole they'd chosen to drive them down there. Ecstatic to be given an excuse to hit the south coast I piled my parents and their luggage into the car (my mum's car that is, and what a joy it was to drive without the terrible my-exhaust's-about-to-fall-off anxiety), deposited them at the extremely windy and rainy Southampton dock 10 and shot straight off to Portsmouth harbour.
I arrived at the museum very unprofessionally, looking like a drowned rat after standing outside in the rain for some time taking pictures of buildings and brown signs. I was met by the Head of Attractions and Collections, Nick Hewitt (who happens to be totally and utterly quality by the way and didn't care a bit what I looked like). Nick took me on a guided tour with his colleague Mark who filled me in on the history of the museum, the upcoming events and the exciting plans they have for the future. There's no doubt that museums have a tough time attracting visitors in this day and age as our leisure time can be filled in so many different ways by doing a billion different and exciting things so the competition for visitors' attention is enormous. Even I, someone who can't sit still for 5 minutes without wanting to run off and explore somewhere, wrote off 3 whole hours the other day exploring Rome through the wonder that is Google Street View. These chaps appreciate this challenge and they're facing it head on by continually thinking of new ways to enhance the visitor experience. One such genius idea is getting children in for a real life "night at the museum" where they get to sleepover after a fun packed day of activities. I can't tell you how excited my 10 year old self would have been at this prospect. Brilliant idea.
The second focus of the museum is the history of naval firepower. The museum's collection is substantial and includes everything from small revolvers and muskets to shells, torpedoes, mines, and even nuclear weapons designed to be launched from great big guns on warships. Here are some pictures for you...
... And that's what it looks like to stare down the barrel of a massive gun.
More not so fun but extremely important exhibits were in the oil drums below...
Inside each one was a TV with an actor reading some real life accounts of what happened to just a few of the many thousands of victims of naval warfare. The fact that these were true stories written by the men who witnessed such awful things made the videos by far the most powerful and disturbing exhibits at the museum. I stood for a long time watching them again and again, some were so awful and unbelievable I think I was in a bit of shock to be honest. It really brought it home to me that all the guns and weapons on display here were built for one purpose only; to destroy, and I spent the rest of the visit feeling appropriately sombre. Thought provoking pieces like these are the bits of a visit that really stick in the memory and it takes guts to present them in such a raw and evocative way. I was impressed (and bit depressed, but impressed with it, if you know what I mean).
All in all my afternoon was ace. Nick and Mark were so passionate about getting people to appreciate the importance of this heritage, educating us about our naval history and showing how it quite literally moulded the Britain we live in today that you can't help but come away feeling inspired. Visits to museums like Explosion! restores my faith in the future of British tourist attractions. First rate work I'd say.
First Rate - expression derived from the time when British warships were classified according to the number of guns on board, ships with 100 or more guns were classified as 'first', the top of the six rates.