Thursday 3 May 2018

Ocean Liners: Speed and Style

We were planning to bring our young granddaughter to stay and were fortunate to see an advertisement for an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum which we could visit while we were there to fetch her. As we have done before, we visited the museum and then went to meet her from her nursery and took her home on the train. The exhibition was on Ocean Liners: Speed and Style (still on now, but ends 17th June) and we booked our tickets online in advance. It seems to me that "speed and style" could subtitle any exhibition about transport in the inter-war years: aircraft, cars and trains all went for speed and style as well as the ships, but when it comes to style it is perhaps only the Pullman trains that can compare with the great liners.

Their day did not end with the second world war, though, and the great liners were still very much part of life in my 1950s and 60s childhood and youth: I remember the Queen Elizabeth 2 being launched as a working trans-Atlantic liner, and each nation had its prestige ship, most of them now either rusting away or already cut up for scrap, defeated by cheaper, faster air travel but most certainly not surpassed for comfort and style!

There is still one ocean liner making its living on the trans-Atlantic route, the Queen Mary 2, the only new ship built for this work for a very long time, quite different in shape from the other cruise liners which are not built for speed because they are not really going anywhere. (The exhibition was sponsored by Viking Cruises so it was light on the difference between the stylish liners of the past and the great hulking cruise ships of today!) I'd like to do a rail tour of the United States one day, if Amtrak is allowed to survive, and would love to arrive at New York by ship to do it. We'll have to see: it would not be cheap!

Ocean Liners was a good exhibition, although tickets were quite expensive and I am not sure were especially good value. I was particularly interested in the political issues around the prestige of the ocean liners - there were pictures of Adolf Hitler on Germany's national prestige ship, for example. Britain had a huge number of these great ships to service a world-wide empire.

We took a moderately early train to London, Standard Class this time because we were booking to close to the date of travel to get cheap First Class tickets at the time we needed get there, but Virgin Trains East Coast Standard Class is comfortable and we were soon in London. It does not have the same relaxed atmosphere as First, with rather more people in the same amount of space, and we returned First Class with our little companion because it is useful to have the space for a small child, and travelling before the peak time we were able to get affordable tickets and a carriage with plenty of empty seats.

From the museum at South Kensington it was a short Underground trip and then a walk to meet our granddaughter and then we were with her on the Hammersmith and City line to Kings Cross and back home, all neatly timed, if a bit tight in places. We even managed to cram in a cup of coffee with our son, carefully avoiding him meeting his little girl who otherwise might not have let him go and our train home would have been missed! Changing trains at Peterborough we had enough time to pop into Waitrose and let her choose her breakfast cereal for her stay: really handy having the shop right beside the station. Virgin Trains East Coast train staff were really good with a child and ensured the she did not miss out on the First Class food and drink, even though she did not have to pay a fare at her age.

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