Full steam ahead

Today was my trip to Bristol and a conference on steam. I’ve been looking forward to this for months and months. I vaguely remember the SNR calling for papers back in January. They had a message for the rest of us about booking for the actual conference in June. Just before June rolled around, we were scheduled to go to Italy so I didn’t book. Then our Italy dates were changed. I quickly booked the conference.

And today marked the beginning. And it started with a trip. A longish trip. I had to get to Bristol because the conference was at the SS Great Britain.

My first interesting encounter was at the bus stop outside the hospital at Farnham. A friendly Scotsman who collects and crushes cans. He told me about how much money he makes by crushing the cans and selling them to scrap dealers. More importantly he had a lovely friendly Labrador called Daisy. The Scotsman’s wife has dementia so he takes Daisy to the care home. All the residents love her.

A bus and a few trains later and I was chugging through the countryside heading for Bristol Temple Meads. The changes were very smooth and not at all rushed. The only surprising thing was the overly tattooed lady on the final leg. Without my glasses and sitting a few seats away, I thought she was wearing an attractively patterned, high necked blouse; the kind favoured by Amy on The Big Bang Theory. I was wrong.

When she stood up to leave the train I discovered the tattoos extended down her legs as well.

I’m not a big fan of tattoos but, obviously I have no issue with people having them. If people want to cover themselves with images then they have every right to do it. However, I do wonder what the almost total coverage is going to look like in about 60 years. I know my old skin looks bad enough without decoration.

Possibly the worst part of the day was the roadworks around Bristol Temple Meads station. Talk about annoying. I’m sure it’s annoying for the traffic but it’s just downright awful for us poor pedestrians trying to weave our way through barriers and dug up pavements. Still, eventually I found my road and headed for my quite close hotel.

Not my hotel but a good indication of the type of neighbourhood I was walking through

My hotel was a Mercure and very nice. I had a room on the third floor with a walk-in shower and…actually all I cared about was the walk-in shower which I used almost immediately. And it was excellent. Good pressure, good temperature, no bath. Who could want anything else?

Following my shower I took an age to dress then wandered down to the SS Great Britain for a pre-conference beer overlooking the floating harbour, watching the ferries ply their trade up and down as well as back and forth. It reminded me of the chaps on the Thames who would punt passengers across the river back when there was only one bridge.

A little later, Morten told me that he didn’t have the requisite £1 to pay the ferryman on his way across the harbour and had to plead and beg for a ride, promising he would pay him tomorrow. The ferryman agreed, reluctantly. (I met Morten after the keynote speech. He is speaking tomorrow and is Danish.)

The opening of the conference was shared by a guy from the SS Great Britain Trust and our own, SNR favourite, Admiral Sir Ken Eaton who gave an excellent introduction to our first speaker, the erudite Helen Doe from the University of Exeter.

Admiral Eaton says hi

Helen’s talk was on the management skills of engineers during the move into steam and away from sail. She has written about the SS Great Britain (I might buy her book tomorrow) and the SS Great Western and knows a thing or two about Mr Brunel. Her talk was a fascinating journey across the Atlantic and down the Pacific giving an insight into how difficult it was to post a letter to Australia before the advent of flight.

To highlight her thesis she told us about the possibly dodgy steamship company that advertised for shareholders, bought a ship and set about organising a trip from London to New York. The ship was sailed down to London and docked. There was great excitement among the prospective passengers. The ship, the Nebraska, didn’t leave London.

Passengers and shareholders were livid. The crew of the ship were livid. Lots of people lost lots of money.

It was an excellent start to the conference. We all then adjourned to the SS Great Britain dining hall for some wine and nibbles and chat.

I sat with an American (Zachary) and the aforementioned Morten as well as the head librarian of Bristol University who is from Melbourne as well as his cousin and his wife, who was once an industrial chemist. It was all very jolly and I didn’t sit in a corner and act like a wall flower which I think Mirinda was worried would happen. Mind you, when the talk turned to golf (I was the only one who didn’t play) I almost felt like moving to a lonely corner. There was too much talk about Scottish versus US courses.

Eventually people started drifting off and I made my way to the container restaurants of Wapping Wharf in order to try the ramen at Woky Ko. I’d read about it on TripAdvisor. I was not disappointed.

I had the tantanmen, with ground pork, fresh herbs and an egg and it was deliciously spicy. Possibly most surprising was the Korean fried cauliflower. Totally yum and, in the words of Mr Kim, a SNEAK ATTACK of chilli. The whole meal accompanied by a couple of beers was excellent and very filling.

The view from my table

After a full day, I headed back to the hotel for a beer at the bar before hitting the bed. I have a big day tomorrow full of steam, ships and…well, steamships is it really.

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