Medway 350, Day 1
Objective 1: exercise democratic right for which countless of my forefathers (and foremothers) fought and died, even if it’s distinctly academic in a constituency with a 25,000 majority and no Monster Raving Loony candidate.
Objective 2: successfully negotiate A1, M25, Dartford Crossing, M2, to get to Chatham.
Objective 3: arrive at Historic Dockyard in time for launch event of festival commemorating 350th anniversary of the Dutch attack on the Medway.
Objective 4: record impressions of said event in pithy blog post, then shower, change, eat, talk to capacity audience at Gillingham library, and then also record impressions of same in said pithy blog post. (The talk, not the showering, changing or eating.)
OK objective 4, here we go, then…
The launch event was a slightly curious affair. The Dutch sent a cousin of the king, who somehow still doesn’t qualify as one of their royal family. This is because said institution is the size of…well, a real family, unlike that of the UK, where even the pet gerbil of any great-great-great-grandchild of King George V is defined as a member of the royal family, and getting on for 6,000 people have a place in the royal line of succession. They also sent a general who made a number of endearingly rude jokes, including Pepys’s famous line ‘the devil shits Dutchmen’ – not his, incidentally, but reported speech from another – whereas we Brits could only muster a council functionary (speech: inaudible) and an admiral (speech: tolerable, until he went off into an Arthur Bryant-esque ‘Pepys was the saviour of the navy’ panegyric which very nearly caused your humble blogger to leap up and bellow ‘Oi! Pepys! No!’).
The Marine bands of the two countries duly made their entrance, and then engaged in what sometimes seemed to be a macho stand-off and ‘silliest march’ competition – the Dutch winning hands down because of their penchant for marching backwards and sideways simultaneously, an underhand trick akin to their breaking of the chain in 1667. The choice of music seemed to have been determined at least partly by a need to avoid ‘political incorrectness’, given the circumstances (this was, after all, a stonking defeat for the hosts, and an even more stonking victory for the guests). So there were no national anthems, no ‘Rule Britannia’, and no Dutch equivalent of the latter, which is believed to translate loosely as ‘Yo, Brits, we is in your river, dudes’. The prince unveiled a plaque, although most inconsiderately, the Royal Navy’s honour guard had plonked itself directly in my camera line to the event in question.
With showering, changing and eating duly ticked, I headed over to Gillingham library. The title of my talk was ‘The Dutch are Coming! Writing Fact and Fiction about the Anglo-Dutch Wars’, and I had a full house of eighty or so really attentive and engaged Medway-ites. As I said at the start of the talk, it was a real relief to be in one of the few parts of Britain where pretty well everybody knows that such things as Anglo-Dutch Wars took place at all. After that, the audience laughed at my jokes, responded brilliantly to the first ever public reading of a scene from the new Quinton novel, The Devil upon the Wave, and asked some really penetrating questions, several of which gave me genuine pause for thought. So all in all, it was an excellent evening – although when I finally reached licensed premises, there seemed to be an unusually large number of politicians cluttering up the TV screens, for some unfathomable reason.
Target for tomorrow (OK, yes, today by the time this post goes online) is to check out the brand new 1667-themed exhibition, ‘Breaking the Chain’, at Chatham’s Historic Dockyard, aka ‘the set of Call the Midwife’. It’ll be the first day of public opening, so watch this space for one of the very first reviews on the interweb-thing!