Monday, 28 September 2009

Watching the Ships Go By

Writing the last part of 'Discovering Harbourside' was an odd experience. The closure of the Bristol City Docks seemed to represent the End of an Era: the ships are gone and all we can look forward to is another museum. The business of moving things from one place to another has become so efficient that we can no longer see it. Huge ships travel between ports that are almost empty of people and to which the public at large has no access.

Looking out to sea from Southwold in Suffolk one might see a dozen such vessels, shadowy forms that seem to belong to a different order of things. They carry the goods we will buy and use but these products are kept hidden until they appear, as if conjured out of nothing, on the supermarket shelf.

If Jim Hawkins rode into modern Bristol he wouldn't find too many old sailors, with rings in their ears, and whiskers curled in ringlets, and tarry pigtails, and their swaggering, clumsy sea-walk.

So where might a new 'Treasure Island' come from? Is there any romance left in the business of trading in ships? It's tempting to think not, but perhaps we need to look in a different way at this new world. The container was a dull metal box until the wreck of the MSC Napoli; now, every time I see one, I wonder what's inside.

Modern life gave us the container ship, but it also gave us a new way of looking at ships. Go to the website ShipAIS, and you'll see what I mean.

Look out though, time tends to slip away as you watch the ships go by.

Thanks to Ian Marchant for opening this window.

1 comment:

  1. This is such an interesting observation.

    While I'd never want to celebrate others' misfortunes, I want to hold on to the awareness brought by the rare moments when the realities that underpin my daily life of comfortable consumption thrust themselves to the fore; a ship carrying shiny things for me to buy spills its contents in the sea; storms on the other side of the planet mean no avocados in the co-op, soldiers blown to bits while conducting an apparenatly benign peace supprt operation - reminding me that consumption, of goods, food, security, is never as easy or straightforward as modern life has persuaded me.

    What are the social implications for a society whose members are almost entirely unaware and mostly disinterested in the realities that make its existence possible?

    Maybe we should all be forced to take tours of the Avonmouth/Portbury docks. I'd certainly love to have a good nose around.

    I've just discovered your blog and am enjoying it immensely. Looking forward to reading 'discovering bristol's harbourside'. Keep up the good work.