A true captain goes down with the shit.

When we last left our hero, he’d just polished off a big plate of fry up. Egg, bacon, sausage, hash brown, tomato, pancake and soda bread were no match for a stomach long since filled to the brim with Guinness. The plans of the day were nothing more than to explore the Titanic museum that people couldn’t stop raving about. Oh, and a welcome, overdue Skype with my girlfriend.

I had every scepticism walking into the museum. Stanchions set up in a twisting pattern gave me flashbacks to every tourist trap I’d visited in my life. I paid £1 to stow my coat in a locker, before realising that I’d left my ticket in said coat. Clearly idiocy has a cost. I sheepishly unlocked the locker, removed my ticket, inserted another coin and entered the exhibit.

Sometimes you’ve gotta believe the hype. A lot of money, care and attention had been put into the museum, which began with a top down look at Belfast’s industrial history. Am I the only one who had no idea that linen was made from flax, broken down and repurposed? I hope at least one of you learned something new just now. The museum was a cornucopia of facts and information, but very easily digestible. Complete with AV displays, interactive games and activities. Could you accurately place steel plates in a scaled construction yard with a working crane? How about Morse code? A three letter word in 30 seconds? Young adults used to do 25 to 30 words in a minute.

There was even a ride showing the production process from the perspective of workmen. Sitting in a gondola, it took you through a forge and work yard depicting riveting in action, with reenactment videos and atmospheric heating/wind for effect. Sounds cheesy, was actually quite nifty. There were recreations of living quartets, segmented by class. A room had projections on three of four walls allowing you a 270° view of the Titanic’s interior, rising through the floors from the engine room to the captain’s deck. Textile features were abundant, showing the massive class divides right down to the quality of carpet and fit out.

Just before I entered the section on the disaster, a maritime tragedy struck close to home. After finishing up in the toilet, I flushed. The basin filled with water, but did little in the way of flushing. My efforts floating merrily on the surface instead. I tried again, flushing more vigorously. Perhaps I hadn’t put the pedal to the metal enough. Nope, more water, zero flushing. I saw a red cord dangling from the ceiling. Perhaps this flush would have greater efficacy. NOPE. Turns out it was an alarm. A loud beeping sounded from outside the bathroom. A voice came over the intercom.

“Can you hear me. Are you in distress?”
I replied that I was sorry, I pulled the cord by accident.
“I repeat, are you in distress?”
I realised they couldn’t hear me. I pressed the button next to the intercom and responded.
“I’m sorry, I pulled the cord by accident. I was just trying to flush. Sorry to alarm you (actually no pun intended).”
“Hello?” Clearly he still couldn’t hear me. “We’re despatching help to your location now. Stay calm.”

. . . /_ _ _ / . . .

Mortified, I had to explain the situation to the attendant. Embarrassment abounded, compounded by the fact that there was no lid on the toilet. He could clearly see what the situation was. I explained that I didn’t want to leave anyone else to find the mess. He laughed, locked the door and put an Out Of Order sign up. “Happens all the time.” It certainly lessened the impact of the disaster section to follow.

Did you know it took under two hours for the entire vessel to sink? Madness. The walls were covered with transcriptions of the Titanic’s Morse code correspondence. From the initial reports of ice just after midnight, to the final pleas for mercy before 2am. At first irked, the mood turned to fear and despair quickly. The exhibit had a comprehensive database of everyone on board from the service staff to passengers. You could filter down the results to search by age, ethnicity, profession, class. It was equally fascinating and awful. Wholly interesting.

By the point I’d digested as much as I had the presence of mind for, but there was still so much more. There were comparisons of different fictional narratives arising from the disaster. A section devoted to the intricacies of deep sea exploration and wreckage. As someone with little to no interest in maritime endeavours or the Titanic, the museum was totally captivating. I’d no reservations in recommending it to anyone passing through Belfast.

Maybe steer clear of the poop deck though.


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