By the time of the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar, my passionate love of dinosaurs and prehistory was beginning to wane a little (it's been revived in the last couple of years, however!) and there was room for a new interest. But never would I have guessed that it would come in the form of Nelson and his navy!
Only a few years before I was standing in Trafalgar Square, on my first visit to London, with my dad who was enthusing about the guy perched on top of the stone column, and all the wonderful things that he had done.
Me: not interested. If my dad found it interesting, then I definitely was't going to! (Oh, the irony!)
A couple of years later, when I was nine, I went on holiday to Portsmouth. The first time I went was when I was about two, so I didn't really know anything about the place. Needless to say, when I was informed of our new holiday destination, I wasn't exactly excited. Nevertheless, I ended up completely loving it. I'm not sure why, but I did!
While I was there, I went aboard HMS Victory for the first time. I was mildly interested- that is, I didn't hate it. I remember my aunty Sally doing a brilliant, masterful impersonation of Nelson, while we stood on the Quarterdeck. 'I see no ships,' she said, raising an invisible telescope to her eye, presumably thinking that I knew what she was referring to. I didn't.
When we returned, I was to begin my first year of middle school. A few weeks in, we were told that Friday, the 21st of October, was Trafalgar Day. My knowledge on Nelson at that point was, to say the least, pretty limited! I wrote it in my school diary, completely clueless.
When the day came around, I was pleasantly surprised. We had an assembly first thing and some of the things they mentioned rang a few bells. I recognised the man called Nelson with the big hat. I recognised HMS Victory. Something clicked in my brain, and suddenly, it was interesting. The idea of a stupendous battle in which Nelson, the hero, for his country so gallantly gave his life struck a chord with me. I was hooked.
The whole day was dedicated to Nelson and Trafalgar. We went to our normal classrooms, but instead of the usual lessons we learnt about some aspect of Trafalgar or Nelson and the world he lived in. It was one of the best school days I ever had. In PE we were pretending to be seamen living on the Victory and preparing for battle. I hated PE, but this was one of the few lessons that I actually enjoyed and put effort into!
At the end of the day, unusually, my dad picked me up from school, and my mom agreed that I could stay with him for a few hours. We met up with Sally and my granddad (who I call Daddad!) in Worcester and I asked questions the whole time about Nelson. I had to keep being reminded of what his first name was, because I had never heard of the name 'Horatio' before!
We went back to Daddad's house, and on the TV was live coverage of some of the events that were taking place in commemoration of Trafalgar. I had to leave before it was finished, and I had to beg my granddad to ask my mom if I could watch it at her house. She wasn't impressed by the request, but she put it on all the same. While I was sat there glued to the telly, she jested that I was watching 'silly TV!'- let me tell you, she wouldn't dare now!
One of the last things they did was fire an imitation broadside from the Victory. It was very impressive, and I clearly remember the excitement and pride I felt as the guns thundered and poured out smoke. I wanted to be there. I still wish I could have seen it in person!
In the following weeks, my enthusiasm continued, probably because my dad and granddad were moderately interested in it themselves, and would happily answer some of my questions. Over the years, after a slow start, my knowledge began to grow. I'm certainly no expert, but I'm getting there! I'll have been hooked on Nelson for seven years on Sunday. I can't believe it's approaching a decade!
I'm so glad that they decided to make something of Trafalgar Day that year. If they hadn't then I wouldn't be interested today, and I'd like to think that the same happened for many kids across the country: education is the best way to get people interested, I think. They made a good choice to celebrate. And I dream that, maybe one day, the person inspiring kids to learn about Nelson, Trafalgar and the sailing navy will be me!
Let me know how you became interested in Nelson and his navy! I always enjoy hearing others stories of how they first became a Nelsonite!