Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Aussie plan for replica Titanic could sink our big tourist draw

Clive Palmer in front of an artist impression of the Titanic ll
Clive Palmer in front of an artist impression of the Titanic ll

I'd love to have seen the faces of the people who market the Titanic Centre in Belfast when they heard that an Ozzie billionaire is building a replica. Suddenly, "Titanic – you'll never see her likes again!" isn't quite the selling point it used to be.

Now, or rather, in 2016 when the vessel is due to set sail, you'll be able to see the splendour of an original replica without having to exit and find yourself standing in a derelict shipyard in windy Belfast. And the staircase will be available to all... well, all who've splashed out on posh tickets.

Talk about killing the romance of it all! The only thing Titanic has going for it is the fact that it sank and it can't be raised from the dead.

This new upstart is the equivalent of some scientist creating a clone of Elvis from the DNA of one of The King's hairs, found in the bathroom of Graceland after he died.

It might be possible, but would you want a new, identical but it can never actually be the same, Elvis? Even if the new one came with airconditioning?

What the Ozzie and the 40,000 people who've already registerd for tickets for the maiden voyage don't get, is that the past, by definition, cannot be lived again.

You can put on period costumes and swan around First Class, but you'll never capture the atmosphere of 1912, because you can never think like a 1912 person. You can't uninvent mobile phones and fast food and the Beatles and space travel.

About the only things we have in common with people back then is that we still go to war and thousands of young men die, stupidly, for the sake of profit of a few. That, at least, is a lesson we've chosen not to learn from.

Digging into the past isn't always a disaster obviously. Sometimes it's the only way to be able to move forward. This Thursday I'll be hosting the launch of the Health In Mind One Book campaign. Mental health charities have teamed up with Libraries NI to encourage people to use all the facilities on offer to help themselves and others to have good mental health.

The book chosen this year is Rachel Joyce's novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It's the story of a man who sets out to walk the length of England to visit an old colleague who's dying of cancer. He planned to post a letter to her, but when he got to the postbox, he just kept walking.

Putting one foot in front of the other, he starts a journey he hadn't planned for and on the way he delves into the past and we discover why his marriage is so unhappy, why his son doesn't visit and why he let down the woman he's travelling towards. It's a quietly brilliant read. The One Book campaign wants people to read the book and start talking about mental health, to help de-stigmatise "mental" problems.

We're all journeying like Harold and we all have things from the past that live in our present and prevent us being totally at ease. Looking back in order to move forward – that's healthy.

The One Book is launched at Belfast Central Library on Thursday at 10.15am. The author will be there. Everyone is welcome.

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