John McCrystal: Titanic II a folly fit for our times

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A century since original's demise society is still stratified along liner's class divisions, writes John McCrystal.

If billions are being spent replicating the original Titanic why not go all the way and stage replica sinkings in ports around the world? Photo / AP
If billions are being spent replicating the original Titanic why not go all the way and stage replica sinkings in ports around the world? Photo / AP

Wasn't it wonderful to learn the other day that an Australian coal billionaire has unveiled plans to build a full replica of the Titanic?

For quite apart from being a worthy sink for Clive Palmer's pesky extra billions, you're unlikely ever to find a more apt symbol for our times.

It will be a marvellous thing to see "the old canoe" back topside and doing what she was meant to do - whisking people across the Atlantic in spectacular luxury, fully segregated from the unfortunates for whom the upper decks were off-limits.

And while Clive Palmer promises that still more luxuries - unknown even to the famously pampered Edwardian upper crust - will be deployed (aircon, endless HD replays of Wall Street with all that rust-prone irony left back on the dock), you hope he will preserve some of the period features, too. The ship simply wouldn't be the Titanic without the Grand Staircase, the woefully inadequate lifesaving capacity, the lockable gates between steerage and the boat deck.

Why stop at replicating the ship? Why not tour the world staging periodic re-enactments of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912? Icebergs will be hard to find in the Atlantic by 2016 when Titanic 2 is expected to roll off the skids of a Chinese shipyard (as the priceless Mr Palmer quipped in his media conference). But surely modern technology can make the vast vessel fully submersible, so that at a pre-appointed moment, the seacocks could be opened to five of the 16 watertight compartments that were supposed to make the original vessel "virtually unsinkable" to simulate the effects of the collision.

Properly managed, there would then ensue the same agonising, mid-ocean foundering that her progenitor suffered, and the hilariously unedifying scramble for the boats (which could be filmed for the titillation of posterity). Doubtless someone of Mr Palmer's means will have little difficulty getting the laws of safety at sea waived so that the lifeboats aboard will be sufficient for only a third of the passenger numbers, a vital period detail.

Who wouldn't give anything to witness the heroism of the band - I'm thinking guest spots, here: U2, the Stones, One Direction - and to hear that stirring, Edwardian cry, "Women and children first"?

At each port of call, the Titanic 2 experience could be made available to a cross-section of society. We're a small country, but we'd likely have no trouble supplying a full first-class complement from amongst our merchant bankers, finance company executives, politicians, white collar criminals, tax avoiders and their ilk. We'd have no difficulty at all stocking steerage - what a dazzling solution to the country's ills it would be to take all those solo mums and benefit fraudsters to sea and leave them there.

Even second class would be easy: good old Kiwi mums and dads - the kind who voted for a government on the basis of tax cuts when a quarter of our nation's children live in poverty; dairy farmers whose stock do their core business in the waterways; anyone who hiked the rent on their Christchurch property portfolio in the wake of the earthquakes.

One hundred years, two world wars and a few little ones, some terrible experiments with hammering the round pegs of humanity into the square holes of ideology, recessions and a Depression and a bunch of other horrors besides, have elapsed since the original Titanic sailed into infamy. You'd be forgiven for thinking those were simpler, more innocent times, when dogs ate dogs, markets were free and the devil took the hindmost as his due.

But it's refreshing to see through Mr Palmer's selfless determination to repeat one of history's greatest acts of hubris, that nothing, really, has changed. He'll doubtless have a wisecrack for fellow survivors, along the lines of: "Mate, this is what you call going down in history."

John McCrystal is a Wellington writer.

- NZ Herald

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