Black smoke over the Thames

Unfazed by such landlubbing civilian niceties as the Clean Air Act and London Low Emission Zone, HMS Ocean has been exhaling black smoke constantly since her arrival in Greenwich on 4 May. She is here as part of a major national exercise to test the Armed Forces role in the Olympics security effort.

The vast 200m long ‘amphibious assault ship’ will be home in July to some 400 marines and sailors taking part in the Greenwich Park Venue Security Force. She will act as logistics hub and landing platform for helicopters flying military snipers over the capital. Other local security measures include anti-aircraft missile systems at Blackheath and Shooters Hill.

Putting aside feelings of alarm at the state of emergency that all this implies, it is just a little exciting. There’s the thrill of watching helicopters take off and naval launches speed purposefully past, packed with uniforms, muscles and tattoos. And then, of course, the funnels: two very active chimneys to add to our local collection. A reminder of days when paddle steamers bearing Victorians on jolly day-trips trailed their merry plumes peacefully by.