This piece was written in April 2012, just after the refurbished Cutty Sark had re-opened to the public. Now, rather than just sitting in dry dock, the boat was elevated so that you could walk underneath it, and a glass canopy/skirt had been constructed so that you could do this in the dry. In early drawings, this canopy was curved, wave-like, and quite low; it made it look like the boat was moving through the sea. The final version was much more angular, because that was cheaper, and rather higher up, for structural reasons, so it looked more like the boat was sinking. But that’s still, in my opinion, better than having it just sit in dry dock. Many people complained, though, just liked they complained that the newly opened restaurants nearby were completely spoiling the look of the pierhead.
Or should I, as one of the notes left by visitors at yesterday’s Preview Day for Locals had it, be muttering that it’s been “renovated too modern”, and that I won’t be able to stop myself falling to my knees and weeping every time I pass M&S?
“Renovated too modern”. I’ve no idea what that even means.
Look. The Cutty Sark is a fine old boat that’s had a pretty eventful life and been bashed around and knocked about many times over the years. Then, in 1954, when nobody could think what do with her any more, she came to Greenwich to be put into dry dock so that people could look at her and say “oh, look, there’s a boat in a hole”, or words to that effect. You could walk up to the railings at the edge of the hole and peer down at the hull, but… it never struck me as that exciting, as these things go. Just a boat in a hole. Portsmouth has lots of those, and then there’s the Golden Hinde up at St Mary Overie Dock. The world is full of boats in holes.
But now, in Greenwich, we have a boat suspended in the air so that you can WALK UNDERNEATH IT, and it’s surrounded by glass, so that you can do this even when it’s raining. Or, to put it another way, you can sit and have a cup of tea and a slice of cake directly underneath a great big boat and, even when it’s raining, not get your cake wet. I’m not sure you can do this anywhere else in the world, can you, not even in Portsmouth?
Donna Summer, if memory serves, once left a cake out in the rain, and it caused her no end of trouble. So she’d appreciate what they’ve done. Maybe they should have asked the Queen of Disco to reopen it instead of the Queen, who’s probably never had a piece of damp cake in her life, despite her family (if they were honest) being named after one.
(I’m talking about Battenberg, which is what Mountbatten means when you’re not pretending not to be German. I’m not suggesting that the last Empress of India was really called Victoria Sponge.)
The underside of a boat is an extraordinary thing, by the way. Especially when the whole massive bulk of it is just hanging there, above your head, looking all shiny and coppery. The shininess and copperiness surprised me; it reminded me a bit of the cladding on those new restaurants at the pierhead that everyone’s complaining about because they’re out of keeping.
Another thing I love about the Cutty Sark, now that she’s raised up in the air, rather than stuck in a hole, is that you can see her masts from all over Greenwich in a way you never could before. Every morning, on my way to get the paper, I spot them poking up, and smile. And, of course, this works the other way round too; now that she’s up in the air, the view from her main deck is fantastic: out along the river towards the Shard, or down below to the revamped gardens with their stylish new modern lampposts, or across to St Alfege with its freshly scrubbed cherubs.
I was surprised when people complained about the cherubs being cleaned, incidentally. It seemed that they liked the dirt. Which is fine, everyone to their own, as long as you acknowledge that it’s the dirt you’re liking, not the cherub. It’s similar to when people say they prefer the sound of vinyl to CD; they’re perfectly entitled to think that, I just want them to admit that what they’re actually liking is the sound of a lump of carbon scraping through dirt, dust and cheap plastic cut in a rough approximation of the original sound waves, rather than the music.
Where was I?
Oh yes. I just can’t help feeling that, if you were visiting an exotic foreign city – Genoa, say, or Gothenburg (which is a major seaport on the west coast of Sweden and not, just going back to the Mountbatten thing, a small loaf-shaped cake comprised of squares of black and white sponge wrapped in a layer of black marzipan), or Grimsby – and you came across a preserved boat that, rather than being stuck in a hole, had been lifted up in the air and surrounded by glass so that Donna Summer could have a cup of tea and a slice of coffee-and-walnut directly underneath it without her cake getting wet and her life falling apart, even if it was raining, then you’d spend the rest of your holiday trying to buy postcards of it to send back home on which you’d write nothing but the words “It’s a café – UNDERNEATH A BOAT” along with three exclamation marks and a smiley face.
But, for some reason, because it’s in Greenwich, people prefer to mutter “it doesn’t look like it used to” and then complain that they can’t see why the new lampposts aren’t vertical like they used to be in the old days.
It’s so that the same amount of light can illuminate more of the paving stones and less of the flower beds, by the way. You’re welcome.