Tuesday, October 02, 2012


An afternoon in Greenwich seeing chums. Greenwich Park was busy with workmen and tractors dismantling the Olympic arena, which meant the pathways were all hemmed in and there are great gouges in the ground. Difficult to not feel a pang at what's been done, despite the success of the Games.

Also had a chance to nose round the newly restored Cutty Sark. I'd last been there in 2004 for a wedding, with a disco on the low-ceiled upper deck. I had to dance between the steel girders that came down to my shoulders. How strange to return to it in its new glory - and be so disappointed.

First, it's £12 for an adult ticket, which is pretty steep and made me glad I was visiting on my own. You'd expect some pretty good interpretation for that money, but no. You pass through the expensive gift shop, up a ramp into the lowest part of the ship. There, a few of the beams are labelled - which would be quite useful if you knew your nautical structural terminology.

There are then what look like stacked crates of tea, with brief captions explaining the history of tea in the UK (introduced in the 1650s, made fashionable a decade later by Catherine of Braganza and then the essential British drink when, to counter Dutch traders smuggling the stuff, the tax on it was significantly reduced). There's also a short film about the Cutty Sark itself, and more about its owners and the races its raced in.

You then move upstairs to the level I once danced in... and it seemed a little bare. I read everything to be read and it took less than 10 minutes. I guess that might have been different if the place had been crowded, but there was nothing to hold the interest for more than a moment: a display about the type of sheep that were traded, a reference to the opium wars (rather glossing over what the British inflicted on China to protect its own trade).

The deck affords amazing views of London - with the Shard and the London Eye clear even on a nasty day:

View from the deck of the Cutty Sark, looking west up the Thames
I nosed around the small, cramped rooms and there was a fun projected film of a sailor explaining his work. But again, it was all a bit sparse, with little to excite the imagination or encourage further investigation. I love an obscure top fact, and there was nothing for me.

I took the lift down to the lower floor (the lift building is built on the spot where the TARDIS lands in Dimensions in Time - the philistines) and emerged into what I thought was an expensive cafe. There's something odd about the way the coffee bar dominates one end of this otherwise eye-popping space, the gleaming, copper bottom of the ship hanging in the air above you. It gives the space a cold and corporate feeling, like the ship is merely an expensive bit of art in the lobby of some faceless multinational.

Moving away from the coffee bar made for a better effect, and as I stood underneath the huge vessel, it reminded me of the Saturn V rocket on its side at Cape Canaveral - the same scale, the same sense of travel as adventure and art.

At the end of the room was a strange display of figureheads, which might have been more appealing if there'd been more about what each represented, or how their role changed over time. It's nice to look at but tells you nothing of note.

You climb the steps at the end to a viewing gallery, but then have to double back and return to the coffee bar to make your way out - through the expensive shop. I was there less than half an hour, and read all the captions. The worst thing is that I love the Cutty Sark - it played a part in my first date with the Dr all those years ago, and was a landmark when I lived down the road. I even had the Slitheen sail it round the Mediterranean in a Doctor Who book. I already adored the ship; it took a lot to be left so cold. A costly disappointment.

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