It’s A Cafe – Underneath A Boat

Cutty Sark CafeIt’s a café. UNDERNEATH A BOAT. Isn’t that enough?

Or, as one of the notes left by visitors at yesterday’s Preview Day for Locals had it, should I instead 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, once 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 that caused no end of trouble. So she’d appreciate what they’ve done. Maybe they should have asked Donna 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.

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.

Cutty Sark ProwAnother 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.

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.

Cutty Sark Hull


10 Comments on “It’s A Cafe – Underneath A Boat”

  1. Mat Gough says:

    What a wonderfully brilliant piece! You’ve made me want to leap out of bed and rush there right now, humming Donna Summer, so I can eat non-soggy cake. Thank you! 🙂

  2. John says: – just so you know the DS version was one of many, and by no means the definitive version.

    Cutty Sark looks great. But wonky lamp-posts are becoming a bit of a cliché, at least in south London, and given the tiny amount of greenery in relation to windswept (and rain-swept, today) open concrete-covered space in the re-vamped Cutty Sark Gardens, the flowerbeds explanation doesn’t really stack up.

    Are the ridges in the concrete designed to deter cyclists, skaters, and boarders, by the way? I bet they don’t. I certainly hope they don’t.

    And where are we (people, I mean) supposed to sit while admiring Cutty Sark? Only on the edges of the (unlit) flowerbeds? Or are we supposed to troop into Nando’s with the tourists, and queue for a seat on the roof?

    Humbug! And it’s not nearly Christmas time yet.

    Please keep up the good work, Matt.

  3. Matt Haynes says:

    John – I’ve been wondering about the ridges too… it seems odd, given modern notions of Health & Safety and Accessibility, to have deliberately incorporated trip-hazards into the design! It did cross my mind at some point that it was going to be some sort of water feature, given there seem to be drainage gullies around the edge… if not, I can see a lot of people stubbing their toes at the very least… but maybe I’m missing something obvious.

    I’ve no idea on the seating… maybe Greenwich Council are going to grant some sort of deckchair concession?

    And yes, you’re right about MacArthur Park – I just plumped for Donna S’s version as I thought that was probably the best known… but she’s no Jimmy Webb…

    Thanks (and to Mat) for the appreciative words, by the way!

  4. Henry says:

    There’s been so much bitterness about the Cutty Sark in the wake of its new home, I can’t help thinking British people just can’t get over having a good old moan. What else should they have done with it?

    I agree, where else can you sit underneath a huge ship and eat your cake?! It’s genius.

    I’ve got two tickets to the Cutty up for grabs by the way, for anyone interested!

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