Ships and songs

Today we had one of our London Days. It was a spur of the moment thing, organised last weekend. We’d searched for a musical to see, settling on Loserville, because we couldn’t get tickets to Cabaret. Our cultural attraction wound up being the Cutty Sark because everything else we wanted to see was either full, finished or the wrong time.

So, bright and early, I left the house to meet Mirinda at the flat for the short DLR ride across the river to Greenwich.

The last time we visited Greenwich, it was ridiculously crowded; uncomfortably so. In fact, it was far too crowded for us to visit the famous market. Not so this morning.

We had to book pre-timed tickets to the Cutty Sark and we were a bit early so we went for a bit of a wander, winding up at the market which was just starting to show signs of getting busy.

Greenwich market is a typical covered collection of stalls selling everything from crafts to junk to food. Wonderfully, there was a sign at the entrance advertising hot beef and cheese sandwiches. When I pointed it out to Mirinda she was surprised and repulsed to the same level that she was in Paris.

A little further in, a stall was selling Spanish doughnuts. Having never tried this delicacy, we decided to indulge. They are very nice. Sort of like a normal doughnut with custard in the middle except not too sweet and delightfully chewy. Actually, reading over that, it’s not very accurate at all. They’re a bit hard to describe. In fact, the guy at the stall said you normally eat them in a cone but he’d forgotten to pack the cones. Odd, then. They were just as delicious in a bag.

But back to the reason for our visit…in 2007 the Cutty Sark caught fire. I remember it well. At the time, I was somewhat dismayed that we’d not seen it but then, following some sterling restoration work, it reopened to great fanfare.

Not the bluest sky day but at least it didn’t rain.

Like the SS Great Britain in Bristol, the 2006 restoration created an empty space beneath the ship, allowing the public to wander around the keel, glimpsing the true size of the little ship. Unlike the SS Great Britain, the Cutty Sark has a cafe underneath the ship, which is a terrific idea.

Anyway, the Cutty Sark is the last remaining tea clipper in the world. Once upon a time, these racy little boats, sped across the oceans, attempting to set new records for bringing tea from India.

As was becoming the fashion, she was built with a combination of wood and wrought-iron. This made her faster and stronger than the all-wood ships that went before.

She was launched in 1869 and started work almost immediately, loading her first cargo at the East India Docks less than a month later.

The name is a bit odd, because it’s an undergarment. A cutty sark is a sort of loose and alluring because of it, petticoat; a short chemise. It is mentioned in the Burns poem Tam O’Shanter of 1791, in which a drunk Tam is accosted by a bunch of witches. They are all hags except for one, Nannie who is decidedly tasty. Tam says so, not realising her magical powers.

Just in time he manages to escape on his horse with Nannie racing behind, trying to stop him. Tam heads for the river, knowing that witches can’t cross water, spurring his horse on to greater speeds. Just as he reaches the bridge, Nannie reaches out and desperately grabs the horse’s tail. The horse, Maggie, scared and wide eyed, leaps away, leaving her tail in Nan’s hand.

Which explains the figurehead on the front of the clipper. And, apparently, it was the job of one of the apprentices to stick a wad of rope in the figurehead’s hand each day, to represent Maggie’s tail.

She’s going to get a bit cold dressed like that!

The visitor tour starts below decks. Lots of tea chests present snippets of information about tea and clippers and the history of the trade. It’s not the biggest space and must be pretty horrendous in the summer with the crowds. It wasn’t so bad today.

Some of the decorated tea chests

There’s also a lovely video which shows the chronology of the clipper.

We then went up to the next deck which is lovely and open. As is usual with these old boats, there is a constant source of head bashing available. It makes me wonder about the height of sailors. I guess there had to be one of those ‘Are you taller than this line?’ signs they have for kids on funfair rides. When we saw the bunks for all the sailors, it merely reinforced this.

A Scottish chap told us that he had to share a bed with his three brothers when he was growing up so the bunks were pretty spacious as far as he was concerned. He claimed he saw a lot of feet quite close up as a young lad.

Dotted around the middle deck are interactive displays, mostly with question and answer programmes on them. There’s also a few ‘game’ screens on which you try to steer the Cutty Sark from Sydney to London in less than the 73 days achieved by Richard Woodget in 1885. Mirinda had a jolly time trying to take twice as long by ignoring the trade winds, the compass and the map. It was very funny.

The top deck is, obviously, at the top. It’s a beautiful boat with the top deck being nearly all wood. It has all the lovely rigging, polished wood and coiled ropes you expect to find.

Some old sailor left over from the tea trade

And the accommodation is on the top deck. The boat only had a full compliment of 27 men at any one time so, as long as they were all fairly short, they’d have no problem fitting in. The inside of the Cutty Sark was full of cargo.

Mirinda wondering how a normal sized man could fit in a cupboard

Anyway, we had a jolly good wander all over – at one point I tried to steer it free and off up the Thames but it wasn’t going to happen – and ended up down, underneath, enjoying a latte.

Keep it straight, Mr Cook…Aye, aye, cap’n.

But all things must pass and we eventually found ourselves waiting for a ferry to take us back up river. And we fell foul of two incredible moments of bad management. Firstly the ferry…

They are always changing the way they deal with the paying public. They are rarely consistent. For instance, you can generally buy a ticket on board but when I asked the person standing at the top of the gang plank whether I could buy a ticket on board, she emphatically insisted that I could not.

This meant I had to line up behind the usual weekend tourists who have no idea how to buy a ticket without going into their life history and the reasons for the current altercation along the Gaza strip. This also meant that we missed the ferry and had to wait 20 minutes for the next one.

This wouldn’t have been such a big problem except that the person at the top of the gang plank didn’t check any tickets and I could have bought one on board. Grrr. This is the one thing that annoys Mirinda about the ferries. They have a lack of consistency that would put Andy Murray in the shade.

And then, to top this and reach an entirely new level of incompetency, when Mirinda tried to get into her office (so we could store our bags there rather than cart them around the theatre) the woman on security told her she couldn’t if her pass didn’t work…which it didn’t. Funny how it’s always the security people who actually run big business these days. Not the directors, the finance guys or the IT people. No, it’s the security people.

Somewhat disgruntled, we walked up through mysterious back alleys and wonderful, olde worlde shops until we reached the Garrick Theatre. Actually, we stopped outside the Garrick pub and Mirinda asked where we would eat. We were just across the road from Leicester Square so we had a lot of choices. But she uttered those fateful words “It’s your choice.” I didn’t hesitate. I said the pub and led the way in.

We both had a lovely sandwich (fish fingers for Mirinda and ham for me) before heading into the theatre for Loserville.

The worst thing we’ve ever seen on the West End was Rent: Remixed. There were legal reasons why Rent: Remixed was so utterly dire. Loserville had no such excuse.

I enjoyed the set, the overall design, the seats in the theatre, the costumes…I didn’t enjoy Loserville.

It’s not because musicals are generally pretty frothy. After all, Legally Blonde is pretty much all froth but it is fantastic. It’s not because it didn’t have any famous names in it. No, basically it was just not good enough for the West End. And I’m not being snobby.

The West End is the cream of British Theatre. It’s for tourists, for arty types, for people who love going to the theatre in London because they don’t live too far out and have a flat at Canary Wharf. If we wanted to see something that was slightly below par, we can (and do) go to the theatre at Woking.

But what was wrong with Loserville, you may be asking. It wasn’t very good. The songs were not as memorable as the costumes. The story was not told very well. By the end of the first act, the froth had been blown away. We were tempted to leave. We stayed.

The second act was better than the first but it still didn’t impress. It was very disappointing. We went home humming the tunes from a number of other musicals.

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1 Response to Ships and songs

  1. flip100 mum says:

    Never mind about the musical the Cutty Sark sounds very interesting I love all the history that is a very cheeky photo of you Mr Cook or should it be Captain.
    love mum


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