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After seeing off Madhu, Catharine and I ventured into Greenwich. Greenwich is one of the first English proper names I had learnt. India’s time is +5.30 hours Greenwich Mean Time. I was always fascinated with geography and was very happy that the Royal Maritime Museum is located perfectly in Greenwich.
Though not very knowledgeable about the area in detail, I enjoyed being there. My first impression of Greenwich was that it is ‘so English! So Maritime!’ I loved everything about this neighbourhood, the narrow lanes, the lovely lights, even the Starbucks here looked sweet! If only we had more time and if only it was summer, I’d have loved to get lost in these lovely lanes.
As we wandered, my friend and I ventured into a small lane that opened to a wide area and a majestic sight of a big, old fashioned, impressive ship. I didn’t know then that it was the Cutty Sark! The 143 year old Cutty Sark which actually turned 144 just yesterday. I couldn’t do much but stand in that winter chill and admire the great Cutty Sark, it’s masts, it’s details for as far as my eye could see and its iron men. It took some hard staring to understand that these weren’t real men.
I was cold, it was a cold day but I didn’t want to leave yet. I know more about the Cutty Sark now then I did then and yet I don’t really know much. The Cutty Sark is an early 19th century clipper that brought tea to England from China. This detail amused me very much for the huge fan of English-tea culture that I am. The clipper was launched around the time the Suez Canal opened and steam ships took over the journey along this route, after which the Cutty Sark brought wool to England from Australia. Visiting the Cutty Sark is like visiting a grade 1 listed building, as it is part of the core collection of the National Historic Ships register, a historical treasure.
In between the transition from tea journeys to wool and others, an unfortunate incident occurred on the Cutty Sark when the Captain of the ship at one point, a First Mate killed a seaman and a few months later, the Captain of the ship in his helplessness and desperation ‘jumped overboard and disappeared’ for the ship got stranded in Indonesia’s Java Sea for lack of winds. This story reminds me of the story of Captain Oates of the Antarctic expedition with Captain Scott who leaves the tent in the cold Antarctic weather and never returns. While Oates’ suicide is a sacrifice, Wallace’s story is that of deep sadness and despair.
The Cutty Sark is the only museum ship I have ever been close to but pity that I couldn’t really enter the ship, examine its details and allow myself to get lost in its history, all for the lack of time.
Especially as: Maldwin Drummond, Chairman of the Cutty Sark Trust, has explained in Classic Boat magazine’s September 2010 issue the need to retain the spirit of the ship and he quotes the ideal that “The visitor should see the ship as though for some unexplained reason the crew had gone ashore.”
However, I felt very lucky that the Cutty Sark was just opened to public after being closed for over 6 years following a fire accident.
The name ‘The Cutty Sark’ is also interesting. Though I am unsure why the clipper is named so, the name is borrowed from a Robert Burns poem Tam o’ Shanter in which the drunk Scot hero Tam leaves for his town on his horse, and on his way, catches sight of a group witches, one of whom has grown out of undergarment (cutty) which is very short (sark) as it was given to her as a child. The erotic sight of the witch makes the drunk Tam shout ‘Weel done Cutty Sark’ which attracts the attention of the witches. As the witches race towards him, Tam runs for and across a river for he knows that witches can’t cross running rivers. While Tam takes to his heels and reaches the other side of the river safely, the witch gets hold of the horse’s tail that detaches from the horse as it sprints to rescue its master. What a story!
The ships figurehead is an interesting sculpture of Cutty Sark with the horse’s tail! (not my click of course).
From along The Cutty Sark, Catharine and I wandered into a museum, possibly the Greenwich museum which was rather small but had many interesting portraits and interesting stories. I realized that we didn’t have the time to read through the stories, a pity! But it’d be a shame if we remained at this museum and didn’t make it to the Royal Maritime Museum. Catharine had some questions to ask at the Information desk and while she was at that, I examined some things at the Museum shop but they were all just way too expensive. I therefore picked only the free tube maps before we exited the Museum and walked toward the Royal Maritime.
By now Catharine was a little worried as she had to be St Paul’s for a special Christmas recital of Handel’s Messiah. We tried to get a ticket for myself but that didn’t happen as the tickets were all gone before I booked my tickets to England. Catharine had to go pick Marcus and go to St Paul’s from there. As we walked through the dry winter vegetation of thorny trees and a London I read about only in books, we talked about what I should do while they were at St Paul’s. I suddenly found myself a little nervous as it was my day three in London and I hadn’t been without Catharine all this while. While it was an exciting idea to be on my own, I was nervous. I was not used to the cold, suddenly everything in London seemed so far away from Whitechapel which is ‘home’ and the Tube scared me. I made none of my apprehensions known to Catharine.
I told Catharine that maybe I really would like to visit The Charles Lamb. After a little thought Catharine said that it was probably a good idea and maybe Marcus and her would join me at the pub later, and if they don’t, I should make my way to home. I really wished they would come and as we made these plans, we arrived at the Royal Maritime Museum.