Have you been to Greenwich recently, have you, have you? It's all go down there, well you'd expect it, wouldn't you, what with the Olympics coming up and everything. They're already sealing offpart of the park to build the equestrian arena, now there's only three months to go, got to get the place ready I guess. They'll probably leave the park a ploughed-up mess, although give them their due they didn't after last year's test event, so it'll no doubt all be fine.
What a change down by the river, where the Cutty Sark used to be. Actually it still is, it didn't all burn away during that big fire five years ago, and now they've nearly finished repairing it. It's used to be just a ship, admittedly a lovely important ship, one of the fastest tea clippers of its day, but soon it'll be reopening as a proper integrated heritage tourist destination. They've lifted the ship up, several feet, rather than resting it in the original concrete-y dry dock. Previously you could walk right up to the hull and stare, but now it's all encased in some frosted glass thing, a bit like an icy sea, or some sort of frozen shiny wave. Walk up close and you can peer through and there's the restored hull behind, all polished and good as new, but you can't see much, not unless you're inside, which I guess is the idea.
The main body of the ship looks magnificent, all those famous tall masts and rigging, all of that's still open to the elements. Something's still shrouded in white sheeting, looks like the poop deck, or whatever sailors call these things, I don't know. There'll be visitors swarming all over the decks once the Cutty Sark reopens, which'll be soon, very soon, 26th April apparently. Expect the Queen to turn up for the official ceremony, which'll be nice. They couldn't quite get the Cutty Sark open before the London Marathon swings through, so everyone'll be running round the old girl still shut up and closed. Although that's probably a publicity masterstroke, isn't it, she'll be all over the telly at just the right time to stir public interest, eh? [photo]
At the moment there are still workmen everywhere, lots of them, mostly down at ground level sorting out the visitor facilities. There are swishy electronic doors in the glass wall, locked open while blocks and slabs and cables and stuff are carried through. They've been clever lifting up the ship, it's created a big space underneath. Plenty of room for a gift shop that wasn't there before, plus a cafe that wasn't there before too. I hope they make a special thing of serving tea, what with tea being the sole reason the great ship was built, but I bet it'll just be the usual coffee and brownies and light salads or whatever makes the best profit with tourists. And expect to pay twelve quid to get inside this enhanced visitor experience, up from a fiver before the big fire, even though there's not much original timber left, obviously.
It's all about food in Greenwich these days, isn't it? Not least down by Greenwich Pier, on the bend in the Thames, where the cruise boat ticket office used to be. Sheesh, who the hell allowed anyone to build theseeyesores here. Two big curvaceous buildings, both covered in ostentatious golden metal, and each divided into two tediously chain-brand restaurants. Nando's and Zizzi in one half, for that authentic non-English meal, and Frankie and Benny's and Byron in the other, ditto. One in each pair gets a second storey, the other gets a roof terrace, but it doesn't matter, they're all still f**king ugly. Seriously, it's a World Heritage site is Greenwich, and yet naked commercialism has somehow wriggled in and vomited on the waterfront.
There's a third smaller building between the two, which is the new ticket office for the pier beyond. Tellingly it's not yet complete, still fenced off, littered with tables and planks and other builders' detritus. Typical, they can finish the restaurants on time, but the main functional part of the site, nah, that can wait, and would-be passengers can buy their tickets from a temporary wooden shack in the grounds of the Naval College instead.
And there's more new food back in the town proper. That's Goddards, you remember Goddards, the pie and mash people, they've reopened. They closed their proper old restaurant near the DLR back in 2006. Something about wanting to spend more time with the family, wasn't it, or the fact that some burger chain was offering large sums to buy them out, one or the other. They've been serving hand-made pies from some market stall ever since, not the same experience, but saw an opportunity when a chip shop went bust and bought up their place instead. It's on King William Walk, on the corner of that alley into the market, not quite so much footfall, but enough. Looked busy on Saturday, queues at the counter, Union Jack bunting across the menu on the wall behind. And the punters looked well happy, the meat and gravy and eels are back, come clog an artery or three why don't you? But BestMate says he won't be going back, dirty sellouts he calls it, never quite got over the burger thing, no pie for him.
Anyway, that's Greenwich for you, ever changing, often for the better, sometimes for the worst. At least nobody's gentrified the covered market yet, something to do with a new hotel coming, redevelopment essential. Expect that to be ghastly and sanitised by the time it's finished, hardly a move forward, but it's all about maximising tourist cashflow innit? To follow what's going on more regular, keep an eye on The Greenwich Phantom, they've got lots to say, or the folk at Greenwich.co.uk, ditto. Or pick up a copy of The Greenwich Visitor when you come out of the station, excellent monthly publication that, and available online too. Because it's all going on.