The Cutty Sark in Greenwich-
The Cutty Sark re-opened in April this year. For five years the 19th century Thames Tea Clipper was shrouded in white plastic as its interior –wrecked by a fire – was repaired. Incredibly, the ship survived its inferno and has been restored to its former glory.
The Cutty Sark was a land mark in my formative years, just a walk away from where I grew up. The scale of the ship, its masts, towering over the residential buildings of Greenwich, its crows nests that I seem to remember Blue Peter presenters scaling the rigging to reach, were spectacular, but as a child I wasn’t interested in the historical significance of the ship, more aware of it as a magnificent backdrop to Saturday walks along the river path.
Tideline is set on the river just along the path from the Cutty Sark during the period the ship is being restored, in the first decade of the Millenium. The ship does appear, but enveloped in white, and surrounded by blue security fences. There is a hint at the presence of construction workers beavering away underneath to reclaim it.
One of the themes in Tideline is the idea of things being covered up or wrapped up, then revealed-( and as an extension of this, the idea of preservation or restoration) the dust sheets covering the furniture when Sonia moves back to the River House, the modroc plaster casts of pregnant torsos at Nadia’s exhibition opening, ( modroc will come to play an important role in Sonia’s desire to preserve Jez’s youth) and the Cutty Sark shrouded in white protective plastic while its restoration is in progress.
The river with its tidal ebb and flow also covers and reveals, and symbolizes secrets hidden and then uncovered.
One of the pleasures of re-writing is recognizing imagery or symbolism that might have slipped in unconsciously during a first draft but that can be highlighted when editing. I wasn’t aware of the covering/uncovering imagery during the first draft of Tideline, but decided to develop it in further drafts.
For a writer imagery helps you to focus , stops you from wandering too far from the central concerns, one of which, in Tideline, is the desire to recapture the past, an attempt to resurrect things once lost or destroyed.
For a reader imagery provides landmarks, reminding them too of the themes of the book and enhancing the ability to visualize or to hear, smell, taste or feel things. In a sense, imagery can add another dimension to the narrative, when used judiciously which means remembering as Steven King warns in his ‘On Writing’ that it ‘exists to adorn and enrich, not to create a sense of artificial profundity.’
So the reopening of the Cutty Sark feels significant to me. If it had happened sooner I might have used it in Tideline and had those white casings dropping away to reveal the past preserved in perfect replica, the way Sonia attempts to create a replica of Seb in Jez, by holding onto and preserving him
I saw the ship again for the first time earlier today. Its intricate rigging soars above the lampposts, the shops and beautiful Georgian facades of the Greenwich streets. The area around the Cutty Sark is suddenly completely renovated, the hoardings removed to reveal restaurants, tourist information points, a piazza, and wide views of the river. Its from here you can take a boat trip East to the Thames barrier or West up to central London. Visitors from the city make day trips to explore Greenwich’s historic buildings and its Royal Park that graces the slope down to the river.
But the Cutty Sark, the backdrop to my childhood that had been lost, potentially forever, has risen again-the same as it always was; a reminder that the past might not always be visible, but it’s always there.