What is The Dock? – the best answers EVER!

“Are you real?”  Of all the answers and responses I’ve ever experienced when explaining the Dock concept for the first time, that one today was a beauty!  How do you answer that?!

It made me think of all the times when someone has managed to describe the essence of The Dock – often better than I ever could! – when they’re still in the shock of the new.  So here are a few of my favourites:

There’s Richard’s great way of phrasing it: “You take what you want, you give what you want”.

There’s this fantastic Henri Nouwen quote which popped up in the Dock Visitors Book:

Sometimes a line of poetry or a song lyric sums up the whole thing perfectly:

Or another visitor’s comment that made me smile – is Dock Cafe THAT good?!

You can find lots of great quotes when you look up Dock Cafe on Google Maps – as well as this really cool virtual tour of the cafe there’s loads of great one-liner reviews:

And of course there’s the daddy of all review sites: Trip Advisor.  It’s always inspirational, frequently illuminating, and occasionally embarrassing to see what visitors from all over the globe have experienced in their visit to Dock Cafe!  Here are a few choice snippets:

“Never been to a restaurant like this before”

“Dropped in for coffee and my woes dispersed”

“Relaxed home away from home”

And then this one – I think this is my all-time favourite:

There’s The Dock, summed up and condensed into one sentence in a way that puts all my ramblings to shame!

“A sense of what the world should be like: people enjoying and trusting other people”.

That’s the quote for above the door!


The Dock Hokey Cokey

There’s a new dance we’ve spotted being performed by lots of new arrivals at Dock Cafe.  I’m calling it the Entrance Ramp Wobble Boogie of Confusion and Consternation.  Or – more snappily – the Dock Hokey Cokey.

It goes like this:  People enter in through the main door.  They stop on the entrance ramp taking in the crazy surroundings, the shabby chic furniture, the maps and pictures, the bustling busy mix of people sprawled on the safe and clustering around the tables.   They put their left leg in.  They put their left leg out.  They wobble and pause and wonder what on Earth it’s all about.  And then sometimes they take their whole selves out – because they were looking for somewhere with food and a menu and waiters and a till and all of those kinds of mad things.

Now sometimes a cheery volunteer can rush over in time to explain that there’s no till –  but there is an Honesty Box;  there’s no waiter – but there is a friendly volunteer;  there’s no menu – but there is a whole host of delicious food in the takeaway deli next door (and it really is delicious – have you tried Angie’s chicken and ham pie?  Amazing!) if our cakes, scones, buns and soup aren’t what you were looking for.

But quite a lot of people do the Entrance Ramp Wobble Boogie of Confusion and Consternation before departing for our lives forever and we want this to stop!  We protest and we are against this dance! Down with this sort of thing! (careful now)

And so over the last few weeks we’ve been working hard to find better ways to explain Dock Cafe to its brand-new customers.  I have built a great Thing at the entrance (a proscenium arch? a pagoda? a cattle gate? a boarding ramp? it’s been called all these and more) with lots of signs to point you in the right direction:

And most of all we have revised our main blackboard  at the Honesty Box (so – goodbye to our lovely list of all the scones and cakes and bakes that we eat each month – we did love ya!) – and now it (hopefully) answers all the questions you are posing with your expressive dance.

So – once and for all – Ye boogiers, cease your boogieing! Put both feet in and do the hokey cokey.  This is what the Dock is all about!

(PS we’re working on an even-bigger version of this blackboard and also some postcard-sized takeaway versions – and trying to translate it into as many languages as possible – if anyone can help us with the translations please get in touch!)

Treats of the day and Thoughts for the day

Can it be that Dock Cafe is actually getting kind of… a little bit.. FANCY?!

Over the Summer we’ve been experimenting with having a daily Treat Of The Day – we asked our wonderful bakers at French Village to surprise us with something different every day that isn’t on our usual  menu.

We’ve had everything from chocolate croissants and custard & raisin swirls to lemon cream muffins… yum!  Regulars know to come in nice and early as they don’t hang around long – as you can see from these two pics taken a short time apart!

Meanwhile Stevo (or Ice-Man as we should now call him) has a new toy – Dock Cafe is now the proud owner of an ice machine so we can make delicious Suki iced teas!

And going icy isn’t your only option in the tea selection – you can also bring a bit of mystery into your life…   I’m sipping today’s Mystery Tea as I type and it’s delicious!

And there’s no more excuse for driving straight past Dock Cafe without knowing where we are – great to see the Dock (along with our wonderful Spar and our brand-new neighbours at the Paper Cup Coffee Shop) on the funky new signs out the front of the Arc apartments:

Speaking of direction (ooh, terrible cheesy link), at our most recent Sunday Nights service we gathered together a group of people who often start your day with a little direction and inspiration: regular Thought For the Day contributors Martin Magill, Frank Sellar (and yours truly).

It was fascinating to learn how different we each are in the ways that we prepare and deliver our Thoughts – and humbling to hear lots of stories of the responses we have each received – from awe-inspiring stories of life-change, to the people who complain that we sound younger on the radio than we look in real life!

My take-away from the evening was a profound gratitude that the BBC provide a space for such a varied, profound and interesting group of people to start your day.  Even in the few sample Thoughts that we shared as part of the evening, it was amazing to see how different people react to different approaches, and how one person’s least favourite style can be utterly life-transforming for someone else.

It’s worth remembering that BBC iPlayer collects all the daily Thoughts on this neat little page so you can check back and re-listen to any that really caught your attention.

And if you’d like to join us for our next Sunday night of worship, thanksgiving, inspiration and great coffee – we’ll be meeting again this Sunday (6th Aug) at 6pm at Dock Cafe and we’re intending to go for a little dander – bring your walking shoes!


Three Saturdays, Two Weddings and a Funeral

Sorry there’s been a bit of a gap since the last update – Susan & I were away on a wee break to celebrate our (can ya believe it) 20th wedding anniversary

20 years!  Yes you are now permitted to exclaim “surely some mistake –  sure you both look like spry young teenagers”…

Amazing to think that nearly half of those years have been spent as part of the Titanic Quarter community – enjoying watching the building site become a city, the vision become a reality, the strangers become a big extended family.  And of course our baby Dock Cafe becoming a toddler, and then growing into a strapping thriving child!

Being part of a community and a family means that we get to share both the best of days, and also those times when life takes a tough turn.

On the theme of the best of days, Susan & I aren’t the only ones with weddings on the brain this month – I had the great pleasure of being involved in the wedding ceremonies of two of the best couples you could ever hope to meet!

Wedding One – Tuna-Man gets hitched!
Dock regular Tim holds the all-time record for the best-ever answer to the regular Dock Cafe question “So, what are doing today?”  Spotting him tapping away on his laptop I innocently asked the question, only to be somewhat felled by the answer “Actually Chris, I’m monitoring tuna migration patterns in New Zealand”.  At first I thought he was not-too-subtly asking me to go away and leave him in peace! – except that it turns out that Tim genuinely is a worldwide authority on tuna migration patterns.   So, long before we knew his actual name, Tim was known only in Dock Cafe as ‘Tuna Man’.

(He has since been upgraded to ‘Tuna Tim’.)

Tim married the wonderful Steph on a beautiful day in Mount Stewart – and then, the next day the whole wedding party decamped to Dock Cafe (where else?!) for a chilled-out post-match Sunday!

Wedding Two – Sadam tie the knot!
Sally and Adam (or ‘Sadam’ to those of us who are in too much of a rush to use separate names for two people who are always together) have been part of the Dock community from the very beginning – they were part of the mad rush to get the cafe open for Eamonn Day, and amongst many other claims to fame, Adam created the Titanic Quarter Parsnip Trail (to commemorate The Dock’s most embarrassing incident EVER) and Sally painted the signs on the door of the Dock loo!

They tied the knot in Holywood before transporting us all to the Field Of Dreams – but just to keep the Dock Cafe connection – a few weeks beforehand, Sally’s hen party gathered at Dock Cafe to start their day!

So, best of times (and both weddings were the best of days), worst of times – very sad news for the Titanic Quarter community as Michael, one of the founder members of the Arc Residents Association and an unforgettable figure in the TQ family, passed away this month.

Michael was the guy who really broke the ice as the Arc residents started to get to know each other.  One of those big larger-than-life characters with a zest for fun and an inability to feel shy or embarrassed, he helped us all to feel part of a big happy community.

That’s Mike in the centre of the gang from the ARC at the Corrs concert on the slipways last Summer – looking devilishly cool as always in the shades!

Whether wielding cooking tongs at the ARC barbecue, asking awkward questions at the residents forum, presiding over late-night poker games at the Christmas party, or just greeting every neighbour at the door of the Mace with an “All right, babe!” or “Hey, dude!” – he’ll be missed.


Days Like This

Well that was just awesome!  So, so proud of my wee city this weekend…

The Maritime Festival just keeps getting bigger, busier, brillianter every year.  Thousands of people, sun drenched in the Costa Del Belfast heatwave, descended on the Titanic Quarter for 3 days packed full of ships, street performers, markets, music, art, activities, tours, tasty food and a joyful sense of a big bustling city that knows how to have fun!

Multi-tasking madly for a few days, I got to see Dock Market fill the ARC with life and colour, Dock Cafe bursting to the seams with chillaxing coffee-drinkers, Wee Tram tours with not a seat to spare, and Seafarers Walking Tours on the slipways where we drank up Belfast’s rich history as well as the glorious sunshine.  (And yes, like everyone else in Belfast, I now have a beautiful farmers tan to show for it!)

As many people kept asking throughout the weekend – did we ever think we’d see days like this?


And not just locals enjoying themselves – have you seen the Dock’s ‘Pin Where You Come From’ map recently?  It got so full of push-pins that there was no room left for anybody to add another (unless they came from Outer Siberia or darkest Peru) – so we’ve started all over again with an even more massive map!  It’s only been up 3 days and it’s filling up already!

(And the story of putting the map on the wall is one of those Pure Dock stories – the map came in 4 separate sections which needed to be wallpapered to the wall – a Dock Cafe customer called Anthony overheard us worrying about our lack of wallpapering expertise and offered to do the entire job himself as he was a decorator on his holidays!)

And in the midst of all this joy – one note of sorrow in the story of the Dock.  One of our founder members, Margaret Ferguson, passed away last week.  Margaret was a well-known, well-loved and massively influential figure in East Belfast Mission and throughout the city – but to us in the Dock, she will always be one of those handful of crazy people who sat around  in Gordon’s living room back in the early days, dreaming of a church without walls and a cafe without a till!  She will be greatly missed.