diamond geezer

 Friday, October 15, 2004

Marking the meridian: North Greenwich

xi) After nearly a mile adrift in the Thames, the meridian comes ashore to clip the western edge of the North Greenwich peninsula. This is a grim industrial wasteland, still scarred with the remains of wharves and old factories. Even when the rest of the peninsula is reborn as a modern yuppie playground, this western sliver will be left unloved and underdeveloped. Except for the top bit.

The Dome
xii) When Michael Heseltine was looking for somewhere to dump his great Millennium attraction, it was the meridian that swung his decision in favour of Greenwich. This was otherwise a rotten location, an inaccessible brownfield site heavily contaminated by what had been the largest gasworks in Europe. Still, it was better than Birmingham. The chequered history of the resulting Dome is well documented. However, the Dome wasn't actually built on the meridian itself, which passes one radius away on the western side. And here it is...

     The Prime Meridian of the world, from which all time is measured, cuts the north-western edge of the Dome site. Marked with red light, it slips into the River Thames and emerges to cross the wildlife jetty. The area around the Line is raised and separated by a strip of water from the rest of Meridian Quarter. This is a space from which to look out beyond the Dome and Greenwich to other places touched by the Line and to the perspectives, experiences and cultures of the people of the world.
     A large mirror on the Living Wall takes the Meridian Line southward into infinity. This is a photograph opportunity as we catch ourselves standing either side of the Line and across time zones. On the mirror is a map showing the eight countries which the Line crosses: the UK, France, Spain, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo and Ghana. Large granite disks on the ground either side of the Line are engraved with poems from each of the countries.
(Official Guide to the Millennium Experience, 2000)
It doesn't feel quite so inspirational alongside the Dome today, four years after the Millennium. The Meridian Quarter has been barricaded behind a tall blue wire fence, the red light has long been turned off and the Living Wall is more of a dead pile of concrete blocks. The meridian line enters this deserted site through a grimy mirror (right of photo), then passes yellow Kodak photo point number 18 and a small pavillion full of old Dome exhibits. It's impossible to read any of the poems along the line from the perimeter footpath, not that you'd ever have been interested in the first place. There's no perspective, experience or culture here today, just a bleak, lonely and forsaken location. If any section of the meridian properly defines zero, this is it. (take a walk here)

xiii) The tall black totem pole you can see to the right of this photo is a Millennium Milepost, placed Dome-side on the Thames Path by Sustrans the transport charity. There are 1000 such mileposts on cycle routes across the country, each featuring a lettered metal disc which is a clue in a long-forgotten national treasure hunt. I could tell you what the letter is on this particular meridian-sited milepost but that might ruin the fun for all you cycle-clipped puzzlers out there. I can tell you that the sign has been placed two metres too far east.

xiv) Ordnance Jetty juts out into the Thames on the north-western side of the Dome, straddling the meridian. It's a T-shaped pier, once used for unloading ammunition but recently topped off with grass as a safe haven for plants and birdlife. A low metal gutter sticks out from the shoreline pointed towards two white posts on the jetty, along which that red light from the Dome's Meridian Quarter used to be channelled. No longer. The gutter now contains nothing but one uniquely positioned weed.

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