diamond geezer

 Saturday, October 31, 2020

At the end of October 2000 my Dad and I caught the train and came up to London for the day. It being the Millennium there were several new things to see, so we tried to visit a few like the tourists we were. I don't have any photos, sorry, because those I took haven't survived the intervening twenty years.

Tate Modern had opened five months previously in the former Bankside power station. We were blown away by the scale of the building and the sleek lines of the refurb, not to mention the giant spider crouched on Level 2. This had been sculpted by Louise Bourgeois, the first artist to get the Turbine Hall commission, and was accompanied by a trio of thin steel towers topped by giant circular mirrors. We queued patiently to be allowed to climb to the top of one of them via a vertiginous spiral staircase, then enjoyed our brief period on the upper platform before it was time to politely pass on the opportunity to another visitor.

We then did something I've never done since, because I don't think you can, which is to have lunch in the cafe on the 7th floor. We didn't push the boat out, we had a cup of tea and a tuna sandwich, and enjoyed the really rather excellent view. Then it was time to explore two floors of modern art, which back then were hung chronologically and all the better for it. We ticked off Warhol, Lichtenstein, Riley, Picasso and Mondrian at a suitably reverential pace, not to mention some famous waterlilies, several neon tubes and the infamous pile of bricks. My Dad enjoyed the collection enough to buy two postcards on the way out, which now feels terribly 20th century.

Our next stop was the Millennium Bridge immediately outside. This had opened four months previously, and closed the same day due to dodgy harmonics, so we could only appreciate its slender form rather than its infamous bounce. By the time it opened properly in 2002 I'd be living in the capital, a thought which wasn't anywhere on my radar at the time. Next we walked west along the Victoria Embankment so that I could point out the spot where I'd been standing to see in the Millennium, bang opposite the freshly iconic London Eye, and yes that's Portcullis House, that's brand new too. Fancy a trip on the year-old Jubilee line extension?

It being 2000 we felt we had to go and see the Millennium Dome at North Greenwich. Our original plan was to stare from outside, but in the souvenir shop we discovered there was a special "only £10 after 4pm" offer and this appealed to our collective sense of tightwaddedness so in we went. Just how much could we cram into three and a half hours flat?

Queues for the famous Body Zone were ridiculously long because the Dome wasn't the tumbleweed attraction many have since assumed. But there were no queues for Learning (sponsored by Tesco) or Work (sponsored by Manpower), likely because magical orchards and table football didn't have the same appeal as climbing someone's oesophagus. Home Planet (sponsored by British Airways) was the only immersive ride, permitting a virtual voyage with an airline plug at the end. The Faith zone was mostly empty space, which I think was the point.

Despite rumbling stomachs we had to break off at 6 to go and watch the aerial spectacle in the central arena. The Millennium Show was the Dome's must-see, a three act love story with abseiling acrobats, giant stilts and a soundtrack by Peter Gabriel. When the central tower ascended in the finale amid ribbons and whirling wheels we were duly impressed. But it did go on a bit, so we had to speed up our tour of the Dome's innards before closing time at 8.

Ford's transport cavalcade of mostly cars, tick. Marks & Spencer's vacuous spiral of selfies, tick. Camelot's improbable talking sofa, tick. The City of London's temple to money, tick. We saw the latter a week before thieves broke in and tried to steal its diamonds so we did well there. Unfortunately it was raining heavily so we didn't risk going outside to see the actual meridian bit, which I still regret. And the queue for the Body was still too long, dammit, so all we could do was filter out through the gift shop (where the mugs and playing cards were already marked down for clearance). I'm so glad we went, but I wish now we'd been long enough to see it all.

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