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A Grand Day Out

Page history last edited by Ian Kimber 5 years, 9 months ago



A Grand Day Out


My first idea when I set out to write on this subject was to describe one of the few times we went out with my grandfather in his pre war Austin Big 7 car from our house in Bolton to the seaside at Southport.  We never actually saw the sea, you seldom do at Southport, but there was plenty of sand to dig in and a steady breeze to fly my “revo jet” aeroplane kite. We parked actually on the sands close to the pleasure beach and could watch the rides and the small aeroplane nearby that offered flights to see Blackpool tower but we never went on them.  Then I thought about another more recent and significant time.


Wallace and Grommit in their film  “A Grand Day Out” when they found they were short of cheese, went by rocket to the moon ate some of the cheesy stalagmites and interacted with an unusual robot.


This made me think of the time I went on a “spaceflight” with my grown up daughter Jane. This led me to an entirely different grand day out that happened only about seven years ago.


While we Queued briefly to enter the “transfer shuttle" we were entertained by some aliens and some very curious autonomous self propelled flying creatures who explored the area looking for interesting things to observe and in particular people.  They would move around to acknowledge you if they were looking at you and you waved at them


We boarded the shuttle and entered the flying saucer shaped main display.  After a brief bumpy ride with flashing lights we entered the main craft and sat in our seats with its view port looking into space.


After the brief compulsory safety video we started our trip we were accompanied by another alien and her curious and questioning child.  She explained how we were going to one of the most beautiful planets in the whole universe and showed brief information about the formation and appearance of the beautiful surface.  We even explored the centre of a hurricane, the cold polar ice and red hot interior and experienced an impression the sensations of doing this.


This planet was of course the earth but nothing prepared us for what came next.


We were told that the most amazing thing about the earth was life and its interaction the people living on it and were treated to an emotional roller coaster of images showing the people of the world in all their environments  cities crowds and countryside.  It is very difficult to describe.  There was happiness and sadness, wealth and poverty but on the whole the impression was a positive one and left us with the feeling of how important is to work together to look after our planet and each other. The final scene was the birth of a baby.  And we left the display on an emotional high fired up for all the other things we were going to do.


In case you hadn’t already guessed,  I am describing my impressions of  the first of the  display zones we experienced in our day out to visit the Millennium Dome but the day hadn’t started there.


We came into London on the tube nice and early got off at Westminster and walked over Westminster Bridge to Waterloo along the embankment getting to the millennium wheel just as it opened.  There were no queues and we got on for our ride.  We were really lucky because it was a clear bright summer day and when we were at the highest point on the wheel we could see right across London from the green hills of the North Downs in the south to the Surrey Downs and Chilterns in the West and north and finally right down the river to the millennium dome and beyond.  A perfect start to what was going to be a wonderful day. 


At Waterloo we took the new Jubilee line extension to the Dome.  This line is a wonder in its own right with automatic barriers that keep people away from the edge of the platform and automatically operated trains that stop with their doors exactly by the gates in the barriers.  The Millennium Dome station is also an amazing place like a modern airport complex with plenty of room for people to walk through


We went through the barriers and got our tickets together with allocated times for the main show in the centre of the dome and the big screen cinema presentation at the skyscape cinema which was showing a special film Blackadder Back and forth  a hilarious time travel romp.


Then it was into the main concourse.  There were quite a lot of exhibits and activities outside the main dome as well as the large block of the Skyscape cinema.  This  included restaurants,  a pub, children’s playgrounds and special areas for school parties to assemble.


From the concourse the dome itself doesn’t seem to look very big, but as you approach it and go in the doors in the glass wall that surrounds it you realise just how vast it is. Looking at the shape and design of the structure is a significant part of the experience.  Right in the centre taking up an area about the size of a circular athletics stadium with tiered seats is the main presentation area where the show is given.  Around the edge of this are the main zones.  Each of these zones most of which are spectacular works of art in their own right carry exhibits and interactive presentations reflecting on a single word or phrase.


The first one we visited that I described at the beginning of this essay was Home planet it was a fitting start for what was to follow.


The next was called Body and gave an insight into the workings of the body while you were actually moving through a large space shaped like two embracing bodies.  At the end of this was an area of interactive displays where you could test the various functions of you body on treadmills etc.


Then came Mind looking at our perceptions and how they might be confused.  This was followed by Faith with an overview of all the world’s main religions showing their common ground and their commandments and ceremonies under the overriding idea How shall I live?  In the core of this zone was a quiet area for prayer.


The next zone is a Self Portrait of the people of Britain in all their diversity.  It was made by putting together contributions from all over the country. 


Work was the next zone.  This aims to show how work has changed over the years from the older more physical activities to the modern information based society.


The Learning zone was a simple box structure. The outside appearance of which changed from showing a network of girders and pipes looking like a chemical industry plant to a library of books and then open countryside.  Inside were initially the sights sounds and smells of a traditional school leading to a film showing how a realisation of the value of learning opened the eyes of a bored girl and finally the “infinite orchard” where the ideas of the unlimited extent and need for life long learning were expressed.


To follow this was the Play zone with several cooperative video games involving large numbers of people.


The Talk zone dealt with communications illustrating how these were changing and anticipating a lot of the internet based socialisation that has now become very popular.


Money came next this aimed to give an impression of how money worked with an interactive game that allowed people to spend a million puonds and watch its effect on a model of the economy.  There was also a real million pounds on display.  Near here was the display of incredible precious stones including an enormous diamond.


The Journey zone was probably the most spectacular structure in the dome it consisted of a series of apparently flying ramps lit by many moving lights.  It showed past and future transportation systems and gave people a chance to work out how to control the traffic lights in the city of Edinburgh to get the best traffic flow.


Shared ground dealt with the nature of communities and how these are important to us all.  Nearby is a stage where people from various towns all over the country made presentations showing their hopes and aspirations.


Living Island looked just like a seaside resort with a beach but the story was all about environmental awareness and in particular the importance of dealing properly with waste and recycling.


Finally among the zones there was the Rest zone a quiet area of soft surfaces calming music and an ever changing pattern of coloured light and vague images.  This was just the place to drop into for a few minutes quiet away from all the activity surrounding the other Zones.


Now we get to the millennium show.  This was an amazing piece of music, ballet and technology.  The story was a simple and timeless one of two peoples linked by star crossed lovers.  The sky people and the earth people who loved in harmony and worked together until a new leader of the earth people usurped the sky by building a great tower which finally fails spectacularly but out of the destruction rises a new tree where the lovers can be united and the earth and sky work together again.  The final cadence ended with a chord that went so deep it could be felt like a great hug.


Visiting The Millennium Dome was a wonderful experience. Jane and I both agreed that it had truly been a grand day out and we would not have missed it for the world.


Because of the bad press that the millennium dome had received we were not sure quite what to expect but decided to go and see for ourselves.  After the experience we both felt very strongly that the media had totally and unjustifiably for some reason decided to malign the project and try to make it fail.


It is true that a lot of the presentations were aimed at the young and expressed in simple ways but like any good children’s book the presentations could often be appreciated at different levels.  The whole dome and its environs was a complex and beautiful work of art built up out of many individual works of art which were significant in their own right.


Past exhibitions of this nature like the 1951 festival of Britain have gloried in British technology, daring and invention.  This had a much more universal message of how science and the arts can work together with people of good will to at the same time develop and preserve our wonderful planet.


By Ian Kimber    Oct 2007


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