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A Trip To The Millenium Dome Tuesday 25/01/00

It seemed like a good idea at the time. There has been a lot of hype about it (http://www.dome2000.co.uk)and I am sick to death of everything being hyped to death by the media at the moment so it seemed like the only way to get the real deal was to go and see it. So, on Monday I walked into town and went to the bus station to get the low down on the all-inclusive travel and entrance deals being advertised by National Express. (http://www.nationalexpress.co.uk/dome). The booking clerk was most helpful but seemed as confused as I was over the pricing. A return travel/dome entrance package from Bristol for an adult was 30. A special midweek deal only available Tuesday or Wednesday was 29.99. Wow! Having saved my penny it then became apparent that the coach terminated at Victoria coach station and that is was then necessary to get a bus and the tube across London to the dome and that a ticket to achieve this was an additional 3.50. Having parted with my 33.49 I had my ticket for a 08:20 departure from Bristol bus station the next morning.
The next morning I got up with the alarm at 6 o'clock and was out of the house by 7:15 walking in the freezing morning air to the local bus stop. A short wait, a smooth ride into town, a walk to the bus station and on our way at exactly 08:20. There were few people on the bus so I was lucky enough to have two seats to my-self, which enabled me to actually find a reasonably comfortable position, which unusually included room for my legs. I tried to snooze but failed and instead spent the whole trip having to listen to the meticulous planning of the two women somewhere behind me who were having a day out in London. By the time we arrived in Earls Court where they got off I am convinced that they had gone over every single possible variation on their day. Excitement of the unknown was presumably unknown to them.
A little before 11 o'clock we arrived at Victoria coach station. As instructed by the booking clerk in Bristol and the information in my 'dome deals' leaflet I sought out the appropriate counter in the arrivals hall at which I was supposed to obtain my "Millenium LT card". The 3.50 card that would allow me to use buses and the tube to get to the dome. Unfortunately the ticket had not been completed properly and I was sent to the National Express customer service office in another part of the coach station. Ten minutes later I was back at the counter being issued with my card.
After following the directions I had been given I was soon out into the freezing cold and was stood at a nearby bus stop. Almost instantly one of the buses I could get arrived and off I went wondering how I would know which stop I should get off at. The leaflet said stop Y but I didn't even get time to sort out where on the stop the letter appeared. Almost immediately I overheard a passenger telling his companion in sarcastic tones that the bus was being detoured and off we turned avoiding the road works. I tried to alter my seat so I could see the bus stops in advance but failed, so decide to ask the passenger I had overheard where the 'Y' stop was. "Oh you've missed it. You should have got off back there," he said. We had just stopped so I thanked him and got off immediately. Thankfully I somehow ended up walking in what turned out to be the right direction and in no time at all I had discovered Victoria rail and tube station. Thinking I would use the opportunity to use the toilets I had to search out some change since it was necessary to pay 20p. I approached a flower seller asking if she could change a 50p coin for me and also using the opportunity to ask her (just for corroborating peace of mind) which was the best way to get to Westminster tube station. She really was very helpful with her directions but couldn't offer me any change. I have never agreed with having to pay to go and I was forced to wonder what one was supposed to do if one had no cash. Luckily I was able to use the change machine and was shortly suitably relieved to be continuing my journey as per the directions of the flower seller. My LT card got me through the turnstiles and I disappeared down into the bowels of the tube system tunnels.
Feeling rather conspicuously a tourist I spent some time studying the tube system maps on the wall rehearsing how I could get to Westminster and rejoin the instructions on my leaflet. The flower seller had warned me not to take the tube train that purportedly went straight to the dome from here because it didn't!
The next train that arrived seemed to be going in the right direction so I got on. A couple of stops later I was at Westminster and a quick walk to a different tunnel and on the next train and I was on my way to the dome on the Jubilee line feeling quite smug at how easily I had managed to negotiate the tube system. The reality was probably that after so many years it had all been made very easy and you really couldn't go wrong especially with the constant on board announcements of the next station and ultimate termination.
In no time at all the majority of the few people left on board were getting off at the dome.
Immediately the scale of things began to unfold. The entrance gates to the place had the appearance of one of those tollbooths you see on foreign multi lane highways. There were just loads of them together with lots of people wearing yellow, directing arriving visitors where to go. My re-issued National Express ticket was happily accepted at a gate and I was cheerfully issued my show admission ticket and 'Planning Your Day' leaflet. I was in. I began to walk across the big empty main square in the direction that everyone else was going before I realised that I could now actually see the dome building itself. It was impressive. It looked bigger than I had imagined having seen the aerial footage on television. Rather than heading straight for the entrance as everyone else seemed to be doing I decided to first walk around the dome to get an idea of the scale of the thing and to get a feel for its location in relation to the surrounding area. I walked towards the Thames between the dome and the 'Skyscape' building and found a large walkway had been built along the banks of the river. With a hazy sun to my back and with my coat and gloves holding the freezing air at bay I began following the pathway. Without doubt it was a most impressive structure.
About a quarter of the way around I came to the 'Spiral Of Innovation' its presence announced from some distance away by loud amplified speech spilling out from somewhere within. The structure was that of a walkway constructed in a rising spiral ascending to a low plateau. The walls seemed to be covered, as far as I could tell, in pictures of different commercial products and next to some of the pictures were buttons which when pressed activated a recording about the adjacent product and how innovative it was considered to be. The first button I pressed was so quiet I could hardly hear what was being said and then I pressed another, which resulted in me being deafened. What seemed to be little more than an advert was still bellowing out as I left the spiral behind worried that this was a taster of what else was in store. I headed for what my leaflet called the Meridian Line. Here a line had actually been marked on the ground to show where the meridian dissected the site. It did but only just. Not so many feet different and it would have been in the river and not there at all. I couldn't help wondering if it perhaps wasn't actually the real line. It looked very much as though it had been tacked on as a bit of an after thought purely because some surveyor had noticed it was nearby.
Next to the line a structure had been built which appeared to have a live audio feed from different places in the world on the meridian line. Loudspeakers bellowed out around the structure with signs indicating where the audio came from. This seemed quite interesting for a moment until one realised there really was very little difference to the sound of city traffic in different cities. A car horn is very much like any other car horn the world over so it seems.
Moving quickly on away from the noise it soon became apparent, to my horror, that the walkway ended here. A barricade had been constructed up to the dome, which meant that I could go no further and instead would have to turn around and return the way I had come or enter via the nearby entrance. Not wanting to get in by the back door I walked all the way back round to the main entrance.
I walked in and was once again immediately impressed with the scale of the construction. It was enormous. I walked straight forward into the central arena and was frankly amazed. It really was just the most enormous covered open space I think I have ever been in. The roof was so far above it was unlike being 'in doors'.
With my leaflet in hand and after having got my bearings I started to try and visit each zone in turn. Here I shall not dwell on details but give my almost immediate impression. That of dissatisfaction and a growing feeling that I had been conned. Almost everywhere it seemed I was deafened by some kind of pre recorded amplified noise or another. In most zones it appeared that the definition of interactive was that you could press a button or activate in some other way the pre recording. Huge expanses seemed to contain nothing at all or were simply little more than billpostings of rather pointless observations on today's society. Other areas seemed to be little more than poorly disguised play areas for children. Indeed the most popular areas seemed to be those that had all the atmosphere of a hectic and noisy amusement arcade with throngs of children rushing around bashing this or firing that. At least one zone did attempt to give the impression that we were being taken on a journey but for me this fell flat when the carefully designed chair with built in stereo headphones presented me with the stereo sounds in the wrong ears.
I tried to be impressed and excited. I really did but it just didn't work for me. Even the much hyped body zone was to me a bore. Lots of hot fiberglass, amplified noises, and pre recorded presentations were most definitely not the experience I had expected. In my opinion rides in a theme park would have given more excitement and no matter how much sugar coating was put on it, you could learn more, more effectively from an average educational interactive computer CD-ROM.
By 2 o'clock I was definitely ready for a change of scene so was happy to head off in the direction of the Skyscape building. There according to my ticket at 2:30 I was going to be able to see a special millenium edition of Blackadder called Back and Forth starring Rowan Atkinson.
Walking into the building to join the queue we were all confronted by what I suppose would be described a street theatre performers. Those familiar with the Blackadder TV series would have recognised the camp actors who pounced as soon as we entered. Once stationary in the queue we were than at the mercy of the attentions of two pseudo keep fit instructors and two roving inspectors of who knows what. It was more amusing than being stuck in a boring queue but perhaps mostly because of the reception their performance was given. Almost all attempts at involving the audience in any sort of response failed. The British reserve for which we are famous meant that only one or two out of the hundreds that were there in any way responded other than looking completely panic stricken or looking awkwardly at the floor with it's inset TV screens. It seemed that the woman who happily began bouncing around in time with the keep fit instructions was either a little crazy or perhaps an American or probably both. Nevertheless the performers continued with what appeared great good humor considering they presumably did their 'act' at least twice a day to such an unmoved audience. I was 'lucky' enough to be apprehended by the Inspectors who seemed concerned that my beard was of an illegal length to gain entry. Having checked it with a tape measure and apparently found it to be just acceptable I was allowed to carry on! Once everyone was seated inside the large spacious theatre the performers continued to entertain until the film began.
I consider myself something of a Blackadder fan having seen all of the TV series and enjoyed most of them. How sad then that this special film was such a second rate affair. The plot seemed painfully obviously contrived. Many of the jokes were too familiar or simply not of the standard one has grown to expect from the very talented writers. Indeed even the very texture of the film in its more elaborate editing and production methods had changed it for the worse as has been the fate of so many big budget specials born of successful TV series. A fondness for and familiarity of the actors and characters involved was probably the film's only saving grace.
Once finished we were soon efficiently shown through the exits and were back out briefly into the cold and then back to the relative warmth of the dome. I spent some time looking at more zones but saw nothing to change my opinion on how it all seemed to me. I had seen enough and was now eager to see the Millenium Show that was supposed to start in the Central Arena at 4:30. Since I didn't think it was clear from the ticket I had where I should go to see the show I asked one of the many, many yellow coated staff that seemed to be stood around everywhere. He pointed out that I should watch it from the Arena which I gathered meant stood at floor level however he admitted that there were more seats in the arena than there were going to be audience. I walked around and chose what I thought would be one of the best unreserved seats in the house right at the top of one of the seat terraces with an unobstructed view of everything.
As the growing audience sat waiting we were entertained by the fascinating spectacle of a large inflated globe being paraded around the arena at quite a height suspended below which was a female trapeze artist clad in silver performing different poses many of which were inverted.
As time went on the arena seemed to fill with the yellow coats. It was very clear at this point that there was no where near the audience that had been catered for. Many of the seats were still empty and almost no one was watching from the floor area. Gradually pieces of equipment began to appear and be positioned and just a little late the show began.
All I can say about the show is that I thought it was fantastic. It was a spectacle the like of which I have never seen before. The massive empty space beneath the roof of the dome seemed to be filled with the fearless aerial performance of the huge numbers of flying people dancing in mid air. So captivated by the spectacle was I that the story whatever it was seemed to be of little importance. Everything seemed to run like clockwork despite the huge amount of organisation and critical timing that must have been involved to ensure safety in the face of the death defying feats on display. I was amazed and uplifted by the fantastic show. All of my earlier feelings of discontent evaporated. This for me was the millenium dome experience. The show alone, for me, made the whole thing worthwhile.
As soon as the show finished I left and headed for the tube station as did many others. Within ten minutes the train arrived and although rather crowded we were on our way. I had to stand but it didn't seem very long at all before I was getting off at Westminster and heading up the stairs and escalators to the street. I still had a few hours to kill before the return bus journey I had booked so I decide to follow the exit signs for the Houses of Parliament. Another flight of steps and there in front of me lit up in the freezing darkness was Big Ben just chiming six o'clock. Just across the river and there gently lit in blue was the London Eye big wheel. (http://www.british-airways.com/londoneye/) It really was big and would definitely be worth a ride when it opens assuming they don't charge too much.
Not afraid of a bit of a walk, after having studied my map I discovered that Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade, Admiralty Arch, The Mall, and Buckingham Palace were all quite close and were conceivably on a circular route back to Victoria Coach Station. In no time at all I was sat in Trafalgar Square sipping a cup of coffee from my thermos admiring a wonderful view past Nelsons Column down Whitehall to Big Ben lit up in the distance. All around the rush hour traffic was rushing as I sat in the relative tranquility of the square. The freezing cold soon began to penetrate my hat coat and gloves so I decided it was time to move again to keep warm. I was soon under Admiralty Arch and on my way down the mall. Strangely suddenly out of the darkness Buckingham Palace appeared and the flag was up. The Queen was in. I wanted to stop in and say hello but decided it was perhaps a bit rude not to have told her I was coming so decided to let the police at the gate carry on their conversation uninterrupted.
After briefly getting lost I found my way back to the Victoria Coach Station and was happily allowed to get on the 8 o'clock bus for Bristol. As the bus took to the motorway once again with two seats to myself, I managed to get reasonably comfortable and was soon beginning to snooze. I was however disturbed from my dreams by a strange nightmarish slurping sound. One of the other passengers was eating some strange type of juicy fruit that had been cut up into pieces. I didn't recognise what the fruit was but it became clear that no matter what it was it had to be eaten in a loud, slurpy way. As loud as possible obviously improved the flavour. Like wine tasting perhaps. I don't now how he managed it because he didn't seem to have much luggage but he did have enough slurpy stuff to last the entire journey from London to Bristol! His frequent visits to the toilet at the back of the bus made it very clear that eating too much of it really was to be avoided.
Back in Bristol and glad to be stretching my legs I didn't have any small change for bus fare so decided to walk home. Despite the bitter cold the exertion of the three mile walk brought on a sweat but I was home with my feet up sipping a coffee by about 11:15.

On reflection had it been worth it? Ask me in a few years! At least I will be able to say I saw for myself what there was there to see.
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