Standing astride the centre of the world

Burl’s mention of Zulu time in connection with my DST rant reminds me of my experience standing at the center of space and time itself at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich last year.

The above picture was taken just after 4 p.m. on New Year’s Day 2011, meaning that the sun had gone down — none of that mucking about with saving daylight that irritates me so in this country. Hence the murky photo. Off to my right you can see the queue of people waiting in the misty rain to take their pictures in front of the astrolabe-looking thing that you see there, and some sort of plaque or sign. I don’t know what it was because I saw no reason to wait in the queue. I just went around to the other side and stood astride the Prime Meridian, precisely at O degrees longitude.

Something struck me about the patient souls waiting on the other side of the big astrolabe was that so many of them were foreign, and I don’t mean European foreign or American foreign like me, but Asians and Africans, and peoples from the subcontinent. It seemed… ironic… that people from places subjugated long ago by the British Empire should come to play tourist at the place where it all started. The development by the Brits of reliable methods for arriving at longitude — carefully documented in the museum within — played a huge role in the way Britannia came to rule the waves. Not only in terms of projecting naval power, but the domination of world trade. And this was where so much of it happened, at the Royal Observatory. Of course, the very notion that this is the 0 point is an imperial conceit. But they’re the ones who figured it out, so that’s what we go by.

Below you see some sextants I saw at the nearby National Maritime Museum — the very instruments used for determining when it is really noon in one’s particular spot on the Earth.

7 thoughts on “Standing astride the centre of the world

  1. Silence

    Once again with Greenwich and her blasted supremacy! Let’s break free of her wretched grip and establish our own system.
    No more 81 degrees, 2 minutes west of Greenwich – Columbia can finally come into her own and be the center of it all!

    @ Brad – to determine solar noon, you only need a vertical object, although a sextant is helpful for navigation….

  2. Burl Burlingame

    Funny — I did the visit in England almost a decade ago. It’s actually pretty awesome.

  3. `Kathryn Fenner

    Wait–you mean Columbia ISN’T the center of it all.

    If I can maaaake it here, I’ll make it anywhere….

  4. Karen McLeod

    No wonder the English conquored so much in tropical areas! With the weather I’ve seen in your pictures of England, I’d be looking for a way out, too!

  5. Brad

    Actually, I liked it. It rained everyday — not big-drop spattering rain like we have here, but light, misty stuff — and we only saw the sun briefly, two or three times, in two weeks. But I liked it.

    I always thought I would. Might be something in the genetic programming of my body’s cells that makes it feel like home; I don’t know. Of course, my wife is Irish — much more so than I am — and she’s very much a sun person. Not me. I think I SHOULD be a sun person — it sounds like a more positive thing to be — but I’m not. When the sun is shining, I like to be inside with the shades drawn. If I have to be out in it, I wear shades and a hat as well, just to keep the glare out of my eyes as much as possible.

    That whole time I was in England, I kept my clip-on shades in the upper left pocket of that rainproof, hooded coat. Only had to take them out a couple of times, and then only for a few minutes. I thought that was great.

  6. Bart

    Ah, the Mighty Atlas aka Brad Warthen in reverse, standing astride the center of the world, carrying the weight of the UnParty on his shoulders.

    When I was there eons ago, the weather was the same. I guess climate change and England are mutually exclusive.

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