Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Prime Place for a Meridian

Every day during the trip was different. A wonderful, exciting adventure, if you will. But even so, our trip to Greenwich stands out in my mind as a particularly unique, memorable day.

Although just south of the Thames and accessible with a Zone 2 Underground pass, Greenwich felt miles away from London. When we arrived on Sunday morning, the air was cool and humid. Behind the National Maritime Museum was an expansive, grassy lawn. A trail through the lawn led up the side of a hill, to the Royal Observatory. All across the lawn, people were walking with babies or dogs or both. The entire scene felt very serene.

The Observatory was somehow quaint and modern all at the same time. Just a museum now, due to the horrific light pollution that is the London metropolis, the displays ranged from the first clock to keep correct time on the high seas to the most modern timepieces. I had never truly considered how difficult it was to get everyone on the same time schedule. Back in the day, "local time" meant the church clock in your village, which may be running slower or faster than that in the next village over. Usually I rail against the tyranny of time and my lack of it. But this gave me an appreciation for the development of time-telling technology.

I think what struck me the most about the creation of the Prime Meridian was the arbitrariness of it. Hey! We need a way to define longitude in a concrete way for the entire world. So we need a starting point, like the equivalent of the equator. How .... about ... here! And the Prime Meridian was born. Ah, the joys of a vast and dominating empire! To bend time and geography to your iron will and inimitable spirit.

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