In the Meantime
Cities / Towns Visited: 1
Countries Visited: 1
Steps Taken Today: 13,717
Steps Taken Around the World: 162,922
I will start by saying that I have had the pun lined up for this one for quite some time. As I’m sure those of you who excel in cryptic crosswords have ascertained we went to Greenwich today and what better way to get there than by cruising down the Thames on a ferry. We managed to get there early enough that we scored seats next to the window, in order to facilitate our deep desire to act like gawping tourists. As the boat turned to take us to our first stop (some 50 metres away) at the London Eye, we were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the scaffolding which will envelop Big Ben for some years to come. Not quite the iconic photo or view we were hoping for, but what can you do; welcome to travelling, no matter how much planning you do not everything will be open, or available, or picture perfect. Onward we drifted downstream, listening to the informative commentary given to us by one of the staff who I’m pretty sure is just so sick of listening to the generic audio that the ferry company provides, that he just chooses to do his own, more in depth and less advertisement filled, talk. After stopping at the Tower of London, and allowing the less adventurous to alight, we continued into uncharted waters, well they were for us at least, and after half an hour we arrived safe and sound at Greenwich.
Now during the commentary we had learnt that atop the Royal Observatory (our official destination for the day) there is a red ball, which rises at 12:55pm and drops at exactly 1:00pm Greenwich Mean Time, and that this was the way that sailors set their ships clocks before leaving the port to go explore the far reaches of the planet. We settled that we should try and reach the observatory in time to see it, but that still gave us a little wiggle room, so into the town of Greenwich we meandered. What wonders did we find there you may ask. Why the Greenwich market of course, and following our noses we crept beneath the sign that let us know that Brits have been setting up shop here since 50 years before they stumbled upon Australia, and into the cloud of delectable scents wafting left and right. With it being an acceptable time to convince ourselves that we could do with some morning tea, we bought ourselves a pork and smoked cheddar sausage roll, a bacon and maple brownie, and 2 cups of hot mulled cider to take the edge off the morning crisp air. Fat and happy, the journey continued.
It was 12:45pm when we reached the bottom of the park that leads up the hill to the Royal Observatory, and settled at a bench to await the inevitable ball drop. ‘Keep your eye on the ball’ has nothing to do with sports my friends, its origin is from this age old tradition of eagerly watching a giant red ball on a roof. Riveting stuff I can tell you. After shakily filming the elaborate time keeping ceremony, we continued on the Observatory. Now I’ll try and keep it brief, as I have a tendency to waffle on, especially in regards to topics that fascinate me. The Observatory was utterly fascinating, from displays showing the prime meridian (the first line of longitude from which all others are based) as well as previous prime meridians, as they were originally based in where the telescope of the observatory was placed. There was an in depth display on the competitions they held to try and get scientists and clockmaker to come up with a clock that would keep time adequately at sea (something I’d never previously considered as prior to electricity it was extremely difficult, as the motion of the waves made pendulum clocks completely useless, and without accurate time and star charts it was nigh on impossible to safely navigate in open ocean). You were also able to walk through the old home of the chief observers, explaining their histories and their contributions to time and navigation throughout the centuries. It was a large part of their work to accurately chart the stars so that ships could navigate the east west coordinates, as north and south were easily followed by following Polaris (the north star) to find true north or using alpha and beta centuri to find true south, depending in which hemisphere you were in. The final exhibit was a fascinating look at how correct time has been kept over the life of the observatory, from the clock out the front being used for the town to set its time, to the master and slave clock systems, to the old time checks on radio and over the phone, all the way to the next work they are doing to make an ionic clock that will only lose a second every billion years. The entire experience made me hyper aware of how much we take our modern satellite time and gps for granted to keep us punctual and in the right place. Finally, because it is literally impossible not to, we had to leave through the gift shop. Now time related gift shops are somewhere I should never be allowed, as I wanted to buy literally everything. In the end it didn’t take me long to talk myself into buying a pocketwatch; after all, how poetic to buy a timepiece from the literal place where every second, hour, day, year, century and millennia of our timed existence begins.
The ferry ride back was smooth sailing, with more comical commentary, and my step was made a little lighter by the shiny silver watch, all wound up in its box, ticking away the time to the next days adventure.