When a free ticket to Greenwich's Millennium Dome was offered to me, I reckoned it might be worth the tube fare to go and have a look.

I went at the end of May 2000, just after a further 29 million was thrown at the scheme.

I didn't have time to see everything on display, but what I did see didn't inspire confidence about the rest. The Dome is a temple of banality.

The Journey Zone, sponsored by Ford, began with a gripping voyage past display cases of toy cars, and ended with a more worthwhile exhibition of designs for supersonic aircraft, pentamaran freighters and deep-sea submarines. This was intriguing but ultimately feeble, in that, as elsewhere in the Dome, gimmickry is the first rule. There is a continual clamour of competing video commentaries barking out miserly amounts of information about the exhibits. The textual information offered to the visitor consisted in meagre captions, and, in the first part of the show, a selection of dimwit graffiti explaining to us what journeys are for. The prize-winning deep thought was this:

"We journey to get there."

Perhaps I shouldn't expect wisdom from car-dealers, so I went to the Mind Zone. More gimmickry: infra-red cameras, morphing, and more puny texticules adorning the passageways. There are multiple-choice quizzes, like this gem where you had to judge what the mind is like:

A is for mystics, B for materialists, reasonably enough if we're speaking roughly. So what is this Blairite "third way" with its faint reek of advert-speak (for a world of options, of diversity, where people matter, and so on and so forth)? Notice now that the brain has nothing to do with the programmes. What can this new philosophical outlook be? Here's their answer:

"Welcome to the 21st century."

How gloriously illuminating.

Speaking of mystics, in the Dome's own newspaper, a certain spoon-bending magician (see Randi) gave us the benefit of his uncanny insights with this learned opinion on its architecture:

"The Dome's structure is a natural formation and one which has been around for millions of years."

(I beg to differ: Millennium Dome.)

The best thing in the Mind Zone was the colony of leaf-cutter ants, some of whom may have written the show's captions. I stood in fascination as they carved and heaved slices from the plant to the nest. While I stood, a teenage girl asked her friend, "Are they real?".

"Welcome to the 21st century."

As I headed for the exits in the Bank Holiday rain, I passed a couple of big bright yellow notice-boards, standing and waving in the breeze. They were both blank, and a sudden gust of wind blew them over with a loud flop. A man nearby said, "That just about sums it up."

For more intemperate comment, see Enter Bluster.


Paul Taylor 2001