Magazine article The Spectator

My Dome Vision

Magazine article The Spectator

My Dome Vision

Article excerpt

NOW is the time for critics of the Dome to put up or shut up. The Prime Minister has called us cynics and sneerers, so it is important that we should present an alternative view of what the 'forces of conservatism' might have created at Greenwich instead. Purists will argue that the 1758 million ought to have been spent on schools and hospitals, or even 'left to fructify in the pockets of the people'. They would also point out that the probable birth of Christ, circa 4 BC, makes something of a mockery of the timing anyhow.

Yet if we are to assume that some kind of vast enterprise had to be undertaken to 'celebrate British achievement' in Greenwich, what alternative exhibition could have been mounted and how would we, the Dome's critics, have filled the huge site and spent this staggering sum of money?

The initial necessity is for a building whose architectural majesty would make Prince Charles proud, and future generations look upon our works and despair that they could not create anything so fine. With St Paul's Cathedral as its template, it would stand for centuries, rather than the mere two decades during which our notorious inverted Teflon wok is slated to serve. Once something classical, beautiful and vast had been erected it could be stuffed with displays and exhibits emphasising the contribution the British have made to global civilisation over the past millennium.

The political correctness which pervades the New Millennium Experience Company has ensured that no reference is made to Britain's glorious military record, which has so often saved Europe from falling under the domination of a single hegemonistic power. Yet this is possibly our greatest service to humanity. The Tyrannicide Zone would thus chronicle the British contributions to ending the ambitions of Philip II, Louis XIV, Napoleon, the Kaiser, Adolf Hitler and Soviet communism. The centrepiece would be the daily reconstruction on the Thames of the key moments of the Battle of Trafalgar, featuring full-scale models of the Victory, Redoubtable, Bucentaure, Temeraire and Santisima Trinidad, all staffed by actors and moving on rails beneath the water.

Taking inspiration from the Imperial War Museum's 'Blitz Experience', the National Army Museum's superbly lifelike exhibits, and countless Seated Knot battle reconstructions, it would be perfectly possible to stage a convincing, even thrilling battle, which would also remind us of the historic role of the Royal Navy .

The English Language Zone would glorify the amazing triumph of our tongue over Spanish, French, German and Chinese. A series of huge globes would illustrate how, through its adaptability and vast vocabulary, our language has come to be in such a commanding position, the world's lingua franca. For those wondering how the argot of a few small, windswept isles off the north-west littoral of Continental Europe should have become the language of the Internet, computers, air-traffic control and international business, there will also be the Empire and Commonwealth Zone.

This will be dedicated to explaining, pretty unapologetically, the effect on the world of the explosion of the imperialist British abroad, between the landing of John Cabot on the coast of Newfoundland in June 1497 to Chris Patten leaving Hong Kong exactly half a millennium later. The excellent British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol has shown how this can be done without offending the sensibilities of those whose ancestors constituted rather than carried 'the White Man's Burden'. …

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