A Crystal Ball
Well, perhaps it’s over-egging it a bit to say I had ‘a ball.’ But given that there was a small child to entertain, it was a bloomin’ awful day, we’d ‘done’ Greenwich and there wasn’t enough time to go into town, a trip across the water to a free exhibition in the dry – with nice cakes – seems like a bit of a result.
I’m always slightly suspicious when a giant multinational that depends on consumer – well, consumption, actually, creates a ‘sustainable cities initiative’ and then spends vast wads of cash giving us the patronising ‘we need to talk about saving energy by not doing stuff’ message (I’m assuming the ‘not doing stuff’ doesn’t extend to not buying their goods…) but as propaganda goes, this is pretty slick.
The building itself is a handsome glass affair in an area that has very little else going on, right next to the cable car, the first, I am hoping, in a new rush of interesting attractions worth making the trip across the river for.
We went on a Saturday, and even on a traditionally ‘family’ day, most of the visitors seemed to be group bookings; brownies, I believe, and students. I should imagine that during the week it’s wall-to-wall school parties. There’s plenty to do, lots of buttons to press and games to play – someone has spent a lot of time and money making some very good exhibits, and it’s so new that nearly all of them still work (I was in the Maritime Museum the other day and several of their interactive displays are already broken. But then they don’t have Siemens funding them…)
And there IS much to think about. My favourite part was the bits where you’re getting to plan a virtual city, you’re given various constraints, a budget and a list of transport, energy, education etc. options and told to get on with running it. As Phantom Monarch I tried quite a few ways to put in infrastructure, take infrastructure out, add more roads, remove roads, give my subjects more public transport, less waste disposal etc. and every time I watched my city implode under the strain.
Some of it’s just plain baffling. I can’t remember what on earth this giant Chinese lantern represents, and I’m not sure I ever knew, though it’s possible it’s just covering the exterior of the cinema. Other things are pretty but again, I couldn’t tell you what they mean:
There’s a quite alarming film about global energy use (why did I find myself wondering that we would save a load of energy if we just turned off all the giant 360 degree movies about climate change..?) and some rather wonderful sections about the body.
In short, there is much to do, much to see, and if it doesn’t sit quite right that this is all funded by a multinational who are as busy plundering the earth for rare metals, gases, energy etc. as any other computer/white goods giant, then hey – we all sucked up that MacDonalds and Cadburys sponsored the Olympics last year. And Boris approves. This is pride of place in the City section:
Ultimately the result was one small child entertained for an hour on a wet day, and I find that hard to knock.
The thing I like most about this place, though, and something I will be returning to, is the splendid cafe.
Good food, nicely presented
with prices no worse than anywhere else in London, and actually, IMHO, very good for a London attraction:
I can see myself taking a cable car across the water just for the hell of it (and a cup of coffee at the Crystal). I delight in being the unfashionable Phantom that adores the cable car – of course it’s daft, but oh, I love it. Even I, though, raised an eyebrow at this particular display in the City part of the exhibition:
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