Time Starts Here

Greenwich, a suburb of London and the one-time centre of the seafaring world, is the birthplace of time.  Kind of.  Because when it was decided that global time needed to be standardized, England and her navy was the Queen of the world.  So England got to make up all the rules.  And Greenwich harbor was England's centre of navigation and astronomy.

And Greenwich naturally got to make up the rules of sea navigation, too.

Let's see.  How about...we divide the world into two hemispheres? the English scientists said as they sat around drinking in their fancy observatory above Greenwich harbor four hundred years ago.

Yeah, just split the world in two, cool idea! they said.  And we'll call them...how about...East and west hemispheres?  


Brilliant!  But where do we draw the dividing line? 


They all glanced around at each other, grins slowly appearing on their faces.  Right here! Right bloody here! The line will go straight through this room!

And they drew the Prime Meridian straight through the room.  And that's how it happened.*

*historical accuracy may or may not have been sacrificed for dramatic effect.  I'm totally allowed.

In the 1700s tons of ships wrecked because seafarers actually couldn't calculate longitude (how far east or west they were).  So a big old land mass like, oh, America could just pop up in front of you and swish, crunch, you were drowning in murky dark water.  You and the other 900 people on board.  What a drag.  But then John Harrison solved the problem by inventing a clock.  A really, really amazing clock.  It's is considered one of, if not the most important machine in history! It saved a gazillion lives and changed the world economy and yada yada.

It must have been my college freshman year when I read Longitude, about Harrison and his mad clock-making skills and his astounding perseverance in the face of failure.  At the end, I sighed and put it down and said, one day I will go to Greenwich and stand on the Prime Meridian and see. these. clocks.  And last weekend I finally did.  It's only two hours away, I have no idea what took me so long.

Marc was game for the trip but wasn't especially excited because he hadn't read Longitude, and who cares about old clocks, really?  But then, once he found some informative museum displays, he was totally engrossed in learning about how to navigate at sea using a clock, and the whole theory behind degrees of longitude and other dweeby stuff. Couldn't tear him away from the yawningly informative stuff.  He even had to vie competitively with kids to get in on all the interactive displays.  I don't need actual children.






Here is the clock that tells the world what time it is. Greenwich mean time is still the world standard time, and this antique clock is still there to attract nerds (who shall remain nameless), who painstakingly synchronize their watches to the precise tenth of second, then high-five afterwards.

Before this clock was installed a couple hundred years ago, time was totally a commodity of the rich.  And if you wanted to know what time it was (like, really, accurately what time it was), you had to pay a professional time-seller!  You gave them money, and they let you look at their pocket watch.  Remember in elementary school when that one kid would show up with something really exciting in his backpack but he only let the cool kids see what it was?  No?  Maybe it's just me.  But this here clock reminds me of that.  I see this clock as nothing less than a long-standing pillar of democracy in the face of elementary school coolness-discrimination.   Because you, yeseven you, can march yourself up to Greenwich and see what time it is, no matter how much money you've got in your pocket, and no matter what the cool kids think.


2 comments:

Emily said...

One of my favorites sistah!

Super L said...

Unless you don't have enough money to get to Greenwich.

What? I'm just sayin'.

Also, you do need actual children. Otherwise, who will Marc play with? (answer, my children, come back, come back, come back . . .)