Walking along the Meridians
I arrived on a train. From Shortlands station in Bromley I first headed for a newsagent to top-up on sugar and water before embarking over a golf course on a walk along the words of Herman Melville. The quote “It is not down in any map; true places never are.” first appeared in 1851 in Melville’s Moby Dick. I set out to map these words as part of a voyage along two meridians, two arbitrary lines that slice through London. I carried a handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver to trace my movements by recording my position regularly along the journey.
I had previously phoned the golf club to make arrangements to walk around the course at a convenient time. During the conversation it was established that the boss was out and “You just can’t come down here and walk around the golf course!” I eventually met the manager who was very welcoming and seemed intrigued that I wanted to walk around his land in a shapely fashion. He gave me a green visitor’s pass and his assurance that if anybody had a problem I’d be OK as long as I waved the pass and mention his name. He also advised that I’d best not come on a Tuesday morning as it’s Ladies Day and chaos on the course.
I started writing ‘IT’ immediately, criss-crossing the fairways and greens, climbing through the roughs and stepping over bunkers and holes. Still unsure of golfing etiquette, I momentarily froze as a man who was lining up his swing asked me what I was doing. I swiftly told him I had permission to be there, but he asked again and specifically about the thing in my hand, and whether it was the same type of thing he had in his car. I couldn’t really stop and chat because I was carefully travelling along the main stroke of the ‘T’ in ‘IT’ and there was a 90° turn ahead. I carried on walking slowly and said “Yes”, but couldn’t linger as it would mess up my drawing.
The word ‘IS’ was written in a park mostly used as an arena for walking dogs. The writing was initially steadied by the markings of a soccer pitch but loosened into having to claim more ground through bramble bushes. The trail leads to ‘NOT’, written partly in a public park and partly in a school playing field. I headed towards to the word ‘DOWN’ which was written in a cemetery. The quality of line is quite jagged since there were lots of sharp turns to negotiate to avoid the tombstones. The ‘D’ started at the iron gates at the entrance, I turned left off a pebbled track, crossed the lawn over a dried up pond, continued round beyond the crematorium and along past memorial stones, gardens, and benches, and back to the gates. Particularly difficult was the ‘W’ because it was impossible to see the whole area of the letter at once. There were two small chapels in the way and plenty of big trees among overgrowth and tombstones, which made for a lumpy landscape. It took three attempts at the ‘W’ before it became legible.
In 1884 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) was established by international agreement as a world standard. It measures from the Greenwich Meridian that assigns zero degrees longitude, where east meets west. It was arranged to the locally-orientated Principal Triangulation of Britain, undertaken from 1783 to 1853, a datum that used the Airy 1830 ellipsoid- a shape that approximates the form of the earth. One hundred years later, the WGS84 (World Geodetic System 1984) was established for GPS positioning. Measured using atomic time, it was also adopted as an international convention. It is a three-dimensional coordinate system that uses the GRS80 (Geodetic Reference System 1980) ellipsoid, and is designed for positioning anywhere on the earth. The GRS80 ellipsoid is somewhat bigger than the Airy ellipsoid and has a slightly different shape; both account for the equatorial bulge, and neither fits the Earth perfectly.
Heading for ‘IN’, I travelled along Torridon Road, a street whose southern tip starts on the Greenwich Meridian. Crossing the road can take you from east to west and is where the house opposite is literally in another hemisphere. The writing of ‘ANY’ used the GPS Meridian as the baseline and the Greenwich Meridian as the middle line.*
I first drew in pencil on a map where the word ‘MAP’ was to be written. The day I chose to make the drawing happened to be the same day Zippo’s Circus was in town. Some clown called Zippo parked his circus right on top of the ‘P’ of my ‘MAP’. I marched on towards the ‘P’, but the clown and his friends had scattered their circus vehicles all over the place. Instead of making the intended steady curves, I had to negotiate jaggedly round caravans, support trucks, storage trailers and generators, and in between brightly decorated games and rides. The dot of the semi-colon was formed by circumnavigating a burger van.