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Tuesday, 1 February, 2000, 16:46 GMT
Wheel of misfortune

Pod in heavens: The London Eye is up and running

By BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley

They laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round, they said the Eiffel Tower was a national disgrace, they said no one would ever visit the Millennium Dome - what will they say of the London Eye?

Opening a month late, on a grey Tuesday rather than on the most momentous night of our epoch - Millennium Eve - the 35m wheel has already set the needle of the white-elephant-o-meter quivering.

The project arguably fills a gap in the tourist market. Paris has the afore mentioned Eiffel Tower, New York the Empire State Building and World Trade Centre - but London lacks an obscenely tall structure open to the public.

There may of course be a reason for this. From the top of the 450-ft high wheel, London looks less like a bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis, than a dismal, grubby sprawl.

Looking down: Urban glums
Sitting on the banks of the Thames by the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye shows up the rather unfortunate division of the capital.

To the north is the panorama of tourist London - Buckingham Palace, St Paul's, Nelson's Column.

In the opposite direction - Waterloo railway station and, well, nothing of great note.

Is it then advisable to rush to just one side of the futuristic "pods" and gawp at the north? Perhaps not.

London is not a high rise city, and just as tall men seldom wear toupees, its architects have never paid much heed to the aesthetics of the roof top.

From the London Eye even the grandest facades are shown to have enough piping and air ducts to turn the Pompidou Centre green with envy.

Air conditioning engineers will be enchanted and Londoners will invariably satisfy themselves with trying to spot their overpriced homes, but what of visitors?

London Eye: Struts its stuff
A 25-minute stint on the wheel acts as the perfect antidote to the misleading layout of the tube map. Tourists will at last be able to orientate themselves in this thickest of urban jungles.

It won't leave them much the wiser about the city's history though. Perhaps trying to boost sales of its guide books, British Airways has decided not to offer passengers a running commentary.

Despite the safety hitches which delayed its opening, and the recent trouble BA has had with its aircraft, there is little to complain about when it comes to ride quality.

Rather than the visceral clanking and shuddering of fairground big wheels, the London Eye glides along sedate and silent.

Adrenaline junkies are not forgotten. Getting in and out of the pods requires a level of nerve somewhere below bungee-jumping but above leaping on a moving bus.

With the wheel in perpetual motion and nothing but a net between the clumsy of foot and a soaking in the river, dithering is not an option.

Curved glass distorts the view
It brings into question whether the needs of the elderly or disabled (or cowardly) were considered when the plans were drawn up.

The lattice work of this giant bicycle wheel is by no means unattractive, although close up it appears scuffed and grimy.

Its pods are also pleasingly, well, pod-shaped. Sadly, curved pod-shaped glass has the unfortunate habit of distorting your view through it.

The team behind the London Eye cannot be blamed for the glum British weather, the capital's general ugliness or even the general downer the press is accused of having on great "millennium" projects.

It can be blamed for building an "eye" you cannot see out of particularly well.
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See also:
01 Feb 00 |  UK
Picture gallery: The wheel in action
01 Feb 00 |  UK
Wheel delights passengers
01 Feb 00 |  UK
All clear for Millennium Wheel
14 Jan 00 |  UK
Pod overhaul for Millennium Wheel
30 Dec 99 |  UK
Safety setback for Millennium wheel

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