Greenwich guinea-pig time

Tickets for the first day of the Dome could be a lottery
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"WATERLOO MEAN time"; it just doesn't sound right. So it is fortunate that the Royal Observatory was established in the illustrious and sonorous south-London neighbourhood of Greenwich - especially as the location has become synonymous with the world's timekeeping.

Residents of London SE10 have another advantage over those of us slumming it elsewhere in south London. This week they were told they will have the chance to visit the Dome at the end of this year, ahead of the official opening.

Given the crowds and congestion that will descend on the borough in 2000, the locals deserve all the perks they can get.

Yet the idea isn't to comp- ensate them in advance for the inconvenience; instead, they will be handy guinea-pigs, testing the site before it opens to the paying public. "Soft" openings like this are usual for any untried new venue. The idea is that if you offer a select group of people a free sneak preview of a tourist attraction, they won't complain too much if the roof leaks or the queue for the loo seems as long as the Greenwich meridian. The theory is that by the time the toffs turn up for the invitation-only opening on New Year's Eve, all the problems will be ironed out.

The rest of us will have to wait until 1 January 2000. Or should that be 2 January?

An excellent way to shake off a New Year hangover would be a visit to the Dome, spending pounds 20 (the predicted adult ticket price) to see whether pounds 760m of our money has been well spent. The trouble is that tickets will not go on sale to the public until September. One exception: travel companies can book places as from now, and earn commission on them. The tour operator has to package the ticket along with other travel facilities but, for anyone who wants to plan well in advance, this is the best way to do it.

So I was delighted to receive a missive from Acorn Activities (01432 830083) announcing Dome tickets on sale as from now. They cost pounds 35, which also gives you a boat ride down the Thames from central London. Given the uncertainty that the much-delayed Jubilee Line extension will be running by then, this is no bad thing. But the fine print warns: "You can book for any date in 2000 apart from 1 January." The company cannot sell tickets for the first day.

So who will get the first hit at the hemisphere? One possibility is that the National Lottery could get in on the act, and offer places for 1 January as prizes. When Dome tickets go on general sale in the autumn, the main means of distribution will be through lottery outlets. Does the national descent into a scratchcard society means that selection of those who can be there on the big day is limited to those taking a punt at the miserable odds offered by Camelot?

James Bond has the right idea. Filming began this week at Pinewood Studios for his latest world-saving epic - set in London SE10. Q's big trick this time is a powerboat that turns into a submarine, to enable 007 to break into the Dome from below.

THOSE OF us with the wrong postcode for the right preview should instead go to the cinema in Los Angeles. The reason is that Hollywood movie publicists reckon they get more favourable reviews when the critics are part of an audience composed of normal movie-goers. They have further concluded that, this being southern California, the best way to find an approximation to normal people with a bit of spare time is to track down some foreign tourists.

If you go and see a film at one of the hundreds of cinemas in LA, there is a fair chance that a studio representative will be loitering around the box office listening for foreign accents (or, for some of us, simply observing our uncool and un-Californian dress sense), and issuing free invitations .

That was how I found myself spending a rainy afternoon at the Hollywood Directors' Guild, being entertained by a new Robin Williams blockbuster, Patch Adams. A Dome ticket (for some time in November 2000) awaits the first person to pull off the same trick for the new Bond extravaganza.

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