diamond geezer

 Tuesday, December 21, 2010

London 2012  Olympic update
  Switching on the lights

They love their significant dates in the 2012 planning office. London's Olympic mascots were launched last May, exactly 800 days before the Games. Tickets will finally go on sale on 15th March next year, when the countdown reaches 500. And the floodlights at the stadium were switched on yesterday, the 20th December... or 20/12 as it's otherwise known. No chronological quirk is left unchecked in the quest for publicity.

Pudding Mill station, early Monday evening. Scores of passengers descend the stairs from the DLR and emerge into the cold. "Are you here for the event, sir?" asks a security guard in a hi-vis jacket. He's not talking to me, he's talking to the man on my right. I think I recognise the man on my right from somewhere, either because he's a government minister or some big cheese in the 2012 hierarchy. He's also wearing the sort of long winter coat that only very important gentlemen wear, which must be how the guard singled him out. "This way please..." and the VIP is duly guided towards event registration and a seat on the bus to the stadium.

Things are rather quieter up on the Greenway. A handful of 2012 workers wander by, plus a few Fish Island residents taking a shortcut home. The View Tube's open late because of the 'special event', serving up hot drinks to nobody much. Two Metropolitan Police officers survey the scene, because you can never be too careful when the Prime Minister's quarter of a mile away. In the distance, a flurry of activity on the concrete podium surrounding the edge of the stadium suggests that the event will be taking place soon enough.

It's most definitely dark out here, but there are plenty of points of light all around. Spotlights on poles act as temporary streetlamps for passing construction traffic. Fourteen red lights, at the highest points on the stadium's crown, warn off low-flying aeroplanes. A ring of lampposts (they're new, aren't they?) encircles the base of the stadium. The collective glare of Hackney, Bow and Stratford raises a dull orange glow across the sky. And a steady succession of white buses roll by, ostensibly for transporting workers around the site, but whose illuminated interiors reveal almost all to be empty. Whoever's got the contract for running buses around the Olympic site is undoubtedly being paid too much to run far too many services much too often.

Just before quarter past six the lights inside the stadium dim. All eyes are on the fourteen spiky towers arranged like hen's teeth around the upper rim of the stadium. After the requisite pause for internal ceremonial, the floodlights are turned on. Only the lamps in the bottom two rows of each triangle are illuminated to begin with, about a quarter of the total, which looks partly-impressive but not quite. Inside the stadium, the crowd of specially-invited children fail to whoop with delight, as cringeworthy video footage later confirms. The staggered switch-on has left Boris and the PM floundering, and they're sounding increasingly desperate to fill time as the long wait for 100% illumination continues.

At last, after about five minutes, all 532 floodlights are lit. It's an impressive sight, even for those of us far outside the stadium who aren't in direct line of fire. Gone is the sodium glow of a typical East End night, and in its place a bright white orb gleaming upward into the sky. Bright enough to support high definition TV, so we're assured, should any 2012 athletics final run beyond summer twilight. A large group of police officers have now joined me on the Greenway, and I wonder whether they'll tell me off for attempting to take a photograph of the spectacle. I shouldn't have worried - some of them have their mobiles out and are busy taking several photos themselves.

Returning to Pudding Mill DLR, far ahead of the official guests, I see the stadium blazing like it's never done before. Trains from Liverpool Street are slow tonight, allowing commuters to stare out of the window at the unexpected light show on the horizon. But the real surprise for me comes back in Bow Road, where a ghostly white aura is illuminating the northeastern sky. I may be standing nearly a mile from the stadium but the light pollution is astonishing, like some sort of atmospheric bleach. It's a relief later in the evening, after all the great and good have gone home, when the floodlights are finally extinguished and the photon overload dies down. But it'll look great on the telly once the Olympics finally begin, and Londoners won't be able to miss the place after dark.

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