Wednesday, August 31, 2011
The DLR extension to Stratford International is now open
Click to view 43 photographs in my DLR flickr gallery
posted 19:00 :
Today the Docklands Light Railway enters its 25th year. The network opened on August 31st 1987 with two branches running down to Island Gardens, one from the City and the other from Stratford. It's grown a bit since.1987: Tower Gateway → Island Gardens; Stratford → Island GardensToday, if all goes to plan, the Docklands Light Railway will be complete. The Stratford International extension is scheduled to open this morning, just before noon, unless it doesn't, because the history of this particular branch is delay after hiatus after postponement. It'll open in mid 2010, they promised a few years back, then it was Autumn 2010, then late Spring 2011, then July 2011, then Summer 2011. And today's the last irrefutable day of Summer 2011, so it looks like today's the deadline the DLR will finally meet. Once this new line opens there are no definite plans for further extensions, only minor tweaks plus pie-in-the-sky pipedreams that Boris hasn't funded. For the foreseeable future, today's opening completes the network.
1991: Bank → Shadwell
1994: Poplar → Beckton
1999: Island Gardens → Lewisham
2005: Canning Town → King George V
2009: King George V → Woolwich Arsenal
2011: Canning Town → Stratford International
It has a fairly complicated service pattern, the DLR, and it's about to get even more complex. Trains run on four different routes, and from noon today should run on two more.Bank → LewishamThe service pattern on the new extension is going to be, how can I put it, confusing. All trains from Stratford International will go to the low level platforms at Canning Town, that's the easy bit, then some will head for Beckton and some to Woolwich Arsenal. But it won't be the nice coordinated mix that you're expecting. Try to get your head around this.
Bank → Woolwich Arsenal
Tower Gateway → Beckton
Stratford → Canary Wharf
Stratford International → Woolwich Arsenal
Stratford International → Beckton
From Stratford International... weekdays via Canning Town to Beckton to Woolwich 0530 to 0600 every 10 mins every 10 mins 0600 to 1000 every 8 mins every 8 mins 1000 to 1500 every 10 mins every 10 mins 1500 to 1900 every 9 mins every 9 mins 1900 to 0100 every 10 mins every 10 mins all weekend every 10 mins every 10 mins
Or, in other words, if it's rush hour all the trains from Stratford International go to Woolwich. And if it's not rush hour all the trains from Stratford International go to Beckton. Should you want to travel to somewhere on the other branch you'll have to change at Canning Town, and then it'll be quicker to take the Jubilee line. Jubilee line trains are quicker and more frequent, plus you won't have as long a trek at Canning Town to reach the upper DLR platform. Sorry, this new Stratford International extension isn't going to be quite as much use for through journeys as you might have expected.
Here's the service pattern on the other two arms affected by the new extension.
From Woolwich Arsenal... weekdays via Canning Town to Bank to Stratford Int 0600 to 1000 every 4 mins every 8 mins every 8 mins 1500 to 1900 every 4/5 mins every 9 mins every 9 mins all other times every 10 mins every 10 mins
From Beckton... weekdays via Canning Town to Tower Gateway to Stratford Int 0600 to 1000 every 8 mins every 8 mins 1500 to 1900 every 9 mins every 9 mins all other times every 5 mins every 10 mins every 10 mins
Services to the City will continue as before, on both branches, but now with Stratford International infill. It's no great change for commuters from Woolwich. They already have extra rush hour shuttle trains to Canning Town, and these services will now continue up to Stratford. But it's a weird change for commuters from Beckton. They'll get trains every five minutes at the least useful times... before 6am, midday, late evening, even after midnight. But at rush hours, sorry, trains will run with eight or nine minute gaps, just like they do now, no improvement at all.
Happy 24th birthday to the DLR. With a bit of luck staff will be opening their presents this morning and there'll be a brand new train set to play with. Just don't expect it to be a gift most Londoners will find especially useful. Unless you live in the right place and want to travel at the right time, the Stratford International extension isn't likely to have been worth the wait.
posted 00:24 :
Tuesday, August 30, 2011Fancy riding a late 20th century railway line where you can sit at the front and pretend you're driving the train? London has the DLR, but East Anglia has the MNR. And I'm nearer the latter than the former at the moment, so that's what you're getting.
The Mid Norfolk Railway runs from Wymondham to Dereham, in that central swathe of the county where Broadland tourists rarely pause. It almost links to the main Cambridge to Norwich railway but not quite - travellers getting off the train at Wymondham face a mile long cross-town walk. The connection was severed when passenger service to Kings Lynn closed in the 1960s, and the Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust haven't been able to link things up again. Instead the southern station is a halt in the Tiffey valley beneath the twin towers of Wymondham Abbey - the Norman monastery church where my brother got married [photo] [photo]. Hang around on the platform for long enough and a train will eventually pull in, occasionally steam-driven but more usually a diesel. Beat the small children to the front seat and you can look out through the cab window straight along the tracks all the way to Dereham.
The river valley's pretty, if not outstanding, with a waymarked footpath alongside for the first miles or so. The first station is at Kimberley Park, formerly the halt for the local stately home, since converted to private domestic use. Grown men with flags and whistles keep an eye on each level crossing, closing the gates in the face of bemused traffic on rural lanes. At Thuxton there's a passing loop, plus a slightly more substantial station, but without any significant nearby population to make stopping services worthwhile. Cutting follows embankment on the scenic curve to Yaxham, which has the sort of station that period dramas hire for filming. And then, oh, a rather grim industrial estate and an gateless automatic level crossing beneath the concrete span of the A47 dual carriageway. Journey's end.
Dereham station has the air of a 1950s British Rail interchange, which is deliberate, from the luggage trolley on the main platform [photo] to the old white illuminated nameplate high on a concrete post [photo]. Your newly-arrived diesel railcar or steam train will blend in perfectly, although the illusion is likely to be shattered by a collection of Inter City coaches parked up alongside in a motley state of repair. Keeps the volunteers busy, all this restoration and renovation, while the shop by the ticket hall helps to keep the place ticking over and funded. They know their target audience in the shop - men who like buying books and models and DVDs about trains - but there's plenty of not quite so specialist stuff too if tea towels and fridge magnets are more your thing.
It is, perhaps, a mistake to visit Dereham on a Bank Holiday Monday. There's not much to see and do down the High Street, unless you fancy a shopping trip round Poundland or watching The Inbetweeners at the Hollywood Cinema. There is a town museum inside quaint old Bishop Bonner's Cottage, but that's closed on Mondays. Still, if nothing else, you can always escape by steam train.
Like the DLR, the MNR are planning a northward extension to an ill-frequented station in the middle of nowhere. Unlike the DLR, there's no chance of it opening anytime soon. The Mid-Norfolk Railway own the disused track through the northern suburbs of Dereham and out into the surrounding countryside as far as North Elmham. They hope one day they'll reach Fakenham, but the short-term target is County School where the line once split for Wroxham and the Broads. At the moment this lonely spot boasts a picnic site and rail museum, but you can only get here by car which isn't exactly ideal. 17 miles of track would make this one of the longest heritage railways in the country, and maybe even useful if only they could connect it up at both ends.
There is one decent sightseeing spot north of Dereham, and that's Gressenhall Museum of Norfolk Life. The attraction is based around an old workhouse, the largest in Norfolk, which visitors can wander round to explore various pauperish nooks and crannies. The displays are a disturbing reminder of how poorly the weakest in society were treated in the century before the welfare state came along, and were grateful for it. A host of rural exhibits fill two floors, from giant Victorian threshing machines to sharp implements for castrating cockerels. And across the road there's a full working farm, where Suffolk Punches still plough the fields and the harvest is brought in old-style. For the past couple of days Gressenhall has been hosting its annual Village At War event, where everyone pretends it's 1942 and dresses up appropriately. GIs camp out behind the cafe, Land Girls dance to the Chatanooga Choo Choo, vintage vehicles park up on the lawn and sergeant majors pressgang visitors to do drill in the courtyard. Even Winston Churchill pops by, to wander amongst the crowd and give the occasional motivational speech. It's all extremely well done, and a lot of fun for all the volunteers in period costume, which is how come I managed to spend five hours there yesterday. Mid-afternoon the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flew over, which is the third time I've seen their Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster this year. All this, plus two rampantly rutting pigs in the upper field, made for a memorable Bank Holiday day out.
posted 05:00 :
Monday, August 29, 2011Paralympic update
10 ticketing tips
1) Cinderella, you shall go to the ball.
If you were gutted not to receive any Olympic tickets, or if you only snaffled some sub-average scraps, never fear. There's a whole new opportunity to watch world class athletes compete in the same iconic venues across London, and that's the Paralympics. They kick off a year from now, on Wednesday 29th August 2012, and run until Sunday 9th September. No doubt the media today will be full of celebratory stories and events to mark this important milestone (just like they were for the Olympics), unless they're not. But if you still want to get inside the Olympic Stadium, or watch swimming in the Aquatic Centre, or experience a medal ceremony, here's your chance.
2) This time you can get inside the architecture.
In ten years time, it won't matter whether you saw the Olympics or Paralympics, you'll still be able to say you were there. So be there. There are 18 athletics sessions inside the Olympic Stadium - they definitely won't all sell out. There are 20 sessions inside the Aquatic Centre - they won't either. There are even eight sessions inside the iconic Velodrome - you've got to have a good chance to get in there this time. Yes, just as with the Olympics there'll be a ballot for any oversubscribed sessions, but can you really see that applying to all (or any) of the above?
3) These tickets are cheap.
Organisers know that Paralympic grandstands will to be hard to fill, so have priced the tickets accordingly. Half of the available tickets will cost £10 or less (£5 if you're a senior citizen or a child). £10 can earn you a full day watching the shooting in Woolwich, for example, or a morning's rowing at Eton, or any of the equestrian events in Greenwich Park. Most countries who stage the Paralympics give away every ticket for free, so desperate are they to fill seats, so all credit to London 2012 for respecting the talents of the athletes and aiming a little higher.
4) Men's 100m final? Sure!
If the gold riband event of the Games is the men's 100m final, the session everybody wants tickets for, then the Paralympics offers a dead cert opportunity to attend. There isn't just one men's 100m final, there are fifteen, each related to a different kind of disability. Three for blind athletes (T11-T13), five for those with cerebral palsy (T34-T38), three for amputees (T42, T44, T46) and four for those with spinal problems (T51-T54). Pick any evening from 1st September to 8th September and you can spend 3+ hours in the Olympic Stadium watching at least one men's 100m final, probably a women's 100m final, plus a whole host of other athletic spectacles. And all that for only £20, bargain!
5) Get an overview of what's on.
6) For a proper bargain, buy a Day Pass.
Paralympic Games (29 Aug - 9 Sep 2012) Venue Event Prices Day pass? Olympic Park Opening/Closing Ceremonies £20-£500 Athletics/Cycling/Swimming £10-£45 Football/Goalball/
mostly £15 (5 sports) ExCel Boccia/Fencing/Powerlifting/
mostly £15 (6 sports) The Dome Basketball mostly £15 Eton Dorney Rowing £10 Woolwich Archery/Shooting £10 (1 sport) Greenwich Park Equestrian £10
Why not make a day of it at the Paralympics and see lots of everything? The organisers have given up on attracting paying customers to the preliminary rounds of the more obscure sports, so have lumped lots of them together under the banner of a Day Pass. You won't get to see the top notch events or finals, but will be able to pop in and out of all the other heats and matches as you please. A mere £10 earns you the right to watch thirteen and a half hours of sport at ExCel (eg on 3rd September: Boccia, Table Tennis, Volleyball, Wheelchair Fencing and Powerlifting). Or that same £10 gives you access to the Olympic Park for an entire day (eg on 5th September: Football preliminaries, Goalball quarter-finals, Wheelchair Tennis finals and Wheelchair Rugby preliminaries). Arrive at 9am and you can stay until after 10pm. Go on, why wouldn't you?
7) If you want a ticket for a ceremony, aim higher.
One thing we learnt after the Olympic ticket-buying fiasco is that potential purchasers had a much bigger chance of getting a ticket the more they were willing to pay. That won't be an issue for most Paralympic events, but it probably will be for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies because they're 'special'. Tickets for both events start at £20.12, but if you really want to go it's probably a mistake to limit yourself to those. Set your price range from £50 downwards, if you can afford it, and this ought to boost your chances of being there rather than missing out. It'd almost certainly be overdoing it to spend £100 or more to watch a few hours of flag waving and participatory art, but there again, you'll never get such an opportunity again.
8) Some Paralympic events are free.
The ranking rounds of the archery, free. Road cycling at Brands Hatch, free. The marathon (sigh, London central not London east), free. Even the sailing in Weymouth is going to be wholly free, with no attempt to corral premium spectators into a park near the town centre and charge them to sit in a grandstand on a clifftop.
9) Take a risk on an unfamiliar sport.
You probably don't know what Boccia is (a form of bowls, now you ask), nor Goalball (think handball for the blind, with bells inside the ball). Why let that stop you attending? Ditto wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis. Wouldn't it be more interesting to go and watch those, as a special one-off, rather than your usual slobby weekend of shopping, coffee-drinking and DVD-watching?
10) Plan ahead, and make next September more interesting.
Paralympic tickets go on sale on 9th September 2011. The full 33-page ticket schedule is here, the ticketing website is here and an interactive scheduling tool is here. You've got the length of a Paralympics to work out what to see.
posted 00:10 :
Sunday, August 28, 2011At the village hall, the Flower, Vegetable and Handicraft Show is in full effect. The car park isn't terribly full, but I guess most of the residents of Obscure Norfolk Village are elsewhere doing less practical things. Quick, dash inside before the next torrential downpour hits. Raffle ticket, anyone?
In the main hall, a variety of produce and handicrafts have been laid out across a series of trestle tables. There are more than 80 classes altogether, ranging from the best Victoria Sponge to the longest runner bean. Anyone from the local area could have entered - the schedules have been available in the Post Office for several weeks. Jams, floral arrangements, handicrafts; each now arranged in an appropriate cluster and grouped in their proper place.
The cookery classes have attracted the greatest number of competitors. Especially popular is the class for cakes baked using the special recipe in the programme, although I suspect the judge was tiring a little by the time she'd sampled the last one. A scribbled post-it note from her accompanies every entry - "well baked", "lacks mixed spice flavour", "looks lovely but taste is rather bland". You don't get this level of feedback in the vegetable classes.
Pride of place, in the centre of the hall, has been given to the horticultural entries. One of the tomatoes is truly enormous. Somebody's red onions have scrubbed up beautifully. Not all of the sets of carrots have that cohesive perfection that competitive vegetable display requires. It's clear that some in the village have taken the growing challenge very seriously, whereas others have merely dug up a few specimens from the garden this morning and hoped for the best.
A small coloured sticker on each entry card denotes first, second or third place. In some classes there's only been one entrant so they've walked off with top prize by default. In others nobody bothered to apply at all, and the table lies bare through collective indifference. Common agreement is that judging in the art classes has been somewhat subjective, but that's art classes for you. In the Under 7s category, the winner of the "teddy bear with a parachute" category has been decided more objectively, by dropping each unfortunate beast from the top of a ladder.
The nice ladies in the kitchen serve up tea, coffee and "sqaush" for 50p a cup, along with chunks of non-prize-winning sponge cake. Everybody's waiting patiently for the end of the afternoon, when the overall prizes are announced by totting up the points in each category. No silverware awaits, only a certificate and a £5 voucher from the local garden centre - the contest here is more for fun than for pride.
And finally the raffle is drawn. This being Norfolk it takes nearly half an hour, with a tableful of not quite special prizes waiting to be claimed. "Who's got white 476? Anybody? Well done Irene." Irene passes over the bottle of wine and the set of drinks coasters in favour of a nice pot plant. Several lesser prizes look set to be donated back to future raffles elsewhere in the village, indeed I suspect that the half-opened box of cosmetics has already been recycled several times.
After the MC wraps up the days proceedings, competitors rush off to the tables to collect their wares. Scones are returned to tupperware boxes, blackberries are scooped back into carrier bags and vases of flowers are carried carefully to the door. Within minutes it's as if a plague of locusts has descended, and soon there'll be little indication that the show ever took place. Nothing, that is, apart from the smiles on the faces of the competitors and their families. Same time next Saturday in the village down the road?
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, August 27, 2011The DLR extension to Stratford International is still scheduled to open on Tuesday morning, fingers crossed. They were running a test service yesterday to Beckton and back, with all the next train indicators indicating S'ford Internat'l (another DLR apostrophe crime to rank with the ghastly W'Wich Arsenal). More about the new extension next week, if it happens.
But a new London rail line also means something else of cultural significance - a new tube map is imminent. I've seen it. And blimey, you'll never guess what, the big blue blobs are disappearing! These over-dominant symbols of step-free access have hijacked the original simplicity of Beck's diagram for far too long. Well, good news, they're now in full retreat. Hurrah, and about time too! Except the big blue blobs aren't vanishing completely, sorry, and those that fade away are being replaced by something else. Welcome to the tube map, the big white blob.
Because, it seems, telling us whether there was step-free access from the street to the platform simply wasn't enough. Just because you can manoeuvre your wheelchair or pushchair to the platform doesn't necessarily mean you can get on board the train, does it? Carriages and platforms are all different heights, usually completely at odds, so a supposedly step-free journey can be thwarted at the last second by an inaccessible vertical mismatch. That's what the new tube map symbol is designed to alert us to. A white blob is used if there's merely step free access from the street to the platform. A blue blob highlights the golden scenario of step-free access from the street to the train. If you're a self-powered wheelchair user, blue blobs are now the only way to go.
So what does this look like on the map?
It means a sprinkling of blue and white blobs everywhere. Most of the blobs that used to be blue are now white, because not many stations have platforms the same height as their trains. Indeed the blue blobs survive in only four locations, all related to stations recently built. Every station on the DLR has a blue blob, because the DLR was carefully planned to be accessible throughout. Every station on the Jubilee line extension (Westminster to Stratford) has a blue blob, as do the new stations on the East London line (Dalston Junction to Shoreditch High Street). And that's it, apart from three stations on the Victoria line which have recently had platform humps installed (Brixton, King's Cross, Tottenham Hale). There are no blue blobs at all in west London, because there isn't a single station in that half of the capital with step-free access from street to the train. Wheelchair users are best off living and working on the eastern side of town, or finding someone who can push them onto and off of every train they ride.
Here's the section of the new map (fare zone version) relating to the Stratford International extension. Every station along this stretch of line is fully accessible, or will be once it opens, even dead-end Stratford International. Stratford itself is a bit of a mixture, with two lines wheel-on-able and two lines not. I don't know about you but I reckon these different colour blobs are over-complicating things. Previously there were two blues at Stratford - that was mucky enough. Now there are contrasting circles, one white one blue, but with a deeper meaning that 99.9% of tube travellers don't need to know. Most of us merely want to get in and out of Stratford station, or change trains, so a much simpler design would better aid our transfer. West Ham's new incarnation is even worse. Formerly it had one blob, now it has three. One of these is due to the newly-opening DLR, but the other two are there to distinguish between the flat Jubilee and the high-up District. Seriously, does anyone think this is a simple and helpful way to depict an interchange? And this is an Olympic-critical transport node, for heaven's sake. Look how straight-forward Mile End is by comparison - that's the symbolic notation the great majority of the population would prefer to see everywhere else. Over-blobbing, alas, just makes a mess of the map.
Yes, it's important that those with limited accessibility get every opportunity to use our capital's transport network. But is the mainstream London tube map the best place to get this information across? Why complicate an already massively complex diagram with not one but two different symbols that most travellers will never use? If you need a step-free map, use TfL's step-free map - that's what it's there for. Admittedly the introduction of big white blobs reduces the overall visual impact of the blue, so that's almost good. But they're still a totally unnecessary and confusing extra that will surely discriminate against spatially challenged passengers. Appearing now on tube maps at Stratford station and on the Beckton branch of the DLR. Appearing soon all over London. One step-free forward, two step-frees back.
posted 00:30 :
Friday, August 26, 2011Walk London
CAPITAL RING [section 10]
South Kenton to Hendon Park (6 miles)
Sorry, this one's a repeat. I walked Capital Ring section 10 four years ago, as part of a week-long sampling of various London strategic walks. So I've deliberately not gone back to read that before writing the following. Let's see if it's the same walk, or if every walk's different.
25 minutes of urban: The Windermere is a peculiarly suburban pub, all gabled brick, born of the 1930s [photo]. It's also the most interesting building along the first mile of the walk, which doesn't say much about the area, but it's too early to pop in for a friendly pint. The only respite from North Wembley pavement is the oasis of Preston Park, a rectangle of green hemmed in behind semi-detached back gardens. It's not full, not even on a warm August afternoon, but an inconsequential cricket match is playing out while a pair of mums natter on the bench beneath the willows. At Preston Road the Ring dallies with Metroland, exemplified by the untempered (and unpampered) residences down Uxendon Crescent [photo]. If anyone's seen Sonny the cat there's a £200 reward poster pinned to every lamppost, although that was weeks ago so one has to fear the worst.
Rural interlude: An unlikely alley leads to a broad sloping field where dogs exercise their owners. Turn right at the Jubilee footbridge for a steady ascent to the summit of Barn Hill. It's a proper hill, this, with one half deeply wooded and the other deeply suburbanised. The Ring makes an impractical (but delightful) loop around the pond at the top, to reach a rooftop vista with Wembley's arch rising beyond [photo]. Last time I was here I met a fox - this time there are far too many happy children by the water's edge for any major wildlife to emerge. Fallen acorns are already scattered across the path back down to the car park. I pause to read the noticeboard just as a Dad drives in, discounts every other parking space and tries to nudge his family into the very spot where I'm standing. He wins, I retreat.
Fryent Country Park continues across the busy main road (now, thankfully, crossed by pelican). I'm surprised to have these rolling hay meadows to myself, at least to begin with, passing bullrush ponds and black-berried hedgerows to yet another splendid summit. This is Gotfords Hill, an exposed green hump with Kingsbury sprawled out at the foot of the slope and Harrow on its hill in the far distance. A young couple are busy erecting a mysterious wooden sculpture on the peak, starting with a single vertical post then affixing curly branches and colourful plastic ornaments [photo]. I consider asking them what they're doing, but that's not very me, and a box of Chinese lanterns stashed on the grass tells enough of the story. Departing via Home Field I bump into a lady (who could so be my auntie) attempting to force a diverse collection of dogs to follow her. She barks disapprovingly at Gemma the golden retriever for rolling in fox poo ("Bad girl!"), but Gemma rolls on.
25 minutes of urban: Time to pound the pavements of Kingsbury, close enough to Wembley Stadium for parking restrictions to apply every matchday. I remember last time I walked this way being amazed by how many front gardens had been paved over, so this time I decide to count. On the left hand side of Lavender Avenue 14 out of 24 homes no longer have functioning gardens, they've surrendered to the car. In Holden Avenue it's 18 out of 23, in Dunster Drive 14 out of 18, and in Church Drive 22 out of 27 are concrete. Depressing, that, but so very much the way these densely packed suburbs are going. St Andrew's church dominates the skyline, much as it dominated Marylebone before being transported here, brick by brick, in 1933. More easily overlooked is 13th century Old St Andrew's nextdoor. This graffitied flint church is Brent's oldest surviving building, but entirely redundant, so I'm surprised to see the lights within ablaze. A strange man lurks outside the front door as if waiting for some long-gone congregation to emerge, but more likely he's just waiting for me to leave so he can relieve himself against the gravestones. [photo]
Waterside interlude: Hurrah, another proper nice bit. The Welsh Harp reservoir used to be hayfields, until the builders of the Regents Canal dammed the River Brent to provide an ever-ready supply of water. By the mid 19th century its banks boasted one of London's busiest Pleasure Gardens, but that faded away and the prime recreational activity these days is sailing. Yachts and swans dot the Welsh Harp's 100 acres, but you won't see much of that unless you divert off the official route down to the far more pleasant path nearer the waterside [photo]. Thistledown meadows and ripple-lapped reeds... make the most of them, because this is the last pretty bit for miles. After the huts of the North Circular Sailing Club, the path veers off to meet Cool Oak Lane at Cool Oak Bridge. This bridge may be unique in London, in that it's so narrow a special pedestrian crossing has been installed. Press the button and traffic on both sides of the bridge will eventually stop, leaving you free to saunter across the pavementless span in your own time. The power!
25 minutes of urban: And then Hendon. The town may have been pleasant once but it's wholeheartedly succumbed to the motor car. In very quick succession the Ring crosses the A5, the main East Midlands railway and the first half-mile of the M1. Look out from the motorway bridge [photo] and you can see Staples Corner, on the equally busy North Circular, in a massive 3D-jigsaw of concrete and tarmac. And then the A41 dual carriageway, for good measure, which is nipped beneath through a lengthy orange-tiled subway. If only the official route diverted into nearby Brent Cross Shopping Centre then the full ugly horror of this section would be complete, but thankfully not. The last hurrah is up and over a Northern line footbridge to the wooded hideaway of Hendon Park. Normally it's quiet here, but I arrive to find a merry-go-round and dodgems and massive crowds. A very Caribbean gathering, I eventually deduce, with queues for chicken and a mass of colourful cheerleaders lined up on the grass. Only once home do I discover that this was Summerfest 2011, the annual Jesus House picnic, congregating and competing for the Glory of the Lord [photo]. It is indeed true, every walk is different, hallelujah.
» Capital Ring section 10: official map and directions
» Who else has walked it? Stephen, Mark, Darryl, Paul, Tim, Jo, Tetramesh, Richard
» Today's eight photos; all 76 Capital Ring photos (so far)
» On to section 11 (or back to section 9)
posted 00:10 :
Thursday, August 25, 2011Late 1970s, when I was at secondary school, I had a BestFriend. It took a while for him to become BestFriend, after BoyWhoWasPreviouslyBestFriend shuffled off and became best friends with someone else, but eventually we moved from classmates to mates. We got on well, if not outstandingly, hanging around in the playground watching everyone else playing football or sitting at the front of a geography lesson swapping notes. I mocked him for the furry trapper hat he wore in winter and he mocked me for the haircut my Mum's friend gave me once a month. We lived on opposite sides of town so very rarely met up outside school, but during the day we were often inseparable. Alas it didn't last. Being friends with me didn't enhance his social standing, so he slowly edged away and we drifted apart. In the sixth form we were sorted into separate classes so I found AlternativeGoodFriend, and so did he, and our paths rarely crossed. On our very last day we paused for a farewell chat, and I thought we'd never speak again. I was wrong.
Late 1980s, when we'd both swapped school for work, I met BestFriend again. It turned out he'd rolled up in the same office where my Dad worked, and eventually somebody engineered that we met up again. BestFriend drove round one evening, resplendent in expensive leather jacket and late 80s hairstyle - a completely different man to the boy I'd known before. We sat in the front room and swapped stories, mostly looking back at what we'd done at school rather than exploring further what we were both doing now. It was fascinating but a little uncomfortable, because we'd never done "evenings" while we were at school and it seemed a bit late to suddenly start being sociable now. Perhaps we should have gone down the pub, although I'm not convinced that would have worked any better. When the anecdotes dried up he wished me well and drove off, and I could tell that wasn't an evening we'd ever repeat. Indeed I was fairly convinced we'd never speak again. I was wrong.
Mid 1990s, in the centre of a London park, I met BestFriend again. One minute I was walking aimlessly past the litter bins, the next I was thinking "hang on, don't I know that face?" A little taller than before, perhaps now thinning on top, but absolutely definitely the same BestFriend I'd shared cross country runs with fifteen years before. I said hello, he looked almost as surprised as me, and we stumbled into a slightly gauche unplanned conversation. We established why we were here, what jobs we were both doing now, what living in Hemel Hempstead was like, and how all of this somehow made some sort of sense. There were lots of things I wanted to say, most of which I only thought of afterwards, but instead I ended up awkwardly tongue-tied. We spoke for no more than two minutes - it seemed longer - before he wandered off to look on a map as the perfect excuse to escape. No swapped numbers, no plans to reacquaint, so I reckoned we'd never speak again. I was wrong.
Early 2000s, on a random London pavement, I met BestFriend again. He'd have walked straight past if I hadn't flagged him down, probably because he hadn't recognised me (but just possibly because he had). It turned out we'd both recently moved to the capital, me north of the river, him to the south, so it was always likely we'd accidentally meet. He didn't say what his job was, only where, and I let slip even less about mine. Again the conversation swiftly stalled, but I did remember to wish him a happy birthday for a week ago, because I'm the sort of person who remembers details like that. I noted that he was carrying the same newspaper that I normally read, which reassured me that we still had plenty in common, but clearly not enough. This time his excuse for leaving was that he was heading to dinner so had to be going now, but it was lovely to see me, bye. I stopped sending him Christmas cards after that particular meeting, because I knew we'd never speak again. And I might just have been right.
Late August 2011, outside a central London station, I met BestFriend one last time. I say "met", whereas what I really mean is "passed at high speed in torrential rain". My subconscious only pulled all the clues together - familiar face, right height, balding blond - immediately after he'd passed by. Older now, obviously... indeed nearer to retirement than A-Levels and starting to look that way. But I was absolutely convinced I'd recognised him, thanks to that brilliant way brains have of identifying one person in eight million from a split-second view. I didn't stop because I had a train to catch, and because monsoon conditions aren't conducive to friendly conversation. But I was inspired to type BestFriend's name into Google when I got home, and suddenly decades of lost history poured out. Decent job, lover of live music, owner of a much-pampered dog, happily hitched. I even found his blog, kicking off with wide-eyed hope in 2005 and abandoned immediately after his honeymoon in 2008. Who'd have thought, thirty years ago, sat in double biology? I still reckon we'll never speak again, but somehow BestFriend always seems to prove me wrong.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, August 24, 2011Earlier this month five neighbourhoods in the Olympic Park were named, based on suggestions sent in by members of the public. But one new neighbourhood was omitted, the neighbourhood that's already been built - the Athletes Village. Presumably that'll be called "Olympic Village" after the Games, or "Westfield Qatar", or whatever else the estate's new owners choose to brand it.
But there is sudden confirmation of fresh nomenclature hereabouts. TfL have updated their London basemap to include all things Olympic, and that includes the street names chosen for the roads in the Athletes Village. These street names sound like they were dreamt up by committee, probably during a brainstorming session, perhaps in conjunction with one of the local primary schools. See what you think.
» Penny Brookes Street, De Coubertin Street: Full marks if you know why these two names were chosen. William Penny Brookes was the Shropshire doctor whose community Games helped inspire the Olympic movement. And Baron Pierre de Coubertin was the bloke he inspired, founder of the IOC. Inspired choice, as anyone who's been to Much Wenlock will know.
» Elis Way: Elis is an ancient district in southern Greece, site of the first ever Olympic Festival in the 8th century BC, and home to the slopes of Olympia. Educational this, innit?
» Montfichet Road: A local connection here. Stratford grew up around a Cistercian Abbey, founded in 1135 by William de Montfichet. It grew to have national importance, but fell to rack and ruin after the Dissolution. Catch the DLR from Montfichet Way and you'll ride through the former abbey, close to Abbey Road station.
» Hitchcock Lane: There's an honour. Leytonstone's greatest film producer gets the dead-end delivery road round the back of Westfield named after him. Dubious honour, I fear.
» International Way, Olympic Park Avenue, Westfield Avenue: No originality here, especially on the latter of the three.
» Honour Lea Avenue: The River Lea runs nearby, but I'm uncertain why 'Honour' has has been shoehorned onto the front of it.
» Mirabelle Gardens, Liberty Bridge Road: Er, no idea. I can't find an Olympic connection, nor a local Stratford connection, for either of these two.
» Citius Walk, Altius Walk, Fortius Walk: This trio echo the Olympic motto - Citius, Altius, Fortius - which is is Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger".
» Anthems Way, Celebration Avenue, Fortunes Walk, Prize Walk, Ribbons Walk, Champions Walk, Cheering Lane: Somebody's got their thesaurus out, or played I-Spy at an Olympic medal ceremony. Spot on, or a little bland?
» Victory Parade: Oh for goodness sake. I mean, I can see why it's a clever choice for the Athletes Village, but will future residents be embarrassed to admit their address?
» Glade Walk, Ravens Walk: It's been a very long time since there were verdant glades and countryside to the north of Stratford. Decommissioned Railway Sidings Walk would have been more relevant, if less lovely.
Anyone can explore the Athletes Village map by using the TfL Journey Planner and starting the trip at Stratford International. Your destination doesn't matter, they'll auto-generate a map around your starting point and hey presto, there's Penny Brookes Street. But even if you zoom in, not all of the street names are visible. Which leads me to ask, what would you call a road in the Athletes Village?
» Inner Drive, First Place, Last Place, Gold Circle, Silver Street, Bronze Road.
» Row Row, Walk Walk, Ride Ride, Pace Place, Wiff-Waff Walk, Javelin Avenue, Shot-Put Drive.
» Athlete's Foot Path, Cock-Up Close, Coe Court, Lycra Close, Muscle Avenue, Rainonyour Parade.
» Fleece Avenue, Vanity Road, Recession Walk, Non-Existant Legacy Parade, Waste of Taxpayers' Money Grove.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, August 23, 2011How to get to Westfield (Stratford City)
There are precisely three weeks to go until East London's newest retail park opens. Will it be a lifestyle magnet enriching the lives of millions, or will it be an economic whirlpool sucking the lifeblood out of existing local businesses? To decide whether Westfield is heaven or hell you'll need to come and visit at least once. But how will you get here? This is the official transport webpage, but I've been digging for a bit more detail.
Unusually for central-ish London, this new shopping mall has been designed to encourage you to arrive by car. You'll spend more that way, they hope, because you won't be wondering how to cart seven carrier bags and a large cardboard box home. Westfield's triangular site has three multi-storey car parks ready and waiting, one at each corner, with more than 5000 parking spaces between them. But how will you drive there, given that Stratford City is hemmed in behind a railway line on one side and the Olympic Park on the other? I experienced the answer when I took the courtesy bus to the BMX test event at the weekend. A whole new road network awaits your presence, complete with dual carriageways, traffic lights and freshly-planted verges. And there'll be three ways in... [see map page 6]
a) from the east - the Alma Street Bridge: Apparently access won't be via the Angel Lane Bridge - the new dog-leg viaduct constructed specially last summer - because that doesn't lead anywhere useful yet. Instead cars will be directed into Westfield a little further north up Leyton Road, crossing over the railway and then turning left before the Olympic Village. Hey presto, a 2100-space multi-storey awaits.
b) from the south - Warton Road: This used to be a forgotten backstreet under the mainline, but suddenly it's a major artery leading off from a new four-lane junction on Stratford High Street. And a heavily restricted road too, as a recently unveiled roadsign here reveals: "Olympic Park security measures in operation prior to entry." LOCOG have demanded security checkpoints at each vehicle entrance, and these will be operational for at least a year (until after the Paralympics have finished). Expect guards to flag down an unknown proportion of vehicles for random security checks, so best not come shopping at Westfield if you have a stash of stolen goods in your boot.
c) from the north - the 'Lifeline': You might think there'd be no entrance from the north because acres of Olympic Park block the way. You'd be wrong. Westfield are so desperate to entice traffic from the A12 that they've negotiated with London 2012 to open up a secure roadway through the building site. It'll be called the Lifeline, and it'll wiggle round the Velodrome and past the Basketball Arena to link up with Westfield proper. Don't even think of stopping - it's not a public right of way, and tall security fences have been erected along the entire length to keep interlopers out. Buses to the BMX test event drove along the Lifeline at the weekend, and I can assure you it's not a terribly welcoming road. "In case of queueing traffic, remain in vehicle." Ollie has more details, here, of the sightseeing ride through the Olympic Zone that four-wheeled Londoners will be able to take as of next month. Think of it as a drive through a safari park - fascinating to spectate through the car window, but most unwise to leave your vehicle.
Yes, of course you'll be able to cycle into Westfield (even if it'd then be difficult to lug three weeks' Waitrose shopping home). There'll be two ways into the complex, from the east and the south - indeed there's already a cycling sign on Stratford High Street announcing "Retail Park 1". But no bikes will be allowed down the Lifeline, it's for cars only. Again the safari park analogy holds - you wouldn't cycle into a lion enclosure, and expect Olympic security to get just as snappy.
I suggested last year that four routes would be extended to serve Stratford City Bus Station, and I'm pleased to confirm that I suggested correctly. Two double deckers will approach from the east and two single deckers from the south (the latter constrained by low headroom beneath the Warton Road bridge). [map]
97: Chingford Station → Leyton → Stratford City Bus Station
241: Canning Town → Stratford → Stratford City Bus Station
339: Shadwell → Fish Island → Stratford City Bus Station
D8: Crossharbour → Bow → Stratford City Bus Station
There's conflicting evidence as to when the new bus station will open. TfL's official Service Change document says the first buses will arrive on Tuesday 13th September, the same day that Westfield opens. But their leaflet about the closure of Stratford's existing bus station suggests an early opening "from Saturday 10 September 2011"... even though there'll be no shops open when you alight from your bus. Check your final destination before you travel.
Westfield very much encourage taxi riders - they're so target audience. For convenience, the taxi rank will be on the eastern flank of the mall alongside the bus station.
Pedestrians definitely won't be allowed to walk along the Lifeline, but might still be permitted through the security barriers at the other vehicle entrances. And they'll be wholeheartedly encouraged to use the new footbridge over Stratford station, which appears to have been ready forever, and will finally be unbarriered in three weeks time. There seem to be a lot of steps, and only a single weedy-looking escalator, so I wonder if any lifts alongside will be able to cope.
The new upper ticket hall at Stratford station opens directly onto the into-Westfield footbridge. Footfall has been a bit pathetic so far, but that'll change rapidly next month. Meanwhile if you're a regular on the Overground you'll have noticed a boarded-up passage beneath the platforms... which leads to an as-yet unseen northern ticket hall directly connected to Westfield. Anyone arriving from Hackney Wick, Romford or Essex, this is your way in.
by High Speed Rail
Good news, Stratford International station is finally going to be linked to reality via the Westfield shopping mall rather than a piddly meandering bus service. Believe Westfield's PR folk and you'll soon be striding down a "24 hour lifestyle street" to exit the complex via Stratford town centre. But the station remains resolutely non-international, with all Eurostar services whizzing straight through on the fast lines despite Europe's largest retail centre being alongside. Instead trains run only to St Pancras (6 minutes, £5.40) or Kent (10 minutes, £13.90), with tickets so exorbitantly priced that casual shopping trips will surely be discouraged.
And the big news. The Stratford International DLR extension is finally (finally) due to open to passenger traffic one week from today, on Tuesday 30th August. That's unless some other unforeseen delay strikes, of course, and there have already been twelve months of unforeseen delays so what's the betting against one more? But the track's now been handed over to the operating company, a week of ghost running is underway, and even the dodgy platforms at Canning Town look now to have been fixed. If all goes to plan there'll be DLR trains connecting Stratford International to Woolwich and Beckton two weeks before Westfield opens, during which period I'd expect them to be used only by Kentish commuters and train geeks. Even come mid-September, I have my doubts that the DLR curve round to Stratford International will be popular, because it's not especially well located for the shops. Whatever Boris tells you when he cuts the ribbon, most shoppers will be far better off walking to the existing Stratford station rather than wasting time trudging out to a distant corner of the mall near a multi-storey car park beyond a dead High Speed station to catch a circuitous DLR train to nowhere. Please God it opens soon.
» my Stratford International DLR Sweepstake (currently looking good for Barry, Karen, Daniel and Blue Witch)
posted 00:13 :
Monday, August 22, 2011London Prepares
BMX Supercross World Cup 2011
Saturday 20th August 2011
Saturday's bikefest wasn't just an Olympic test event, but a proper contest on the global BMX circuit. Hundreds of riders turned up, 96 made it through to the second day of competition, and then it was race after race to whittle that down to one men's and one women's champion. The crowd's hopes were on Shanaze Reade, the golden girl of British BMX, but not especially on our GB blokes because few people quite knew precisely who they were. That's the thing about an Olympic audience - most get tickets because it's an 'event', rather fewer come because it's a sport they love.
www.flickr.com: my BMX Olympic test event gallery
» The gallery contains 30 photographs altogether
» Richard's photos, Mike's photos, Martin's photos
The plan was for a full afternoon of racing, with each rider running in three preliminaries before the whittling down began. But heavy rain put paid to that, so we ended up with merely ninety minutes. If riders finished in the first four of each eight-bike race they progressed, and if they didn't they were instantly eliminated. That led to several frustrated handlebar-thumps from the unfortunate riders coming in fifth, their moment in the sun cut suddenly short. Fifteen races in total for the men, seven for the women, so we spectators still felt we'd got our money's worth even after all that waiting.
Each race began atop an eight-metre high ramp, bedecked in the sponsor's hoardings from the front, but revealed as a massive tower of scaffolding from behind. It was very windy up there at the start of the afternoon, disturbingly so for some riders, but calmed somewhat later in the day to the relief of all concerned. The descent looked brutal, sweeping the riders into the first daredevil leap - which not all completed. It was unnerving in one of the early women's heats to watch one of the favourites miss her footing and crash awkwardly to the floor. Paramedics clustered rapidly around her prone body, a stretcher was called, and before long an ambulance had backed up to the track to cart her away. Meanwhile the commentary team gabbled on like nothing untoward was happening - it's only something broken, nobody's died. We soon learnt that crashes are commonplace on a BMX circuit, and "medical intermissions" littered the evening's proceedings.
The most dramatic parts of each race were the skyward leaps. The men ascended taller piles of sand than the women so their leaps were the most photogenic (but only decently captured if you had a telephoto lens). For balance the women's course boasted a feature never previously seen on a major BMX circuit - a full-scale concrete tunnel. It looked better on TV than from the stands, and thankfully nobody fell off at speed and had to be scraped up by the St John's Ambulance. The 'Underground' was sponsored by a sunglasses manufacturer, and the neighbouring men's 'Box' by a well-known energy drink. That won't happen during the Olympics - there are strict rules barring promotion, no matter how hip, rad or cool the brand. I doubt they'll allow a DJ to accompany each descent with a blaring soundtrack either, no matter how appropriate the theme from Austin Powers sounded during one of the semi-finals.
I was seated up the far end of the grandstand, which also happened to be the designated area for non-competing athletes. In front of me was a Japanese rider who'd failed to qualify on day 1, to my right the team from Denmark, and very close by the coach from Brazil. He whistled furiously as each of his athletes sped through the finishing gate, attempting to pass on urgent words of congratulation or consolation before they passed through. Then towards the end of the evening a neighbouring seat was taken by an Australian rider who'd been eliminated in the quarter finals, joining his girlfriend in the stands. Plaster tube down one arm, freshly-scarred bruising on the other, he recounted his experiences on the track and cheered on his remaining countrymen. One thing he definitely wasn't impressed by was the orientation of the course. From the top of the ramp and all along the ultra-challenging first section of the course, the riders had been squinting directly into the sun, and apparently this had made conditions <swearword> dangerous. Let's hope it's not quite so blindingly sunny during the Olympics (or that no session is postponed similarly late into the evening).
Shanaze played a blinder, leading the pack on every race but one. Only in the semi-finals did New Zealand's Sarah Walker nip in front along the rhythmic third straight and pip her to the line. No such problems in the final as Shanaze led from the start, careering deftly around each bend to take gold with ease. I couldn't see the final approach, there were too many spectators blocking my sightline, but I did enjoy an uninterrupted view of Shanaze crashing askew into the inflatable exit gate. Helmet off, she raised her arm to the crowd and smiled a broad grin at her impressive win on home soil. Perhaps it bodes well for next summer, or perhaps we should stop assuming our athletes are going to win solely because they're British. [women's final] [men's final]
As with the mountain biking in Essex last month, these test events are great value for money. Far better, indeed, than the relevant Olympic events next year. We got to enjoy 22 races, whereas those with tickets for the final day's session in 2012 will see only six. With each race less than a minute long, there are several people out there who've paid £45, £75, even £125 for approximately five minutes of BMX action. Watch the London Prepares website for details of upcoming test events over the next nine months - they may be your very best chance to enjoy an approximately Olympic experience.
posted 00:01 :
Sunday, August 21, 2011London Prepares
BMX Supercross World Cup 2011
Saturday 20th August 2011
Be prepared. Plan carefully, practise everything, expect the worst. Anything could happen next summer, and you don't want a complete balls-up in front of a global audience of billions. That's the reasoning behind the London Prepares series of test events taking place in the run-up to 2012. And yesterday, at the BMX test event in the Olympic Park, London's preparation was tested to its limits. Something fearful if not entirely unexpected occurred. It rained.
The very last thing you want when your sport takes place in a sandpit is uncontrollable excess water. There had been a torrential downpour on Thursday evening, the day before the preliminary rounds of the BMX, which had necessitated urgent restorative work on Friday morning. By Saturday the course was perfectly resculpted and dry, ready for an afternoon of assault from 96 riders and their bikes. Blue skies greeted us as we took our places in the grandstand, and everything looked set fair for uninterrupted competition. But grey clouds rolled in for the start of the women's practice session, and by the end of the men's a full vertical soaking was in full effect. As the crowd ran for shelter, and stayed there, surely there was no way back from this meteorological setback. For the organisers it was the ultimate pre-Olympic test - just how prepared were they?
There are a lot of people behind the scenes at any Olympic event. Normally they stay there, out of sight, twiddling their thumbs as the session continues. Not on this occasion. They leapt out onto the course when the rain began, pulling large sheets of black plastic across across the jumps and bumps. That's easier said than done when your course is a 3D landscape, considerably tougher than rolling out a tarpaulin across a Wimbledon tennis court. They started on the first straight, then slowly worked their way across until every hillock and dip was covered. I had to question whether they'd been quick enough as I finally abandoned my dripping seat in the grandstand, not expecting to return.
It rained for two hours. A small truck was sent out onto the course to clear excess water from alongside the home straight, but as it churned through the mud it appeared to be fighting a very losing battle. We'll make a decision at three, they said, but by three the only decision was to postpone further. Didn't the catering concessions do well out of the unexpected shutdown? Normally we'd all have stayed in the stand while racing progressed, but here were 2500 people milling round waiting for something to happen, and buying beer, burger and chips proved a popular displacement activity. They didn't run out... unlike several spectators who chose to give up and head home. Those who'd come unprepared were looking very wet by now, their commemorative programmes saturated, their autographed posters all crumpled and soggy. If nothing else, this raincheck will have prompted London 2012 to reconsider whether they have sufficient shelter contingency for spectators.
And then the rain eased, and course was a flurry of activity. An army of London Prepares workers carted off the sandbags that had been holding the sheeting down, then started brushing away the excess water. There was a lot of it. The course had about 50 dips, each with its own lake in need of drainage, so a lengthy period of brushwork was required. No thumb-twiddling today. Slowly the covers came off, and the now-blazing sun helped to dry off the top layer of sand. A mini-steamroller came out to compact the surface, but had to be rescued when it got stuck in the mud on its way to the upper levels. A safety inspection was promised for twenty to five, the outcome still genuinely in doubt, while the DJs on duty continued to keep the crowd entertained to fill the time. And then, eventually, came the good news that all this herculean effort had been worth it. A shortened programme of racing would kick off with practice at five - the same time that the day's events had been scheduled to finish - and two BMX champions would finally be crowned. Hurrah! (more of that tomorrow)
A certain amount of luck was involved in turning this setback around. Had the two-hour downpour not been followed so promptly by bright sunshine, the entire event might have had to be abandoned. But those truly responsible for snatching success from probable defeat were the army of workers who mucked in and restored the course, and those behind the scenes who'd planned for every contingency in advance. Trucks at the ready, crews on standby, wet weather plans formulated, session times flexible. Because not everything's going to run smoothly next summer, and it pays to be ready in case the worst happens. Which yesterday it did. London tested, London prepared.
posted 00:01 :
Saturday, August 20, 2011Pre-Olympic liveblogging 3: Ninety minutes of top class BMX at the Olympic Park, in blazing sunshine, completed better late than never. Shanaze Reade brought gold home for Britain, hurrah, then the current women's world champion followed her off the track on a stretcher. Anybody waiting around for the medal ceremony? No? Never mind, an ace day's racing, well done.posted 19:03
Pre-Olympic liveblogging 2: This must be a first. I'm liveblogging from inside the Velodrome, or at least from the concourse immediately around the edge. The rain at the BMX test event has been so heavy that the covers are on, racing is suspended and we've all been allowed to shelter beneath the Velodrome roof until the deluge eases. Officials took their time to work out what to do with a very wet crowd. Initially the only places to hide were in the gangways under the grandstand (soon full) or inside a portaloo. The London 2012 shop promptly sold out of umbrellas, which must be a first. Then security opened up the Velodrome undercroft, somewhat reluctantly, so we shuffled in and dried off down there. And now we're upstairs encircling the upper rim, safely shielded, looking out over a BMX track completely covered by plastic sheeting. Competition is officially postponed, but my money's on wholly abandoned. Being stoically British we're all putting up with it, as you'd expect. But if it chucks it down at the Olympics next summer, and the park still has as little shelter as we've had, expect world-class grim.posted 14:51
Pre-Olympic liveblogging 1: This might be a first. I'm liveblogging from the heart of the Olympic Park, within the security perimeter, at the BMX Supercross World Cup. I'm high in the grandstand overlooking the giant sculpted sandpit around which the riders will soon be racing. The course is a tightly packed humpy chicane, laid out for one-sided viewing, with the starting ramp at the rear and the finishing straight at the front. It reminds me of being at the seaside, except the cliffs are smooth, the dunes are sponsored and the waves are made of sand. Immediately to my left is the curving roof of the Velodrome (woo), to my right the rooftops of Leyton, and up above are some suddenly ominous grey clouds. I managed to smuggle in a pork pie for lunch, which I was halfway through when some athletic chap came over with a clipboard and a questionnaire about my sporting habits. Has attending the BMX event inspired me to take up regular physical activity? Well no, not yet, but so far none of the riders have even got on their bikes. Practice starts imminently.
posted 13:02 :
It's a big day in the Olympic Park. It's not as big a day as Tuesday, when the first competitive test event took place in the Basketball Arena. It's not as big as 50 weeks time when the Olympics proper opens. But it might just be bigger than yesterday, when the preliminary rounds of the BMX test event took place. That BMX-ing culminates today with the finals of the Supercross World Cup 2011, one of the International Cycling Union's major global competitions. You might have assumed that BMX is for nine year-olds on street corners riding some bike they got for Christmas from Halfords, but this is proper dynamic rip-roaring up-and-down stuff. The sport's only 50 years old - a two-wheeled version of motocross. In the proper-competitive version, riders launch themselves from an eight-metre high ramp and then race around a 350m circuit of tall bumps, banked corners and flat sections. Lots of them fall off. The winner is the bravest, most skilful, luckiest rider who overtakes the most.
If you want to see what the course looks like, watch this.
If you haven't got a ticket, you might well be able to watch this afternoon's event here.
After the Games are over, the BMX track will form part of a new Velopark to the north of the Olympic Park. Those with not-very-long memories will remember the Eastway Cycle Circuit, which used to exist on precisely the same spot until it was bulldozed flat to make way for world-class cycling facilities. Although London gets the crisp-shaped Velodrome as payback, those who prefer road racing have watched in anger as ambitious plans for the surrounding Velopark have been shrunk back. This Spring the OPLC attempted to downsize legacy facilities yet again, lopping loops off the road racing circuit by removing two bridges across the River Lea. I wandered into the View Tube one weekend to find the official public consultation unexpectedly underway, and staff particularly reluctant to admit that their new plans were in any way a downgrade. I merely grumbled, but sufficient local cyclists complained that the planners have relented somewhat. The road circuit will no longer be constrained to one side of the river, but will indeed cross to the parklands on the opposite bank, leaving more room for mountain bike trails to the east. It's all a compromise - every extra acre of bike track means one acre less of park or fewer houses crammed into the final development. But when Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park finally opens to the public, longer after the BMX medals have been awarded, two-wheeled visitors might just have the most fun of all.
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