diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 17, 2012

London 2012  Olympic update
  Postcards from the Olympic Park

Pudding Mill Lane: Change is afoot at the southern entrance to the Olympic Park. Pudding Mill Lane's been an entrance for lorries and trucks for several years, and for on-site workers to transfer to buses to take them to their bit of the building site. Not any more. The entrance is being reconfigured in preparation for Games spectators, hundreds of thousands of them, including umpteen daily coaches packed with Olympic Family members. Last night I watched a couple of official Olympic BMWs drive by - two shiny black estates with tinted windows that perfectly obscure whoever is sitting in the back, which'll save embarrassment for sponsors in Games Lanes come the summer. There used to be a coach turning circle up Pudding Mill Lane, with a shrubbery in the centre that never quite took hold despite repeated attempts at irrigation. That's been broken up and wiped away recently, as the surrounding area disappears under more and more tarmac - presumably for parking spaces and Games-time security tents. Nearer to the electricity substation I've been intrigued for a couple of years by a mysteriously patterned and paved area, wondering what it might be used for during the Games, and that's now been completely erased too. It feels as if plans have recently changed around here, with long-term embellishments destroyed to fit some more functional final plan. And it ain't pretty, but then I guess it doesn't have to be.

Pudding Mill Lane DLR: The next Mayor will have at least one new station to open. Pudding Mill Lane station's being completely rebuilt, not because of the Olympics, but because Crossrail is due to smash straight through it. Trains will emerge from the nearby Pudding Mill Portal on a DLR-killing trajectory, so the station's being shifted a few dozen metres to the south to make way. We've known this for a while, but construction is now fully underway. One supporting wall has been built, along with several pillars on which the new station will one day rest. Two levels of planking have gone in, one that'll presumably be the platforms, and another below which'll presumably be "halfway up the stairs". It's all gradually growing and extending, as workmen swarm over the wood and scaffolding, and the rough cuboidal form of the new building takes shape. Expect longer platforms than before, as TfL take the opportunity to upgrade to three-car length. But there'll be no escalators just yet, not until post-Olympic footfall requires it, although one can imagine the need if one day West Ham's home games are played a short distance away. Meanwhile, look across the road and there are the realigned tracks rising from ground level. Only the edging strips have appeared so far, like two parallel concrete snakes, but the central rods are already going in to create a bed across the middle. Opening's not scheduled until 2013 - a rare post-Olympic project in the heart of the Olympic Park - and only then will the old station be removed.

The Lee Navigation footpath: Head down the banks from the Bow Flyover and there's still one reminder of how the local area used to look before the Games took over. A meandering footpath edged with greenery, weaving between various industrial sites, overlooked by nothing much. All the rest of the Bow Back Rivers have been swallowed up by the Olympics, scrubbed and sanitised, but this trek somehow hasn't quite. Sure, if you could look over the first brick wall you'd see old industrial buildings undergoing slow demolition. Sure, the fence further up the path now backs directly onto the Olympic warm-up track. Sure, those apartment blocks up by the Greenway proliferate more than they ever did when Fish Island was Nowheresville. The towpath'll close in July because it marks the western edge of the Olympic Park and is therefore a prime target for any terrorist with their geographical head screwed on. Folk may complain, but these bends are simultaneously too peripheral and too close to the action, which is both their charm and (temporarily) their downfall. It's strange therefore to see towpath improvements underway at the moment. The stone path is being widened, all the way along, so that walkers and cyclists no longer have to step out of each others path as they approach. It'll mean less grass, which is a shame, but a much more convenient path to share... and probably about time too. This can only be a legacy improvement, using pre-Games funding to make a change after the whole sideshow's departed - a sign that the bottomless pit of money hereabouts is about to dribble to a close.

Forman's Smokehouse Gallery: Of all the businesses to be ejected from the Olympic Park, few have done as well as Forman's. Their salmon-smoking business was bang in the way of the stadium proper, and bosses kicked up a real stink about having to move. But now they're established on the opposite bank of the river in a prime location overlooking the stadium, they must be laughing all the way. A state-of-the-art smokery with its own restaurant and gallery space... the latter being open at weekends if you fancy a look. I wandered in on Sunday, only to be followed up the stairs by a security guard who demanded to know where I was going. What I wanted to say was "if you don't want people walking into your gallery unannounced then don't stick a big welcoming "we're open" sign on the pavement you miserable jobsworth", but sadly I was rather more polite than that. The latest exhibition is entitled Spring at the Smokehouse, and is the best collection of art I've seen here since the place opened. That's probably because the theme is something tangible, so there's not the usual mass of abstract tedium hanging from the walls. Instead various artists from around the world have been given free rein to create something seasonal (vinyl flowers, painted doors, botanic canvases, etc), and the result is both intriguing and charming. I can guarantee it won't be busy either. But come July this gallery and associated roof terrace will become part of Forman's biggest moneyspinner yet - a VIP village for celebs and businessfolk to enjoy (with salmon and champers) when not watching sporting events across the water. The "Fish Island Riviera" (was any name ever so disconnected from reality?) promises "palm trees, yachts and cocktails" while tucked away in your own private hospitality suite in what's currently the car park. Each suite's for hire for only £75000 + VAT for the full seventeen days, if you're loaded enough to be interested. And don't forget you can always arrive via Water Chariots, the official river-based transport of the 2012 Olympic Games. They updated their website over the weekend, which makes it clear that they're very much after the corporate VIP market, with a cheapest booking costed at £8000. Two cruisers are now fitted out and moored up beneath Forman's balcony, ready for corporate clients to step aboard for a glass of bubbly and the delights of the backside of Limehouse. As for their scheduled waterbus service for mere members of the public, originally pledged to kick off last June, we're now promised prices and a timetable next month, probably. I'd save your money, steer well clear and walk, if I were you.

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