diamond geezer

 Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I went to the Olympics again yesterday.
This time I went to Lord's to watch the archery.
More of that later. But first...

Making the most of the Olympic Park

The Olympic Park is essentially two parks - a green swathe to the north and an extended plaza to the south. They're linked centrally along a broad tarmacked spine, which means it's perfectly possible to walk straight to your venue, leave immediately afterwards and see very little of the surroundings. But that would be a mistake. There's a heck of a lot to enjoy, all up and down the mile and a quarter length of the Park, so long as you step off the hardstanding and take a look. Grab a purple map from one of the information points to help you to find some of the more interesting corners, or read below...

ORBIT CIRCUS (south)

What most people do
Arrive and depart... the Stratford Gate and Greenway Gate are both at this end of the Park. Some will never get any further into the Park than this.
Eat and drink... one of the best selections of eateries is here, plus by far the largest area of seating.
Stare up at the Orbit... and look dejected when told that you needed to have pre-booked a £15 ticket online, and there aren't any available.
Gawp at the venues... the Stadium, Aquatic Centre and Water Polo Arena are all close by.
Stand around... and take photos of each other in front of the above.

What most people don't do
Walk down to the edge of the City Mill River... a small footpath opposite the stadium leads down to a riverside promenade beneath meadow-planted slopes.
Walk down to the edge of the Waterworks River... a broader promenade passes the Aquatic Centre and Water Polo Arena. At the southern end is the well-hidden BMW Pavilion where you can ogle new cars. In the river are some photogenic mooring posts disguised as coloured crayons. Beneath the Stratford Gate bridge is a brilliant water feature where seemingly random words appear projected in falling droplets. Along the landward edge are the 2012 Gardens, a thin strip of vibrant flowers from around the world. And at the northern end, missed by the great majority of visitors, it's only the Royal Barge Gloriana! She's been tied up here since Sunday and, if there's sun, she glints beautifully.
Go pin trading... at the trading station beneath the Orbit. Enter within and you'll find some really serious collectors with badges from past Games all over their clothing and laid out on the table in front of them. Feel free to watch as trading takes place, or maybe buy some obscurely tangential badges and start your own collection. Unfortunately they're all Coca Cola badges in here - for the official LOCOG pins, try the London 2012 shop nextdoor.

WORLD SQUARE (centre)

What most people do
Go into the world's largest McDonalds... which has high street prices, and is by far the cheapest place to eat.
Wander round the huge London 2012 Megastore... which has designer prices, for example £28 for the exclusive series of sport-by-sport t-shirts.
Stare up at the BBC studios... which are perched on a big stack of blue containers by the coffee stand. You might spot someone famous... and they might spot you.
Walk straight through, several times... because everyone has to pass this pinchpoint to pass between the northern and southern halves of the Park. You'll probably never notice, but the London Overground passes directly underneath.

What most people don't do
Walk down underneath the Spotty Bridge... which is where you'll find the remains of Carpenter's Lock. This is one of the few surviving remnants of the pre-Olympic Park, a structure so derelict it was out of bounds long before the bid was won, now buried in an illuminated pink tunnel. And I'm delighted to see that the old metal footbridge alongside has survived, even if it is currently blocked at both ends for security reasons.
Visit the Great British Garden... because it's hidden off the main drag, between Stadium bridges D and E. There are several small gardens, designed by schools across all regions of the country, hosting various activities for especially children to take part in. Charming, but overlooked.
Visit the EDF Pavilion... almost all the other sponsors got a prime location. Not so EDF, whose "The Story of Electricity" is ever so easy to miss (beyond the Megastore).
Spot where the prestige visitors eat... no £5 pasties and chicken nuggets for them. They get proper food, served at table, in a row of unbranded hospitality prefabs.
Enter/exit via the Victoria Gate... it's a long switchback route out of the Park round the back of the Stadium to Wick Lane, but wonderfully quiet. Watch out for some larger-than-life Opening Ceremony puppets... unless they've been moved on by now.

BRITANNIA ROW (northwest)

What most people do
Hang around waiting to go into the handball or hockey... there are plenty of eating (and drinking) opportunities here.
Queue for the Panasonic HD 3D Theatre... it's a 25 minute show, combining Olympics footage with sales pitch, but they only allow 100 people in at a time.
Queue for the Coca Cola Beatbox... it looks stunning, but Coke's reliance on a specially commissioned piece of music which failed to dent the Top 40 may have misfired.
Take photos of three big letters (R, U & N) by the Copper Box... mirrored by day, illuminated by night.
Sit and watch TV... British Airways have sponsored a giant screen perched in the middle of the River Lea. Hundreds, maybe thousands, are sitting on landscaped lawns to watch events taking place elsewhere in the Park, or across London. "Park Live" is the only place to catch up on sport if you're not inside a venue, and thus a very good place to be. The commercial intrusions are annoying, but relatively rare.

What most people don't do
Follow the riverside path... it's going to be a lovely walk in legacy, but most don't spot they can turn off the main plaza and enjoy this parallel route instead. Keep going all the way past the hockey arena to discover the park's 'secret' northernmost bridge.
Stop at the Cadbury Treat Kiosk... maybe it's the wrong weather for ice cream.
Wander through the wetlands... opposite the Copper Box, cross the "dead-end" bridge with the picnic tables on it, then walk down the slope past the big tree. This is where the Bully Point Nature Reserve used to be, and it's very good to see that comparable watery marshland has been restored.
Read The Spark Catchers... a specially commissioned poem by Lemn Sissay about the Bryant & May matchgirls, carved into the wooden surround of an electricity substation. A little bit of Bow's history is part of Art in the Park.

THE STREET MARKET (northeast)

What most people do
Sit and eat... the map describes this area as being full of "tasty street food from around the world", but it tastes more like generic corporate catering.
Trek to attend the venues... the Velodrome, BMX track and Basketball Arena are all close by.
Queue for sponsor pavilions... but watch out, because BP, Samsung and Acer appear to be overkeen to get your email address and contact details.
Walk up the slope opposite the Basketball Arena... to get their photo taken in front of five large Olympic Rings. For some unfathomable reason they're not painted on the back, even though this is highly visible too.
Sit and watch TV... There are further grassy lawns here for watching the other side of the "Park Live" screen.

What most people don't do
Follow the riverside path... this one's prettier still than the western bank. Watch out for several ornamental slopes and the frog ponds. But when you remember that this used to be the Manor Garden allotments, then the re-landscaping somehow isn't quite so much of a triumph.
Visit the bandstand... it's at the very top of the Park, amongst gorgeous flowery parkland. You might see a local band playing, or you might meet Wenlock.
Wander through the wetlands... the northern entrance is down the steps near the Acer pavilion. Don't forget to read the unusual plaques on the benches, here and throughout the site.
Enjoy the Art in the Park... there are some delightful artistic interventions throughout the Park, like mirrored ceilings, mosaic bridges and especially the chopped-up phone boxes. Either follow the green spots on the handout map, or download a "Walk in the Park" off the website before you arrive, else you'll only discover the art if you stumble upon it. [pdf guide]

Make sure you explore carefully - the Olympic Park contains much of interest and merit if you do.

 Monday, July 30, 2012

There's surprisingly little shelter on the Olympic Park.
» If it's cloudless and sunny, and you don't protect yourself, expect to burn. Remember you can bring up to 200ml of suncream into the Park, or there are a couple of pharmacies (by the Orbit and the Basketball Arena) where bottles of sunblock are stacked up in large numbers available to purchase.
» But if there's a heavy relentless downpour, as we had several times on Sunday, there really aren't that many places to run. The Park appears to have been designed with a distinct lack of covered space, so it's umbrellas up, ponchos on, and pray that the deluge doesn't last long.

Places to hide when it rains
i) Inside the London 2012 Megastore: Except everyone else will have had the same idea, so unless you get there fast you'll have to join the queue, and getting inside may take some time.
ii) Inside a poncho: All the volunteers have their own, but there appear to be a very limited number to give away to visitors. If you are lucky enough to get one, please recycle in one of the purple bins before you leave.
iii) Inside one of the sponsor pavilions: Except most of these have queues at the driest of times, so your chance of getting inside quickly during in a downpour is low.
iv) Inside the enormous McDonalds: The ground floor of this prefab cuboid is almost all empty space. I originally thought this was for queueing, but I'm increasingly convinced it's a cunning way of enticing thousands inside if it rains, in the hope they'll then buy something. There's a lot of seating upstairs (but try not to take the lift, it's astonishingly slow).
v) Inside your venue: If you're watching the Hockey or the BMX, or if you're in the trackside seats in the Stadium, you'll get very wet. Otherwise, you can ignore the weather and enjoy the sport.
vi) Under the bridges: Several broad pedestrian bridges cross the Lea, carrying thousands on spectators from one bank to the other. But there are also much quieter paths underneath, alongside the river, each with space for a few hundred souls to take refuge. There are three such bridges in the parkland to the north, and several (less obvious) to the south. If it rains, these are definitely the least commercial places to hide.

 Hello visitors from BBC News.
 The "handy guide of alternative entry points to the Park" is here.
 Thanks Tom!

I went to the Olympics yesterday.
This time I went to the Men's handball at the Copper Box.
I also got very wet. The Olympic Park is unforgiving in heavy rain.

I'd love to tell you about it, but I still don't have time, so instead here are lots more photos.

www.flickr.com: Olympic Park - Day Two
There are 70 photographs altogether

Day 2 on Twitter:
10.59am: Another day in Wonderland. In some corners, the Park is even quieter than it was seven years ago.
11.49am: First drops of squally rain at the Olympic Park. The place to hide is beside the river under the bridges. Only a few hundred have noticed.
12.46pm: Desire line routes are already being trampled across a few flower beds where people can't wait to walk around the proper footpath.
1.26pm: A hundred thousand people have just discovered that, in a prolonged downpour, the spectator experience is grim.
2.09pm: Learning the rules of another previously-obscure world class sport. The four-year old on my left, perhaps less so.
3.22pm: Empty seats scandal at the handball, as the bored four year-old demands to go home two and a half hours early, and his parents agree.
5.04pm: Spain's red and gold shirts are more Canvey than Costa.
6.00pm: Now playing on the Olympic Park PA jukebox: Just Can't Get Enough, Karma Chameleon, Karma Police.
6.48pm: You *can* see my house from up here :)
7.44pm: Last time I walked along the Waterworks River, the undergrowth was above head high. Now the Royal Barge is here, moored to an orange crayon.

 Sunday, July 29, 2012

I went to the Olympics yesterday.

I took the rest of my family to the Women's basketball.
We spent 13 hours in the Olympic Park.

I don't have time to tell you about it, so instead here are some motley photos.

www.flickr.com: Olympic Park - Day One
There are 40 photographs altogether

Day 1 on Twitter:
9.14am: Good Morning. Welcome to London 2012. Games Maker Wendy has just taken our family photo in front of the Orbit. Thanks Wendy!
9.42am: The world's largest McDonalds has a very restricted breakfast menu, but the cheapest food in the park. It is not yet busy.
10.36am: Sitting where the allotments used to be, beside a giant screen in the river Lea, watching the swimming taking place half a mile away.
11.24am: The waterside meadows are gorgeous, with acres of wild flowers dotted with butterflies , dragonflies and bumble bees.
1.08pm: A few charred tubes from last night's mega-firework display are scattered across the northern lawns.
2.26pm: I have never before stood for the national anthem of Angola.
4.36pm: Captain America and Spiderman got tickets, and have turned up to cheer on the USA women's basketball team.
7.37pm: Sampling the only chips on the Park that aren't french fries. The haddock's nice. Every so often the Aquatic Centre erupts with loud cheers.
8.41pm: Park visitors are generally ignoring the scenic waterside pathways in favour of the broad commercial ratruns. Their mistake.
9.42pm: After dark the Olympic Park lights up. Unfortunately, most people have long gone home. There are lots of staff with nothing meaningful to do.

 Saturday, July 28, 2012

Olympics-9h (Tower of London): The Royal Barge, Gloriana, comes to a halt on the river outside City Hall. The Olympic Flame is burning from a cauldron at the prow, having been rowed all the way down the Thames from Hampton Court. Viewed from the southern bank, five coloured rings and Tower Bridge form a most impressive backdrop. Alas viewed from the northern bank, the back of the rings is white and pretty much blocks Gloriana from view. Nothing much happens for about half an hour, or nothing we can see from the Tower of London. A tiny figure runs amok on the pontoon, torch aloft, flame burning, then disappears from view. Somehow the flame crosses to City Hall, it's impossible to see how. It's only possible to deduce that the Relay is over when Gloriana rows off, first back towards HMS Belfast, then onward through Tower Bridge. "Did we miss it?" asks an American tourist who's arrived too late. French TV pack up their roving camera and head off somewhere else. They look like they'd much rather be by the Seine, and oh so nearly were.

Olympics-8h (Limehouse): The Water Chariots are ready. Well almost ready. Twelve boats are moored up by the pontoon at Limehouse Basin, and some last minute fitting out is taking place. Dozens of blue, red and green chairs are stacked by the waterside, and a couple of black leather-look sofas too. If you choose to pay £45 for the two mile return trip to the Olympic Park you'll be sitting on one of these hotel-buffet-style chairs, four abreast, set out on the mop-clean metal floor. There's luxury for you. Meanwhile, under the DLR viaduct, the hospitality zone is being laid out with champagne parasols and burger vans. Water Chariots are particularly keen that you turn up 40 minutes before your sailing, presumably in the hope you might buy some Moet & Chandon and something with onions. And if you are a VIP with money to burn, don't worry, there are a dozen swish-looking black speedboats waiting to whizz you in from London proper, so there's no need to mix with East End hoi polloi at all. That's fine, we'd rather not mix with you either.

Olympics-7h (Westfield): Stratford City shopping centre has metamorphosed into a global melee. Competitors and their coaching staff are spilling out of a gate from the Athletes Village for a bit of souvenir hunting and food shopping. At long last Stratford International lives up to its name, as the station is at the heart of the action. On the plaza by the DLR, the pin badge sellers have set up camp. Some have laid their wares out on a cloth on the ground, another wears his collection on a pink cape and delights in showing off his rarest specimens to an appreciative audience. Step carefully or you'll get into shot of some nation's TV news - they're from Japan, and over along the border of the Park, that's Gibraltar. The magenta signs along the edge of the Park have been updated, with wording that now reads "Ceremony ticket holders only" and "No access from 3pm". The army are swarming round the sandwiches in Waitrose, clearing the shelves, then heading off to sit outside beneath overcast skies. The buzz is palpable, the expectancy approaching fever pitch, at least until the public get kicked out at three and the pre-ceremony security lockdown begins.

Olympics-6h (Victoria Park): The 1000-space Olympic cycle park is open for business. Mid-afternoon, however, the staff out front outnumber the bikes inside. It's perhaps not surprising that there are only half a dozen bikes here, because the Victoria Gate's closed, and BT Live hasn't opened yet. That's BT Live, the mass public celebration of all things Games, hidden away behind metal barriers, duplicated on a grander scale in Hyde Park. An observation wheel pokes high into the sky, for anyone with a burning desire to look down on eastern Tower Hamlets, and there's a big screen too for watching sport you could see at home on TV but bigger. The Sun have a stand inside, decked out with Union Jacks and balloons, while outside someone's trying to flog copies of today's Times and a hemp bag for a quid. There's already quite a queue an hour before the gates open and, by the looks of those yomping up from Mile End station, it can only get longer. For those who've not got a ticket to a sporting event, BT Live is all you've got. It doesn't look like a great alternative, to be honest.

Olympics-48m (Olympic Park): At 20:12 precisely, the Red Arrows fly over the Stadium leaving a long trail of red, white and blue across the sky. Woo! A few minutes later it does indeed start raining, as I predicted seven years ago, but thankfully only for a few minutes.

Olympics-0h (Olympic Park): Wasn't the Opening Ceremony amazing? Sheep, ducks, muttonchops, chimney-smoke, parachuting-monarch, bouncy bedlinen, Mary Poppins, jukebox disco, reflection, parade parade parade parade, Becks on a boat, mega-cauldron, firework-tastic, amazing.

Olympics+1h (Bow): Meanwhile, somewhere outside my house or close by, the police have closed in. Tonight's Critical Mass cycle ride had been ordered to stay south of the Thames, but participants strayed instead rather close to the Olympic Park, heading along Bow Road and Stratford High Street. Here, if reports from Twitter are to be believed, the police diverted the peloton into a side road and then kettled them. Umpteen of the world's leaders were watching dancing NHS nurses half a mile away, so presumably the Met Police were in a state of finger-twitching nervousness and felt entirely justified in arresting everyone. By the time I got outside I saw only the aftermath - ten police vans parked in the middle of the Bow Roundabout, and a surprisingly large number of officers on the road up from McDonalds. A large number of confiscated bikes were stacked up outside Bow Baptist Church, each with official police paperwork in a plastic bag attached to the chassis. And the Met's crack cycle-police team were stood around muttering "they only do it for the attention" as I wandered by. Nothing good ever happens to cyclists at the Bow Roundabout. Thank goodness the world didn't notice.

Olympics+12h (Olympic Park): Right, let's go and watch some sport...

 Friday, July 27, 2012

The Olympic Stadium, 6th July 2005


Marshgate Lane Trading Estate, 23rd July 2012


I've been writing about the Olympics coming to London ever since this blog began. It's ten years since a patch of semi-derelict industrial land west of Stratford was earmarked as the preferred site for London's Games bid. It's nine years since a space between the Bow Back Rivers was selected as the potential site for our Olympic Stadium. It's eight years since London made it onto the global shortlist and the IOC came to town. It's seven years since I stood in Trafalgar Square while Jacques Rogge opened the envelope whose contents changed the East End of London forever. It's six years since the eviction notices were served to clear dozens of homes and businesses from the Lower Lea Valley. It's five years since the blue security fence went up around the site and gates slammed shut. It's four years since the first skeleton of the Olympic Stadium arose from a freshly levelled building site. It's three years since a cafe opened in a box on the Greenway and visitors started trickling in to see what was happening. It's two years since most of the venues were structurally complete and the stadium's floodlights were first switched on. It's one year since a series of test events proved that London was already prepared for the Games. It has been a phenomenally long time coming.



And today's the day the East End's Olympics begin. All those years of preparation finally bear fruit, and the world tunes in to watch an extended fortnight of top class sport. They won't remember the recycling depot and Mercedes Service Centre that used to stand in the centre of the athletics track. They won't realise quite how many people have been involved in making this all work. They won't notice the adverts for corporate sponsors plastered all around the perimeter of the Park. They'll only see the competition, and the drama, and the world records, and the medal table, and the bemusing mysteries of the Opening Ceremony, and the diplomatic gaffes, and the drug cheats, and how fabulous/mediocre the British weather is. They won't see East London at all, apart from a few aerial shots of green riverside parkland dotted with extraordinary venues.

So yes, I know I've been blogging about the Olympics for what seems like forever, but for me it's by far the most important hyperlocal story. Yes, I know I've barely blogged about anything else for the last few weeks, but when something this astonishing happens on my doorstep why focus elsewhere? Yes I've got tickets, so I'm going to be blogging almost exclusively about the Games for the next fortnight. What's it like living nextdoor to security lockdown, how is London bearing up to the disruption, and what's the spectator experience like? I'll try to let you know.

And if you're hoping I might finally shut up about the Games once the last athletes have gone home, no such luck. We local residents still have to live with the aftermath, and that's a story with at least another ten years to tell. Will the Olympic Park become a tumbleweed white elephant, surrounded by unsaleable shoebox flats, visited by nobody? Or will we gain a rich legacy, blessed by incomparable sporting facilities, with a fresh inclusive community starting to grow? East London's Olympic story still has a long way yet to run, and tonight's Opening Ceremony is merely the end of the beginning.

Olympic Park 2012: food prices, visitor numbers, top tips, circumnavigation, which gate to use?
Olympic Stadium 2007-2012: A monthly-ish set of 45 photos [slideshow]
Olympic Park 2007: Five walks taken just before they sealed off the Olympic Park [photos]
Olympic bid 2005: How we somehow beat Paris

Funnies: risk register, brand 2012, nine months to go, stadium for hire, loving the logo, opening ceremony predictions 2005
Ticketing tips, sponsor quiz, cancelling the marathon
Bob Stanley's excellent piece on how the Lower Lea valley has changed forever

Test events and venue visits
Olympic Stadium: London Disability Athletics Challenge (May 2012) [photos]
Aquatic Centre: Fina Diving World Cup (May 2012) [photos]
BMX course: BMX Supercross World Cup (Aug 2011) [photos]
Hadleigh Farm: Hadleigh Farm Mountain Bike International (Jul 2011) [photos]
Lee Valley White Water Centre (Apr 2011) [photos]
Marathon test event (May 2011)
Weymouth, Eton Dorney
Stoke Mandeville, Much Wenlock

 Thursday, July 26, 2012

Getting In and Out of the Olympic Park

There are four entrances to the Olympic Park - one north, one south, one east, one west. They're all very different. But which is best? I think that depends...

Stratford Gate (east) - from Stratford and Westfield
Stratford GateThis is the big one, the gate that the great majority of Park visitors will use. That's because it's closest to Stratford station, which has train connections from all over London, and is the first place most people think of when they think about the Games. It's also one of the most resilient stations in London. If you check the graphics on getaheadofthegames.com, several stations like London Bridge and Bond Street are due to crumble at the slightest hint of spectators. Not Stratford. That's only predicted to have serious queues for 4½ hours out of the next 400, thanks to a major refit and upgrade over the last few years.
In: Arrive via Stratford and your troubles are more likely to be outside the station than in. A series of pink signs will guide you through the station labyrinth and out into the Westfield shopping centre, either at lower ground or overbridge level. Whichever, expect to be directed towards The Street - Westfield's outdoor boutique mall, and then swiftly left towards the edge of the Park. That's at least five minutes walk so far. If you're lucky there'll be no queues and you can go straight across to security. If not, there's a very large space here where you might end up standing in the barriered slalom for ages. Rest assured there are scores of squaddies and scanners and tents, so you should be fine, but be prepared for a wait. And then it's a few more minutes walk into the heart of the Park, across a broad footbridge above the Waterworks River, dipping underneath the nose of the Aquatic Centre. In optimum conditions you could get from seat on train to seat in the stadium in less than 20 minutes. Time it wrong, could be much longer.
Out: When exiting via the Stratford Gate, you'll be funnelled into one of three broad exit lanes. Lane 1 is for Stratford International (the Javelin will probably be busy, the DLR definitely won't). Lane 2 is for Stratford (through Westfield and over the footbridge) and so is Lane 3 (round and down to the near side of the station). If you don't want to catch a train, take lane 2. If you fancy doing some shopping, don't take lane 3. On Monday I was in the first ten thousand out of the Stadium, and there were no queues, and I got on a train pretty quick. I hear things weren't quite so good for some of those further behind.
Rail options: Central, Jubilee, DLR×2, Overground, National Rail, Javelin
Local buses: 25, 86, 97, 104, 108, 158, 238, 241, 257, 262, 308, 339, 425, 473, D8


Greenway Gate (south) - from Stratford High Street and West Ham
This is the gate the Olympic organisers would like you to use. They'd really really like you to arrive via West Ham station, to ease the pressure on Stratford. What they're not too keen to mention is that this involves a walk of about a mile along the top of a sewer, and then another half mile past security to reach the hub of the Olympic Park. [more info here]
In: The walk from West Ham to the Park takes about 20-30 minutes, depending on your walking speed. Along the way you'll see the Victorian Abbey Mills pumping station, given a proper brush-up for the Games, which may be an unexpected treat. It's also possible to gain access to the Greenway Gate from Stratford High Street itself, beside the footbridge, and this is a very brief walk. I entered the Park this way on Monday, and it was a breeze. The tented scanners are designed to cope with several hundreds, so if only dozens choose to trickle this way you'll get through really fast. Plus the path into the Park is much prettier than via Stratford, past banked flowerbeds, in case that's a bonus.
Out: You might not think to depart the Park this way. But the Greenway Gate has one huge benefit which is that the path whisks you beneath the railway, which is such a barrier at Stratford, so you'll be straight out into the real world without queueing. What you'll then face is a longer walk to reach a railway station. West Ham - the designated station - is just under a mile away. Abbey Road, Bow Church and Bromley-by-Bow are slightly closer, but only if you know where you're going. If you turn left Stratford High Street DLR is closest of all, but there are no obvious signs telling you that.
Rail (plus walk) options: DLR, District, Hammersmith & City, National Rail, Jubilee
Local buses: 25, 108, 339, 425, D8
Cycle Hire: Bow Church, Bromley High Street


Victoria Gate (west) - from Victoria Park and Hackney Wick
This is the small one. It's crammed onto the Greenway near Old Ford Lock, so there isn't much room for security tents, so it'll never cope with an onslaught of spectators. That's OK, it won't get one.
In: Cyclists who've parked their bikes in Victoria Park will enter this way (the signs say 14 minutes walk, I reckon nearer 10). Anyone's who's splashed out on a Water Chariots barge trip will enter this way (you'd expect a very short walk after a £45 ride). Local residents within walking distance will enter this way. But that's not many people. The great majority of Olympic Park spectators will never even notice that the twisty path round the back of the Stadium exists.
Out: I think I can guarantee there'll be no queues to exit this way. But that's because there are very few transport options, apart from any bike you might have ridden here in the first place. Your one mainstream exit is Hackney Wick station, which is three quarters of a mile's walk away (and deliberately poorly signposted). It's recently been announced that the westbound platform at Hackney Wick will become exit only at 1pm each day during the Games. Most spectators will be wanting to exit to the west, so the proposed solution is to get on an eastbound train one stop, stay aboard, then ride it back the other way to your destination. Be warned, this'll take a while, but at least you'll have a seat when hundreds of people pile aboard at Stratford.
Rail (plus walk) option: Overground
Local buses: 276, 488


Eton Manor Gate (north) - from Hackney Marshes and Leyton
This is the remote one, unless you happen to live nearby, in which case it's a no-brainer. It's also the way in from the Eton Manor Transport Hub, which is where you'll be arriving if you come by Park & Ride coach.
In: The northern entrance is very convenient for the Velodrome, Basketball and Hockey - less than ten minutes walk in each case. But it's inconvenient for the Olympic Stadium and Aquatic Centre, which are more than a mile's trek south.
Out: Unless you're local, or live up the eastern end of the Central line, this is probably best avoided. Even if you do live up the eastern end of the Central line, be warned that it's nearly a mile to Leyton station, and that's on top of any long-distance walking you may have done to reach this gate in the first place. Two buses pass by the exit but be warned, the nearest two bus stops are closed.
Rail (plus walk) option: Central
Local buses: 308, W15


dg's verdict
In: Stratford station has been designed to cope with Olympic Park traffic, so Stratford Gate is a good choice. But if you know you're coming at a busy time, queues for security might cancel out any advantage you've gained from arriving so close to the Park. If you don't want to queue, but don't mind a mile's walk, West Ham and the Greenway Gate are a more reliable bet.
Out: Again, Stratford should cope admirably, except at times when the Stadium itself is chucking out. If queues to exit the park are bad then the Greenway Gate is your best swift escape, although it won't leave you close to a station. The trouble is you may not realise Stratford's queues are bad until you're stuck in one, in which case Stratford International DLR is your surefire escape route.

 Wednesday, July 25, 2012

www.flickr.com: Orbit Circus
Take a look into one corner of the Olympic Park.
There are 36 photographs altogether


Five things to know about visiting the Olympic Park

1) It's very big.
No, really, it's very big. You might be expecting a compact site with all the major points of interest clustered together, but that's not how it is. The Olympic Park is approximately linear, following the line of the River Lea, and from one end to the other it's about two kilometres. For those of you who can't do metric, that's about a mile and a quarter. This graphic is from the giant pink observation tower to the south of the Park, in Orbit Circus, and it's going to be the first hint some spectators get that they need to walk a lot further than they were expecting. The Olympic Stadium looks close across the river, and if your ticket says "Bridge A" then it is. But there are five lettered bridges, with Bridge E right round on the opposite side, and hiking there really is going to take about ten minutes. Likewise the Aquatic Centre looks stupidly ridiculously close, and it is, but the entrance is a ten minute walk away round the back. The only venue in the centre of the Park is the Copper Box, where the handball takes place. If you're fit and able I'm sure that's doable in fifteen, but even fifteen minutes is a fair walk when you've already had a fair trek to get into the Park in the first place. As for basketball, hockey and cycling, they really are a mile away, and it's not a straight line to get there either. Eton Manor's a Paralympics-only venue, and that is as far away as you can get. If you have trouble getting about, never fear, because there are stacks of Games Mobility Vehicles parked up, with Games Makers ready to spring into action. These were being well used on Monday, and that was only for the relatively short distances in the stadium corner of the Park. What I think we can guarantee over the next fortnight is thousands of people arriving at their event late because they've completely underestimated how long it will take to walk up the Park to their venue. Be warned, it takes time to walk from the station, possibly time to get through security, and then time to get to where you need to be. Don't overdo it, there's no need to be here at stupid o'clock before your event starts. But better early with time to look around at the delights of the Park, than late to your seat having missed what you paid for.

2) It's very pretty.
All hail to the designers, and especially to the gardeners, who've transformed much of the Park into a riot of colour. The rivers in the southern half of the park are lined by grassy banks covered with meadowy grass and flowers, and a lot of effort has gone into selecting and nurturing plants that'll look their best in late July or August. The density of blooms is most impressive, especially for those entering the Park via the Greenway Gate. The northern half, which I've not seen up close yet, includes much more extensive areas of parkland, wetland and landscaped slopes, which should be most impressive. Let's not forget the delightful and practical Manor Garden allotments that existed here before - it's not like the Lower Lea Valley was ever 100% ugly wasteland. And I'll not claim that all of the new Park is gorgeous. Some of buildings are necessarily utilitarian, and the piazzas and walkways have had to be tediously expansive to allow for mass people movement. But the overall end result has charm, colour and character, especially where art and horticulture combine.

3) Don't enter your venue too early.
Once you're through security, you have the whole 2½ square kilometres of the Park at your disposal. But once you wave your event ticket to pass through into your venue, you're restricted within a much smaller area. There'll be food and drink and toilets, obviously, because bored people waiting for something to start like to buy food and drink to pass the time. But no pass outs will be allowed, so once you're in, you're in. Best think ahead, because your options are likely to be wider, and queues shorter, if you buy what you need in the main body of the Park. For example, the Olympic Stadium is located on an island with access only via five footbridges. Cross one of those and your only options are to walk around the edge, queue around the edge or to sit in your seat. The "Official spectator guide" sent with your tickets gives an indication of how far in advance the organisers would like you inside your venue and ready. This is almost certainly a conservative over-estimate. If you're going to the basketball, for example, "You should aim to arrive at the Basketball Arena 75 minutes before your session." Whilst it would be enormously sensible to be within the Park's perimeter at that time, I can't imagine any reason why you'd need to be sat in a grandstand watching nothing an hour and a quarter in advance. Maximise your time in the Park, don't herd like sheep into the dull zone.

4a) Don't be afraid to bring...
Your own food, an empty water bottle, a camera, binoculars, a rucksack, 200ml of sunscreen, something waterproof, a t-shirt with a non-Olympic sponsor on it, cash, your Official spectator guide, your ticket.
4b) Don't bring...
A picnic hamper, a full water bottle, a penknife, hard-sided luggage, any bag greater than 25 litres in capacity, more than 100ml of liquid, a mega-sized umbrella, balls, whistles, kittens, high explosives.

5) The wi-fi costs.
There's already free wi-fi on the tube, so surely the Olympic Park will have something similar? Not so. BT are the official communications services provider to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and it's their job to provide wi-fi for up to 300,000 smartphone-enabled visitors. But it's only free if you're a BT broadband customer, or if your provider has a special deal with BT. If not, prepare to pay up, and it'll cost you at least a fiver, more likely double that.
   • £5.99 for any 90 minutes within 24 hours
   • £9.99 for unlimited minutes for 24 hours
   • £26.99 for 2000 minutes within 5 days
   • £39 for 4000 minutes within 30 days

Vouchers will be available to buy within the Park, for spectators who fail to buy online in advance, and who can't live for a few hours without connecting to the wider world. But I suspect they'll be less than happy to have to fork out more, on top of the food, the drinks and all those tickets in the first place.

 Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A selection of Olympic Park food prices

Traditional Cornish Pasty £3.00/£4.50/£5.50
Cheese & Onion/Pork & Apple/Lamb & Mint/Chicken Chorizo/Steak & Ale pasty £4.50

MSC Fish & Chips (Haddock) £8.50
Mushy Peas £1.50
Pickled Egg or Gherkin £1.00

Carved Hot English Roast Beef, Multi-seed roll & Horseradish Sauce £8.00
(many other world cuisines also available)

Big Mac £2.69 (meal £4.29)
Quarter Pounder with cheese £2.69 (meal £4.29)
6 Chicken Nuggets £2.69 (meal £4.29)
Cheeseburger/Hamburger 99p/89p
French fries 99p/89p

before 11am only
Bacon Sandwich £3.50
English Ham & Cheese Croissant £3.50
Mozzarella, Tomato & Spinach Croissant (v) £3.50
Meal Combo: any breakfast item plus a choice of juice £6.30

Selection of sandwiches £3.80-£4.10
Pastries, Muffins or Cakes £2.50-£3.00
Chocolate Brownie Slice/Flapjack Bar £1.50
Nature Valley Cereal Bar £1.50

Trebor Mints & Gum 80p
Twirl bar £1.09
Dairy Milk bar and a half £1.50
Double Decker Duo £1.50

Flake ice cream cone £2.50
Caramel Tub £2.50
Orange & lemon ice lolly £1.50

Fairtrade tea £2.00/£2.40
Fairtrade coffee £2.40/£2.80
Cappucino/Latte/Mocha £2.80/£2.90
Americano £2.50
Espresso/Macchiato £1.80/£2.20
Hot chocolate £3.10

Heineken/Cider (330ml) £4.20
Lager/Ale (half) £2.40 (pint) £4.60
No 1 Fruit Cup (Pimms) £6.00/£10.00

Coca Cola (500ml) £2.30
Fruit juice (330ml) £2.80
Powerade (500ml) £3.00
Innocent smoothie (250ml) £3.00

Vitamin Water (500ml) £3.00
Abbey Well water (500ml) £1.60
Water from drinking fountain £0.00


It was very hot in the Olympic Park last night.
The queue waiting to buy Coca Cola was 3 people long.
The queue waiting to use the row of drinking fountains, empty bottle in hand, was 100 people long.
There's true British spirit for you.

I got to watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony technical rehearsal last night.
Wow.
And that's all I can tell you.

 Monday, July 23, 2012

London 2012  London 2012 - 4 days to go
  Postcards from the pre-Olympics
  21 photographs here; map here


Stratford: DLR stations are normally unstaffed, but from this weekend at certain stations that's changed. Any platform which might be deemed even vaguely close to an Olympic venue is now staffed, indeed overstaffed, by an unexpectedly large number of hired souls in yellow hi-vis jackets. Next weekend they'll be dead useful, as scores of visitors new to East London try to work out whether S'ford International and W'wich Arsenal might be places they need to go. This weekend, however, their presence looks like overkill. Yesterday afternoon each of the DLR platforms at Stratford (Low Level) boasted six members of staff - one busy, one being trained, and four standing around like lemons thinking "well, at least I'm getting paid for this". Should you encounter one of these temporary ambassadors looking doleful do please go and ask them a question, even if you already know the answer, because it might make them feel worthwhile.

Stratford International: It's usually a quiet corner of town, but passengers emerging from the DLR recently have been subject to the occasional blaring national anthem. The Athletes Village is just over the fence, screened by a single strip of magenta fabric, more specifically the green piazza where the arrival of each competing country's national team is celebrated. A flag is raised, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra brings a tear to the eye of the assembled athletes. They recorded 205 separate national anthems in advance of the Games, and for many less successful countries this may the only outing the resulting master tape gets.

Stratford Gate: The borderline between Westfield and the Olympic Park remains blurred, and very busy. The public aren't yet allowed through security, but scores of Games workers and volunteers need access, so it's possible to get really quite close to the edge of the action before a barrier stops you. It's the new place to have your photo taken - either with the five-ringed Aquatics Centre in the background, or perhaps even posing with a friendly armed policeman. Tucked up in the far corner is the only ticket box office for the entire London 2012 operation. If you need to collect some tickets you need to turn up here, and join the queue, and try not to hassle the staff because they've been on the end of enough Ticketmaster-related woe as it is. But sorry, you can't buy any tickets here, you can still only do that online.

Westfield: The London 2012 shop on the third floor at John Lewis is finally busy. Many of the visitors are from London, many are tourists, but a considerable number are the athletes themselves and their supporting staff. At most Games they get housed miles from nowhere, but here they're billeted right next to a major shopping mall and seemingly loving it. Yesterday afternoon a team coach from Argentina stood aside to let me walk onto the escalator ahead of him - it's amazing how much you can read off the the security badges dangling from every Games participant's neck.

The Last Mile: This weekend it's been the turn of "Spectator Assistance" to receive their final training. These are the folk who'll guide you from station, cycle park or walkway to the security tent at your venue, and they're there basically to ensure you don't get lost. There are hundreds of them, again probably far too many, but better that than too few. I've seen them swarming through the flowerbeds beside the Greenway Gate, or standing in big clumps on the sewertop at the Victoria Gate. The minions get pink tabards, whereas those worn by their supervisors have a slightly more important-looking purple upper half. And everybody has a number on their back, be that 499 or 1686 or whatever, which I guess is a teensy bit like being an athlete but rather less uplifting.

Victoria Park: Are you cycling to the Olympics? I hope so, otherwise organisers have wasted their time constructing the most enormous cycle park in the southeast corner of Victoria Park. A huge area has been cordoned off and filled with bike racks... if you call a series of parallel metal barriers a bike rack. By my calculations there are at least ten rows of a hundred spaces - room for a thousand cyclists to park their steeds - and a temporary marquee alongside for administration purposes. From here it's a half mile walk to the Olympic Park's Victoria Gate, or considerably less if you're only going to the Live Site across the grass.

North Greenwich: Meanwhile, south of the river, the transformation of The O2 into the North Greenwich Arena is almost complete. All mention of the mobile phone overlords is being removed, at least within the venue itself, although a string of flags outside still proclaim the very non-Olympic sponsors of Nestlé, Stella Artois and Sky. Those who'd booked to go climbing over the Dome had picked a gorgeous day for it - always a gamble when you've paid £25 in advance. And down the road in Central Park, at least for this weekend, has been an inflatable Stonehenge. It's the ultimate bouncy castle, designed by Jeremy Deller as part of the London 2012 Festival, and earned the odd gasp from passengers on the 108 bus as it sped past. The bouncy megaliths have been to Glasgow, Cornwall and Wales, and are spending the next three weeks visiting various green spaces all around London. If you have small kids check the list and get there early - from what I've seen they'll love it.

And some other photos of interest...
Pictograms: Appearing now on walls and surfaces all across London.
Greenway Gate: The view down from the temporary footbridge - now open again.
Dog relief: It seems there's a magenta sign for everything!
Games Lane: Due for activation on Wednesday, then God help us.
Fish Island Riviera: The palm trees are in, and the beach volleyball court has been laid.
The Walls Have Ears: The Bread Collective's line of murals along White Post Lane is now complete, and lovely.
Stadium view: Tiny statues look out from the towpath at the end of the Hertford Union Canal.

 Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cody Dock, you may remember, is a derelict inlet about a mile from the mouth of the River Lea. It used to be full of barges, then the surrounding industry faded away to be replaced by scrapyards and warehouses. The plan is to restore it as a communal facility and artistic hub, except that'll take money, and not enough of that is sloshing around. Hence the onsite collective partnership yesterday held the first Cody Dock Open Day and invited members of the public in to spread the word.

It's not an easy place to get to, Cody Dock, which is one reason it's stayed undeveloped for so long. Take the DLR to Star Lane, which is the new halt one stop from Canning Town, and cross to the western side beside the bus garage. You need to walk through the trading estate, which is marked Private and guarded as so, but walking through is grudgingly permitted. Pass the National Grid facility and the car repair place, turn left at the London Ambulance depot, and keep on into the heart of brownfield unpleasantness. Cody Dock's through the locked gate at the end of the crescent, except yesterday it was open, up the alley past the ice cream van and the portaloo.

plaque at Lewisham stationThere really is a dock here - a long rectangular pool of mostly-drained water, the sides dripping with buddleia. The channel narrows to what once was a lock, now blocked solid and acting as a bridge to link the two halves of the site together. Various cables cross the water via an overhead arch, and a few boats are moored up acting as temporary accommodation. Two early projects are planned, should the necessary money ever come together. A few metal containers will be shipped in to act as artists studios and establish a initial presence - there's plenty of hardstanding along the dock to support several. And a further bridge will be added to link the existing dead-end embankment to an as-yet unlaid path down the Lea. The public will finally notice Cody Dock then, when it's a staging point on the long-distance path from Luton to the Thames. Until then, not a chance. [dock panorama] [Lea panorama]

Guided tours were promised, except staff were already busy giving a guided tour to a Newham MP so lesser visitors had to wait their turn. Stephen Timms spent a considerable amount of time wandering around the site, having the various features and opportunities pointed out to him by Cody Dock's CEO Simon Myers. He seemed genuinely interested, as you ought to be by a potentially exciting regeneration project within a local constituency, even down to hanging around at the end for barbecued food and a drink. Elsewhere, in a revamped Routemaster bus driven in for the day, a man too cynical to be a children's entertainer attempted to keep the handful of kids on site appropriately amused. Parents enjoyed a dash of live music in the sunshine, while the Partnership's core of volunteers sat around, flipped burgers and drank beer. It's easy to imagine how lively this backwater could be, should an injection of cash ever transform the place into a proper creative quarter. It's a no-brainer project, to be honest, but I fear it's an uphill climb before the required investment brings Cody Dock to life.

Torch report - Bow: When you live in a big city, it's often hard to see the community in which you live. Sure, you walk amongst them every day, but very rarely do they all come together for a single reason. The Torch Relay through London provides such a reason, and yesterday the people of Bow came out to celebrate.

They flooded out from houses and flats onto Bow Road. They lined the pavements and the gutters and the bus stops. They stood on the island round the Gladstone statue. They squeezed into the gap in the railings along the edge of St Mary's church. They hung out of their windows on the Bow Bridge Estate. They perched on the row of hire bikes opposite the launderette. They sat drinking at the tables in front of the Bow Bells. They stood by the new sculptures in the middle of the Bow Roundabout. They got out of their cars on the flyover and peered down over the railings. They waved at the smartphone dancers and the fizzy drink purveyors and the cycling bankers. And their patience was rewarded when the torch crossed the Lea and the Olympic Flame passed into Tower Hamlets.

Olympic torch relay at the Bow Flyover

Bow's first torchbearer was Yasmin St Croix, running in place of her father who died of cancer last month. We cheered her on as she ran, and she beamed as she carried the flame up the road. The surrounding security bubble kept the crowd back without any trouble, and in a few brief seconds she was past and gone. A peloton of local cyclists chased behind, followed by all the through traffic that had been trapped behind the convoy. It'd be slow progress up to the Mile End Road and beyond as the day's relay marathon continued. But we weren't following, we were going back home - a community briefly assembled, a collective experience shared.

 Saturday, July 21, 2012

After 9 weeks touring the country, the Olympic Flame finally arrived in London yesterday evening. It sped from Guildford to Tower Bridge in a Sea King helicopter, then a Royal Marine abseiled down into the Tower of London where the flame was to spend the night. It looked great on the television. It wasn't quite such a thriller in real life.

Tower Bridge had been bathed in rare evening sunshine until a few minutes before eight o'clock, at which point the sun disappeared behind a thick bank of cloud and stayed there. A crowd had gathered on the bridge, all desperately hoping that the bascules wouldn't be raised during the forthcoming action forcing them to leave. The space in front of the Tower was mostly empty apart from a number of the great and good, and some TV crews and a white marquee. Which left the banks of the Thames outside City Hall as the best vantage point, with plenty of room for viewing, but unexpectedly no great crowds. In some places people were stood two deep, but I arrived with only a few minutes to spare and easily found standing room on the edge of the embankment.



The helicopter arrived at 20:12, from a non-Guildford direction, and buzzed past the front of Tower Bridge in a sort of impressive way. We watched as it dipped down to hover near to Traitor's Gate, then a rope descended and we prepared to go "ooh!" Except the helicopter was rather low, and the rope wasn't that long, and then several humanoid creatures dropped down not very far to the ground. Not the Flame, then, merely the advance party. Helicopter 1 quickly flew off, and the crowd soon spotted helicopter 2 flying up the Thames close behind. Would it fly through the gap in Tower Bridge... we held our breath. But no, obviously not, because there are five giant Olympic rings dangling down from the upper walkway so health and safety would never approve.

The Sea King hovered above the foreshore by the Tower of London, creating an almighty downdraught. Before long another rope appeared, this time at a decent height, so we assumed this was the arrival moment. Sure enough a tiny black figure appeared and slowly descended, holding out their arm in that special abseil-y way. Apparently this was Royal Marine Martin Williams carrying the Olympic Flame, although without binoculars it was impossible to distinguish anything from the other side of the river and he might as well have been the Milk Tray man come to deliver a box of chocolates.



Within thirty seconds or so Martin was down on the ground, landing not in the Tower of London but on the cobbles immediately outside. There was a kerfuffle by the waterside, which I now know was Dame Kelly Holmes getting her torch lit from the light in the lamp brought down from above. And then the matchstick figures outside the Tower ran off and ran inside, immediately out of view, for the Olympic Flame's official welcome to London.

It took the crowd on the Southwark side some time to realise the public show was over, and that bugger all else was going to happen. The rest of the evening would involve a private function inside the Tower (attended by Seb and Boris and the Mayor of Tower Hamlets), and all we could do was head home. The abseiling would look fantastic on the news because it was filmed from exactly the right place with Tower Bridge and its rings in the background. But it turns out there's not much point coming to see a made-for-TV spectacle unless you're a VIP or a TV cameraman.
Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, said: "It's fantastic that Tower Hamlets' residents will be the first in the capital to celebrate the arrival of the torch in London. It gives everybody in the borough the chance to get involved in the excitement surrounding London 2012. And it's a great opportunity for us to highlight the unique character of Tower Hamlets – showcasing the borough to the world." [16th February 2011]
Back in February 2011, the borough of Tower Hamlets was promised a handful of shiny baubles in the aftermath of the great East End marathon cancellation debacle. We may have lost an Olympic running race through our streets, but in return "LOCOG confirmed plans to work with Tower Hamlets to develop a special event to mark the London arrival of the Olympic Torch Relay." This brief abseil into the Tower of London, and the subsequent private party inside the walls, was that special event. From all the reporting and publicity I've seen, everyone praised the arrival of the torch into London, and the appropriateness of dropping in first at the Tower, but the borough of Tower Hamlets failed to raise any public profile whatsoever.

I'm sure we'll see a big splash in the council-funded Tower Hamlets weekly freesheet, banging the drum for Mayor Lutfur's magnificent reception as the Olympic Flame arrived in London in our glorious borough. But in terms of whipping up wider publicity when the Torch came to town, it seems we threw away our marathon for a flash-in-the-pan event where the host borough was entirely irrelevant.

Torch Relay: Saturday 21st July
07:21 Greenwich
10:20 Newham
13:50 Tower Hamlets
15:54 Hackney
18:28 Waltham Forest


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