diamond geezer

 Saturday, July 27, 2013

  One year on
  Olympic Return

The Games ended in September, so technically we're only ten and a half months on. But today it's one year since the Olympics began, the day a long-planned jamboree finally hit the road. That evening the Opening Ceremony fired the public's hearts (you can relive your broad grin by watching BBC3 this evening from 7pm), then a fortnight of sporting achievements sealed the deal. Come July 2013 there's much talk of legacy, and a rather more positive spin than many might have expected. But it's us folk who live round the Olympic Park who've seen the greatest transformation, and will continue to live with that change as the months and years go by. So, obviously, I've been back to see how things have developed one year on, and I'll be telling you all about it over the next few days. There will also be photos. Here are the first ten.

The athletics is back. A Diamond League meeting is taking place this weekend in Stratford, rather than poor old Crystal Palace whose days may be numbered. The event is The Anniversary Games, three days of running, jumping and chucking stuff (including a Sunday of paralympic sport for breadth and balance). As a resident of Bow, one of the surest signs that athletics is back is the presence of a helicopter hovering in the evening sky, forcing those of us with our windows open to turn up the volume on the television.

Plus crowds of non-Londoners have returned to Stratford station. Thousands of them, pouring off the trains in the evening rush hour with tickets clutched in sweaty hands. The entire station has been decked out with special signs to guide folk towards where they want to go... which is north of the railway lines to E20, not south to E15. Some of the signs are magenta, echoing the summer of 2013, while others are black and more permanent. Yesterday teatime the hordes ran thick through the subways, rising up to the gateline where the barriers were open, and out into Westfield.

Here the pink shirted volunteers are back, though this time with Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park uniforms and tennis racket manufacturer sponsorship. The public greet them like old friends, and grin and smile, as you'd expect, although I have a nagging suspicion this lot aren't volunteers. There are also considerably fewer of them than in 2012, so you can walk for some distance unguided by a big foam hand. The route's different too, this time up the steps or escalator, then directed onwards the length of Westfield's outdoor Street. Some of the shops are pleased to see the additional footfall, but the East Village information outlet has packed up early for the weekend and tens of thousands of potential flat-purchasers walk past unaddressed.

While the majority file dutifully towards the Park, a few take the opportunity to sneak off to John Lewis's Olympic Shop. Unbelievably it's still there on at the back of the third floor, although much shrunken, with the childrenswear department now encroaching into the majority of the space. Up the far end by the window are the last few dregs that haven't sold - some bunting, some £1 Team GB sweatbands and a pile of out-of-date Time Out guidebooks (which at £5 will never shift). Nobody wants Police Officer Mandeville Magic Face Towels (which the designers really ought to have guessed), nor mini-inflatable Wenlocks and Mandevilles for 50p each (bargain, I own one of each). Step through to the viewing gallery and the legendary London 2012 fish and chip forks are still present in great numbers. John Lewis seem unwilling to drop the price below £2.50 a pair, but the good news is these forks will probably still be around at Christmas as stocking fillers. If they're not the last things to sell out, perhaps it'll be the London 2012 deckchair slings instead, which not even damn fine weather and 75% off can shift.

And there, out of the window, is the one-year-on view of ticketholders entering the Anniversary Games. The security aspect's much reduced since last summer, no army gents with airport-sized scanners here, instead parallel lanes leading up to what looks like a minor bag check. And then they swirl on across the bridge, beneath the nose of the de-winged Aquatic Centre and onto Stadium Island for the Important Running. There's no pottering around the southern parkland, no enjoying the terraced flowerbeds, not for this one-off. Instead hang on for Spring 2014 when it should be possible to gain access without grabbing tickets online in advance, just as is happening this weekend further north.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the Park, the View Tube is growing. An extra section of this container-based cafe was delivered on Wednesday, and workmen are now busy attaching the extension to the rest of the building. An extra balcony now runs across from the classroom landing to the top of the lime green shed, which'll presumably be used as somewhere extra to put tables. I imagine the view from up top will be rather splendid, so long as it's not raining, and not as obscured by plantlife as the ground level panorama. To be honest, the View Tube could do with something extra to draw back the crowds. They're not coming in anything like the numbers they were two years ago, and although I've never seen the cafe empty, I now rarely see it buzzing.

The main problem is that the Greenway remains very cut off from Stratford and the rest of the Olympic Park. That was great before the Games, when this was the only coffee-enabled viewpoint, but now all there is to do is stare at the Stadium and the Orbit and go home again. A footpath exists directly into the Park, it's the same point of entry as the Victoria Gate at last year's Games, but that'll remain blocked off for some time. One benefit of this backwater status is the survival of a small patch of wild flower meadow, all lush gold speckled with blue - the very sight that thrilled visitors to the Olympic Park last summer. Elsewhere, from what I've seen, such planting's mostly been lost or wiped away, but here it's peaked for late July again and quite stirs the heart.

It'll take more than one year on for this end of town to reach its full potential. Alas that means thousands of bland flats as well as glorious parkland, so the view will both improve and decline as the summers pass. But once more I have to thank the taxpayers of Britain for their investment in my local part of town, it's coming along nicely.

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