Walk the Olympic Park (1) Marshgate Lane 40 photographs here
If you're trying to locate the southern end of Marshgate Lane, look for the Porsche showroom on Stratford High Street. Nobody who buys one of their vehicles would ever dream of driving north up this grimy, dusty road, but that's where we're heading. Turn right at the temporary traffic lights, then sharp left at the arched entrance to the Marshgate Business Centre. What an unloved street lies ahead. Along its crooked length are several brick-fronted warehouses and workshops, almost as if the 21st century arrived and nobody here noticed. Fading signs on gates and doors boast 0181 telephone numbers. Times have been hard for Freetrade Beers & Minerals Limited and Kenton Steel, and for a score of other recently-moved-out very small businesses. Worshippers no longer flock to the outwardly underwhelming Celestial Church, not now that the shutters have come down for the last time. It's humbling to remember how many local Londoners have scraped their living down this backward backstreet.
The Olympic gate has been erected beside a pile of rusting car bumpers outside the Bodyworks Accident Repair Centre. Beyond the road vanishes beneath a dank dripping railway bridge, emerging on the other side alongside an open expanse of automotivescrapyard. Somebody around here must like tyres because they're piled up everywhere - until recently blocking pedestrian access to the Greenway above. The roadway beneath these old iron sewerpipes is even darker, and puddlier. Step through the mud, past a couple of rotting sofas and an unseen plaque to the Victorian engineers who created this essential effluent motorway. It's a minor miracle that nobody ever started a fire down here, mangling the ironwork above - North London's toilets would have backed up for miles.
Phew, that's the grim bit over. The four storey brick building to your right marks the entrance to the Marshgate Centre. Which is much less posh than it sounds. The upper windows are smashed, the hanging basket has seen better days, and a rather paranoid sign by the front door announces Be aware!! This area infested with thieves!. There are rather better security gates nextdoor at Prism Chemical Services, which is just as well given the stockpiled Hazchems stashed away in silos stretching back to the riverside. To the right is Knobbs Hill Road (quite frankly I'm amazed that nobody's stolen the street sign), the first of three bleak sidestreets lined by warehouses, steel fences and car spares outlets. Don't venture right down to the end or the insane dog that guards the Bedrock sheds will practice his 100 decibel bark, frustrated that he can't slip through the locked gate and tear you limb from limb.
Back on themainroad, some of Marshgate Lane's bigger businesses now grace the roadside. The roses at PA Finlay & Son recently gave one last futile display, bursting red and pink through the security fence. Next it's the salmon-coloured chic of H Forman & Son, who had the misfortune to upgrade their fish-smoking factory just before the Olympic decision came through. Bosses here have been amongst the most vocal against forced relocation, but they're still having to move out all the same. The owners of the next office block vacated a while back, and the ODA's building contractors have moved in instead. A fleet of decontamination chambers stand waiting in the car park, ready for operatives in respirators to deal with all the asbestos and other fibrous nasties that will be displaced by the area's imminent demolition.
And so we come to the higher ground which, in five years' time, will be the location of the Olympic Stadium itself. It's almost impossible to visualise today. Maybe once the surrounding warehouses have been cleared and the ground levelled it'll become a bit easier, not that you'll be allowed in to see it. Our walk ends up the third and final sidestreet, turning right across the multi-storey grandstand, across the athletics track and into the central green bit of the stadium where all the javelins will land. Why not break into a run and sprint up the road, just so that you can say you've completed the 100m where the world's greatest will compete in 2012. On your way you'll pass a Belgian truck driver parked up for the night, a rotting mattress and a large warehouse where Bywaters used to hire out skips. The finishing line is marked by three fluttering flags, in this case representing a Mercedes Service Centre and not the medal winners' rostrum. And finally, at the very end of the road, there's a factory that makes lace curtains - I rather hope that the royal box ends up here. How absolutely insignificant this sidestreet looks today. But sixty months from now, for a single fortnight, it'll be the very centre of the world. And you were there first.