diamond geezer

 Saturday, July 14, 2012

With less than a fortnight until the Games, the E15 shutdown continues. The latest casualty is Pudding Mill Lane DLR, an entire station, which closed last night and won't reopen for two months. It's the closest station to the Olympic Park, indeed it's the only station inside the Olympic Park, which is the reason you'll not be allowed to alight there during the Games. A lifeline's been kept open down to Marshgate Lane for the last few weeks, but now it's time to finish off the preparations and seal the security perimeter. Which is a shame, because the platforms have been the best place of late to view the interior of the Olympic Park, and now they aren't.

They've been busier, the platforms at Pudding Mill Lane. Back when the Park was being built there were crowds of men in suits and construction workers passing through, and a genuine rush hour every morning and evening. Then there were the tourists, rather more than you might expect, come to see the Stadium from the Greenway and maybe have a cuppa at the View Tube. They don't come any more, the builders or the tourists, and on a damp Friday evening it's more than a little deserted around here.

There's quite a panorama from the elevated platform. To the north is what looks like the site of a jousting tournament, surrounded by a ring of virgin-white pointy tents. The magenta drapes along the fence reveal otherwise, with their London 2012 branding and the slogan "Inspire a generation". There's an entire mini athletics centre here, acting as the official Olympic warm-up track. I'm pleased to say that the ghastly drainage problems they were having back in May appear to have cleared up, and the two central spaces are now covered with lush green grass. Round to the right the Stadium is now fully dressed for the Games, with its unsponsored wrap hanging down like a row of very sharp white teeth. Spectators won't be allowed out here, but a series of tents on the Greenway will allow security and the media an up-close view of the southern tip of the Park.

Way back in 2003, when Stratford was first selected as the proposed site of an Olympic Stadium, I wrote a post looking forward to the areas either side of the Greenway being turned into the most important sites on the planet. "Just to the right of my photo will be the warm-up tracks where the world's finest athletes will prepare for their few seconds in the spotlight. And just to the left, opening ceremonies, Olympic flames, 100m finals, track and field, drug scandals, medal ceremonies, marathon finishes and 100% total history." Nine years on it's amazing to stand here and see that all of this has come true... everything except the marathon finishes, that is, because not every Olympic dream comes to pass.

Meanwhile, as the final security curtain descends, the Pudding Mill Lane area is rapidly becoming Squaddie Central. They started moving in a fortnight ago, well before the latest media rumpus blew up, and they're everywhere along the walk up to the station from Marshgate Lane. Most are sat in small groups beside the entrances to things, like the electricity substation by the river or the vehicle screening areas. Some kind soul has given them a 2012-branded magenta/purple parasol, an appalling clash with the khaki of their uniforms, but sufficiently large to keep off any shower of rain so long as it's not horizontal. At the moment they have DLR passengers to keep an eye on, but it's going to get a lot more boring once we potentially shifty travellers have gone.

A few of these army youngsters are stationed by the "Road Closed" notice, as if to dissuade any last minute commuters from wandering into this protected zone. They occasionally wander off down the road, mentioning semi-secret things you probably shouldn't be listening to, then giving you a shifty look in case you have. They've got some portakabins beyond the fence, presumably with some sort of office-y, toilet-y, shelter-y facilities within. Eventually the tents alongside will be a busy hub for the checking-over of official vehicles, which'll be great when there are coachloads arriving, but isn't that great a job a fortnight before the Games. One poor van had the misfortune to be the only vehicle beneath the marquee and was being swarmed over by at least twenty cadets, one with a mirror on a stick, the others mostly watching.

Back at Pudding Mill Lane DLR, peering down from the platform, I spotted a group of four squaddies with a novel way of keeping entertained while absolutely no terrorists whatsoever threatened the immediate vicinity. They'd found something to chuck, and were using a giant black and yellow pipe across the road as the net in an impromptu game of volleyball. I'm not sure they'd got as far as scoring but there was definitely a game going on, one of the first competitive volleyball matches this summer in the Olympic Park. And who can blame them, drafted in possibly at the last minute because official security company G4S are inept. There may now be a no-fly zone overhead, and international adversaries preparing their assault, but Stratford's no Afghanistan. Best they close the station now before we spot any more of Our Brave Boys protecting London 2012 with fun and Games.

Saturday update:Pudding Mill Lane DLR is indeed now closed, and big metal gates have clunked shut to prevent pedestrian access from Stratford High Street. Trains still stop because the station's on the only passing loop between Stratford and Bow Church, but the doors don't open and there are signs on the platform saying "Station closed". Lingering here's not necessarily a bad thing. An eastbound DLR journey is now the best way of viewing the southern Olympic Park, and will remain so throughout the Games. Plus the DLR's Olympic timetable kicked in this morning, which means extremely frequent trains to and from Stratford - entirely unnecessarily so at the moment, but who's complaining?

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