diamond geezer

 Saturday, August 10, 2013

A year ago, on the last weekend of the Olympics, you couldn't get into the Olympic Park without a ticket for love nor money. This weekend, it's considerably easier. Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was quiet enough on reopening day, so I wondered if it was any busier yet. It's high summer, it's the school holidays, and the Park's had a big publicity boost over the last fortnight. So I returned yesterday afternoon, and it was a bit busier, and simultaneously not really. Here's how QEOP is now.

The park: It's not exactly empty, but you can easily find a lot of space all to yourself. One lady had claimed the wooden seating blocks to read a book, and a mum and daughter were yapping by the reeds near the southern steps, but otherwise the western half of the park was free of malingerers. I had the gorgeous sloping lawn near the Media Centre all to myself, and could have plonked down to read the paper or nibble a picnic if only I'd thought to bring one with me. Most visitors headed straight across the main bridge to the eastern half where the cafe and playground are, and even then failed to descend to the parkland beside the river. A few folk with cameras toured the quieter bits searching for landscapes to snap, and a few joggers were out beating fresh new running routes, because if you lived nearby you'd take advantage too. 2012's buzz may have vanished, but plenty of sparkle remains.
The security: It felt like security overkill on the day the park first reopened to the public. Thankfully that's eased back somewhat now, but QEOP still has more tabarded stewards than your average park. I'd say about ten to a dozen, mostly wandering round in pairs rather than pointedly guarding the entrance. Some are needed on the main bridge because that's a route for construction vehicles approaching the East Village. Meanwhile a lot of the guards gather on the northern bridge for a lengthy natter before moving on, which is presumably acceptable because this is a fantastic vantage point, although there are barely any members of the public this far up.

The cafe: It's doing well, by the looks of it, the eaterie at the Timber Lodge. There are people sat outside at tables. There are families walking away from the counter with meals on trays. I'm not sure if the yoga sessions in the event space round the back are going well, but good news, the cafe a long way from anywhere has customers.
The playground: Maybe the cafe has customers because of this. The Tumbling Bay playground is rather excellent, as wood-based clambering locations go, and was being well used (if not over-used) yesterday. I heard shrieks of happiness from somewhere up in the trunky bits, and spotted several parents sat round on the lawns overseeing their offspring, and I wondered if adults were allowed aboard late in the evening after all the kids have gone home.

The flags: Alas, a few bits of the playground are already flagged off. Some wooden stepping stones across a ditch have been 'sealed' by a perimeter of bunting - but only one set, the others are still accessible. The pathways through a garden enclave have been similarly blocked, as if something inside needs protection from tiny feet. It's not ideal, so early in the facility's life, but presumably someone'll sort out the issues soon.
The bunting: It's not just the playground with blocked paths. A number of borders and cut-throughs in the eastern half of the park now have bunting draped across in an attempt to stop park users from taking a shortcut. A fortnight ago there were a few but now there are a lot more, in the hope that flimsy flags on string will protect the borders and plantlife beyond. The borders are *nothing* compared to how pretty they were this time last year, but it's the same problem as back then, as punters on desire line paths engage in thoughtless trampledown across the site. And I'm sorry, but I blame the Olympic Park's designers. They created an attractive network of twisting paths and elevated lawns, but entirely failed to include sufficient routes to get from one to the other. Sorry, but parkgoers aren't all going to behave like angels and walk round the long way, not when there's a four minute shortcut down a sloping bank. Some of the dead ends exist because not all of the park is open yet, so we can forgive those, but others appear to be deliberate, and there's one major dogleg near the northern bridge which pretty much urges you to continue straight on. With no security to watch over them, some pleasant corners of QEOP will be eroded fast.

The tour: Remember the Blue Badge tours which set off from Bromley-by-Bow every morning before the Games to show visitors the Olympic Park from the Greenway? They're still running, but now they leave from Pudding Mill Lane and the guides lead the tour inside the Olympic Park instead. I've never been on one to give a recommendation, but the itinerary suddenly got a whole lot better.
The festival: QEOP will be sealed off next weekend for the Lollibop festival, which is essentially Lovebox for under 10s, and features appearances from Postman Pat, Rastamouse and Peppa Pig. Family tickets cost in the order of £100, so I'd recommend going to Hackney Wick instead for the free (and fantastic) Hackney Wicked festival. Strongly recommend, in fact, if you like edge and art and studio cool.

The bus: Hurrah, the 588 bus now stops outside the Copper Box in both directions. What's more, the bus stops are actually being used. Outside the park I spotted a bunch of families with a number of kids waiting for a bus to ride to Stratford, and clambering aboard took at least a minute. It might even take off, this short hop to the park.
The train: Instead I arrived via Stratford station, where the signs still send you out the long way, then disappear outside the entrance to Westfield. They pick up again if you spot the escalator, then it's a long yomp. It took me just over 15 minutes to get from the platform to the park, and that was yomping fast.

Biking in from Hackney Wick: Good news! All the security guards between the White Post Lane and the Park have disappeared, or at least they had yesterday afternoon. Now you can cycle in without some jobsworth telling you to get off and walk. Indeed now you can cycle all the way through from Hackney Wick to Stratford for the first time in six years. Sounds good to me.
Driving in from Hackney Wick: Also the gates at White Post Lane have fully opened, so anyone with a car can drive in via the same route as the bikes, through the edge of the QEOP building site and up to the park entrance. You can't park and go for a picnic, heaven forbid, but you could drive on quickly and easily to Westfield. I wonder how long it'll take before word gets out and the traffic jams appear.

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