Around this time of year, back in 2012, I wrote a number of blog posts that were tangentially-related to my writing, celebrated that London felt like it was the centre of the world due to hosting the Olympics and Paralympics. (Imho London carried this off so successfully that in the intervening three years, the city seems to have consolidated, if anything, its hold on the title of global capital.)
One of the least successful aspects of the Olympics was the disastrous system of ticket allocation (something the coming Rugby World Cup appears not to have learned lessons from). Although I made it to the Olympic Park, I didn’t get inside the stadium itself.
I’ve visited the local area many times since access to the Queen Elizabeth Park (as the old Olympic Park is now called) has allowed public access — mostly because it’s a pleasant walk between two excellent brewpubs, Tap East in the Westfield shopping centre and the Crate Brewing Company in the White Building by the Regent’s Canal in Hackney Wick.
This weekend I finally managed to get inside — in one one of the first events since the stadium’s post-Olympic reconstruction.
The occasion was a friendly rugby game between the Barbarians and Samoa (one of the latter’s warm-up games before the World Cup). We have to hope a few teething problems are ironed out before the start of the tournament — the sprinkling system was unexpectedly deployed during the match on my visit, much to the embarrassment of the ground staff.
The stadium has been remodelled for a smaller capacity, down from 80,000 to 54,000, and there have been some substantial changes, particularly in expanding the roof and retaining the distinctive, original, triangular floodlight structures but inverting them below roof level.
I’ve visited most of the comparable new stadiums — Wembley, Old Trafford, the O2 — and the Olympic Stadium (or The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Park as it’s officially known — are they waiting for sponsorship?) proved a more pleasant experience with less claustrophobic concrete and, because the pitch area is a sunken bowl, the access and hospitality areas seem lighter and less congested.
However, with West Ham going to make the stadium their home in under a year and the Rugby World Cup approaching, I wonder (as would James in my novel) where the fans are going to congregate around this area of idealistic, futuristic design when they want a few drinks. There are a couple of chain pubs in Westfield in addition to the marvellous (but small) Tap East — nothing likely to satiate up to 58,000 tribal drinkers.
I couldn’t end 2012 without something for my Shardenfreude followers. I’ve had a fair number of hits on the blog over the past couple of years looking for photos of its construction and now it’s finished and shining like a, well, shard.
And in the spirit of London 2012, here’s a few more night time photos of landmarks old and new.
It’s so apt that London’s most well known modern landmark (or is it now the Shard?) is an inclusive circle — or in the year of the Olympics — a ring.
As anyone reading the posts on this blog over the summer will realise, I think this was an extraordinary year to spend time in London — and it was a privilege for me to be here in 2012 to witness how the city, probably already the most international and cosmopolitan on earth, became a place that literally, with the extraordinary army of games-makers, welcomed the world — and incredibly efficiently too.
I’m still awed by the Danny Boyle Opening Ceremony. I’ve watched the start a few times since — and I now have my Olympic DVD — and in places I still have that spine-tingling feeling of watching a piece of genius unfolding — and a peculiarly eccentric English genius. I’d almost forgotten that the official speeches were made from that bizarre interpretation of Glastonbury Tor — that spewed out industrial workers. Perhaps it’s because Danny Boyle comes from the fringes of Manchester, as I do, that the Pandemonium section with the rising mill chimneys had such resonance. But, as I’ve blogged already, the narrative of that sequence was brilliant — obscuring the denouement of the unification of the five rings, except for that wonderful moment when the audience suddenly realises what’s about to happen, and then has a final surprise payoff at the end with the raining fire.
In retrospect, it’s easy to forget the doubts we all had about London even having a tolerably good games and avoiding something disastrous. It’s not surprising in retrospect that the Olympics and Paralympics put on a great show. London routinely handles huge sporting events — with the likes of Wembley, Twickenham and Lords being some of the best stadiums in the world (I know Twickenham wasn’t used but, having lived nearby for several years it shows how 80,000 people can be processed in and out of a suburban stadium). London, and the country in general, put on huge cultural events, like Glastonbury and the Hyde Park concerts, every summer and the country is able to put on spectacular state events, like the Royal Wedding and this year’s Jubilee celebrations (though we can’t control the weather). And, here’s a slightly tenuous connection to the novel, London and the rest of the country has probably the most thriving cultural industry of any city (or country) in the world — punching way above its weight in music, art, theatre, television, writing — almost any branch of culture you can think of. And the government, for a change, didn’t cut the budget. Of course we should have put on a good show but it’s a reassuringly diffident British characteristic to think that we wouldn’t.
Apologies for repeating myself but we’re not going to get another event like it for a long time and, although the Olympics knocked my writing schedule way behind during the summer, it was an experience I wouldn’t have missed.
So maybe another few photos from the landmark that will explode in a huge circle of fire in a few hours to celebrate the end of such a great year for the city.
There’s been so much else I’ve done in London in 2012 that I’ve not even had change to blog about — exhibitions seen, events I’ve attended, walks I’ve taken — the Shoreditch graffiti walk and previously mentioned Abbey Road Studio Two visit being but two of the highlights.
I’ve also met so many wonderful new friends, particularly associated with the arts in London. Maybe I’ll do a proper round up post in the New Year?
And between the Olympics and Paralympics I belatedly discovered Tuscany and Venice for the first time, which would have been the highlight of most years.
I do have a finished novel, although it’s not yet quite polished enough yet, which is a little frustrating, but I think it’s benefited from being in progress during the year — especially if I can manage to capture a little of the headiness of this past year in the city.
So 2013 is only a few hours away — the year when I finally hope the finished novel is going to gain me that MA in Creative Writing after three years of study (after all the OU, Lancaster and City courses as well). So, in novel writing terms, perhaps a little like the Olympic hopefuls this time last year, but in a more modest, literary way, my New Year’s Resolution is pretty straightforward — do my best, work hard, accept any criticism and setbacks as constructive feedback and then see how my efforts measure up — finish the novel to best of my ability, send it out and then start on the next one…but also carry on enjoying myself as much with the next as I have with this one.
(And my other New Year’s Resolution is to clean out all the crappy extraneous characters in the old blog posts that appear to have arrived with the database copying problems.)
I posted my last blog post about 30 minutes before the Opening Ceremony of London 2012 a little misty-eyed with expectation and anticipation.
It feels like an awful long time ago now but, walking around central London, I’d had the feeling that the rhythm of the preparations in London had started to step up to a point where there was an odd conjunction of the organisational pulse quickening and the rest of the city relaxing into a mood that is probably best described as â€˜joyousâ€™ (an instance where Seb Coeâ€™s choice of adjective was perfect â€“ no Twenty-Twelve management speak). It felt exciting â€“ as if we could really allow ourselves to believe that London was on the brink of staging something momentous.
And it did. It bloody well did.
Boris Johnson’s ‘are we ready’ speech has been answered with one yes after another. London has delivered beyond perhaps anyone’s expectations.
These 2012 Olympics have been absolutely wonderful â€“ brilliantly conceived and executed. Iâ€™ve enjoyed this last two weeks so much and Iâ€™ve loved almost every aspect of the games.
In fact, as far as the purposes of this blog are concerned, I’ve loved it too way too much — my writing has virtually gone on hold as I’ve watched the events on television and mingled with the crowds in London and taken in as many of the events as I could (two ticketed and four of the free events). I’ve drafted long blog posts on what I’ve enjoyed but been to busy enjoying the events to edit them (hopefully I can post some more before the end of the games).
So in writing terms, I’ve been a little like Phillips Idowu â€“ I’ve gone AWOL. I’ve done some revising but missed yet another notional self-imposed deadline for getting my first draft edited down.
But, to look at things in the zeitgeist of national positivity, Iâ€™ll never get the chance again to experience the city that the novel’s largely about in such a uniquely relaxed, celebratory mood â€“ and to enjoy a genuine mood of euphoria which, after all, isn’t often something that features in many novels. So I’m convincing myself it’s writerly time well spent.
I’ve taken loads of photos — some of which I’ll use in later posts — but I’ve put them all on a page in the blog to give a visual impression of what I’ve been enjoying so much (there are a few surprisingly good ones). Click here to view.