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.
Google Analytics tells me that there must be a lot of disappointed people who happen to land on some of this blog’s pages. Aside from my ardent and dedicated regular followers people land on the blog by via search terms that generally relate to subject that I’ve tended to mention in passing.
But today I can satisfy a Â group of people who are fans of an iconic sight that’s slowly emerging by London Bridge — the Shard (otherwise known as London Bridge Tower).
The previous blog entry of photos of the Shard has had more hits than virtually anything literary (bar the write-ups of talks by agents and editors during the City Novel Writing course).
So here’s another fix for those fans of the soon-to-be tallest building in Europe. All are photos I’ve taken while running from Westminster up to the City along the Thames — out on the north bank and back on the South Bank.
They’re taken on occasions separated by 20 days — and on initial impressions it doesn’t seem that the Shard has risen much higher over that period — perhaps they’ve all been on holiday? Or maybe it’s because the building is so huge that it’s an effect of its scale.
Actually, I’ve learned from Wikipedia that the concrete core has reached its ultimate height of 72 storeys and that it’s now the floors for each storey that are being added — at a rate of one a week. Three weeks’ progress can just about be discerned between the photos. (btw It’s not a cropping mistake that there’s so much of the River Thames on the above photo — there’s a little hint of where it’s taken from in the bottom-right corner.)
But why am I putting lots of photos of construction work on a blog that’s (meant to be) about my long and discursive journey towards completing my novel(s) — and, with a bit of luck, beyond that?
But I’d argue that the Shard is just the most prominent example of a theme that runs through The Angel. It emphasises the dynamic, changing environment of London — and, being designed by an Italian and financed with money from the Middle East, it’s also an example of the internationalisation of the city.
I have a character who’s been drawn to London because, compared with anywhere else, she really thinks it’s the place to be. And unlike many weary Britons who believe themselves over-familiar with the city, she’s enthralled by discovering the place and the rapid change that’s happening around her makes it even more enjoyable — there’s lots of tradition but there’s also a lot of re-invention.
It’s difficult to overstate the amount of prominent new building that has taken place in London recently — and how distinctive the majority of the new architecture has been. I happened to come across Kenneth Powell’s book ’21st Century London — The New Architecture’ in Tate Britain last week. It’s a superb book for anyone interested in the development of contemporary London.
The list of structures put up in the last 11 years is almost awe-inspiring â€“ and, being an artist, Kim is going to have an eye for good architecture.
Firstly, there are the obvious but hugely popular Millennium projects, such as the London Eye, the Millennium Bridge and the derided but distinctive dome that has now turned into the O2 arena.
With public transport being a bÃªte noir of Londoners, it’s easy to forget the huge investments in transport infrastructure. I was pleased to see that Powerll agrees with my appreciation of the Jubilee Line extension’s transformation of Westminster tube station, which is like something out of a science fiction film.
Canary Wharf underground station is mind-blowing: it reminds me of the interior of a cathedral more than anything else — such a huge space suffused with natural light. The restoration of the huge canopy of the Barlow train shed over the tracks at St.Pancras station for the high speed rail link has been immensely popular, as has the development of the rest of the station — and there are much improved Thameslink and underground stations (I often used Kings Cross-St. Pancras on the way back from City University).
And there’s more on the way — right next to the Millennium Bridge (on the run I took the photos on), Blackfriars station is being transformed into something that will span both sides of the river. The corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street is also one huge building site (as I saw from the top of a number 24 last week), as is the area round Farringdon (and a few other locations) while Crossrail is being tunnelled. With Thameslink also being improved, London will have a couple of cross-city railways of the type people have always complained are commonplace in,Â for example,Â French or German cities. (There’s also the massive Heathrow Terminal 5, which like a few of these projects was derided at first and then eventually appreciated for being a tremendous piece of infrastructure.)
Then there are the marvellous renovations of iconic buildings: the Great Court at the British Museum, the Royal Festival Hall and, of course, mostÂ pertinentlyÂ to my novel, the conversion of Bankside Power Station into the Tate Modern.
The office buildings in the City are probably the tallest and most noticeable developments. As well as the Shard, there’s the iconic Gherkin (30 St.Mary Axe), the newly finished Heron Tower, the Pinnacle (under construction in the City, which will be almost as tall as the Shard) and the Broadgate Tower (which looms over Village Underground — although less than originally planned as its height was scaled down).
Not all the big office developments are in The City. There’s the colourful Central St.Giles development (those yellow, red and green faced buildings), the Wellcome Trust building in Euston Road (a place I know some of my writerly friends use as a congenial venue to discuss their novels) and buildings I never knew had a great architectural pedigree, such as Palestra, near Southwark tube station, which reminds me a bit of a broken Rubik’s cube.
It’s not all work — there’s plenty of play. Two of the best stadiums in the world have been built in London in the last ten years. There’s the new Wembley Stadium, which is the second-biggest stadium in Europe and probably the best in the world for facilities (and I’ve just been extorted out of Â£92.50 for two tickets there to watch England vs Holland in a couple of weeks time). The Emirates Stadium shouldn’t be forgotten. I often used to fly over and think it reminded me of a giant Arse — quite appropriate for a club whose name oddly recurs in the names of its staff: a manager called Arsene and a striker named Arshevin. Â (I’m a Man Utd fan).
There’s a huge amount of redevelopment in London since 2000 Â — but there’s even more to come. At the start of the novelKim lives around Homerton in a tall block of flats (on the number 30 route) so she’s also been able to look out on the progress of the biggest transformation of the lot — the 2012 London Olympic park. This is home to some apparently incredibly inventive buildings — but the public’s not allowed near them at the moment. We’ll only be allowed in on the first day of the event itself…
…which begins exactly a year today. London will then be even more the world’s most international city.
And I hope I’ll be able to put my feet up and watch it, which I’ll have to do almost entirely on TV — although I did get a meagre ticket allocation out of the farcical process. Some will not be surprised to know they’re for beach volleyball — my excuse is I was working my way through the alphabet — I was also going for athletics! And in a year’s time I also hope to haveÂ long since put the finishing touches to The Angel too.