The Leyton Olympics

I couldn’t let my pre-Olympic skepticism allow me to ignore the fact that it is taking place right on my doorstep. I’ve been moaning about it for the last 6 years but now it’s here felt an obligation to see what was going on.

I’ve watched the Stadium and Velodrome mushroom at the end of the Asda Car Park – and via the Asda Car Park is the best route into the Olympic Park if you want to avoid the crush at Stratford. Since I moved to the area I’ve walked along the Eastway noting the gradual change.

So I bought a ticket for the Women’s Basketball.

At the end of Ruckholt Road there’s a gate at Eton Manor with a new bridge leading over into the park. This bridge and cinder track to the basketball arena crushed what was left of the Eton Manor Boys Club – a 19th Century philanthropic enterprise for the boys of Hackney Wick.

still from a video I shot in 2007 – watch the video here

Where there were a series of rugby pitches is now a coach park. Tucked away in the corner was a small blue hut serving as a box office – there was not a soul around. It seems people don’t fancy entering the Olympics from Leyton.

The wild flowers are the real stars of London 2012
This reminded me of a scene from I Am Cuba

I’d rather the Lower Lea Valley had been left alone to be overgrown with budliea, Japanese Balsam and Giant Hogweed. However, the landscaped banks of wild flowers are beautiful, and paradoxically possibly more in tune with the ‘natural’ habitat.

I was telling my wife how I preferred it the way it was and she pointed out that hardly anybody came down here when it was a post-industrial wilderness. I tried to make the point that that was the beauty of it but I suppose psychogeographers are a fairly narrow demographic.

The River Lea running through the park though is haunted by the absence of Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kotting in their swan pedalo. The end of their odyssey from Hastings to Hackney was truncated by barriers prohibiting passage along the Olympic Waterways.

I don’t get the giant crayons poking out of the Lea

Two of Britain’s great topographers pedaling past the stadium in a giant swan would have been the perfect opening ceremony.

Have a look at this clip from the Culture Show in 2005 with Bob Stanley wandering around the Lower Lea Valley as it was then.


Lea Valley in 2005 before the Olympic Blitz

Bob Stanley presents this great look at the urban wilderness of the lower Lea Valley for the Culture Show before work on the Olympic site and the big shopping centre began – includes interviews with Iain Sinclair and Richard Wentworth.

It’s well worth seeking out Stanley and Paul Kelly’s film, What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? set around the locations in this video – it’s a real gem and brilliantly captures the area at a moment of transition.


Ken Livingstone in Leyton

   Ken Livingstone in Leyton by Fugueur 

Monday evening I went along to Leyton Town Hall (now Orwellianly renamed Leyton Management Offices – what are they managing I worry?) to attend Ken Livingstone’s ‘Tell Ken’ event.
I took the liberty of recording a few bits which you can listen to above.

Overall I found Ken’s tone very positive – I had become disillussioned with his last term as mayor towards the end, with his seemingly too cosy relationship with the corporate interests of the City of London and his love of skyscrapers and big developments. He seemed to have long forgotten the Red Ken that I met when chairing a Labour Students public meeting during the City Poly occupation of 1991.

Maybe I had primed myself for disappointment by using the Labour Party’s refusal to select Ken as its mayoral candidate in 2000 and his subsequent expulsion as the long overdue catalyst for leaving the party I’d viewed as a birthright.
The fact that he later rejoined the party and stood for Mayor as a Labour candidate in 2004, even after the invasion of Iraq at a time when Labour was very much the belicose Party of war, was a bit too much for me at the time.
(Some unfortunate young Labour candidates knocked on my door around this period and received a rant about how they were no better than members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party with hands drenched in the blood of Iraqi children – they didn’t seem to see this coming for some reason).

However, he atoned slightly this evening by repeating his commitment to wealth redistribution – and using whatever means at his disposal to help bring that about – such as giving free travel to kids as 40% of children in London are from families living below the poverty line.

He would also look to expand the capital’s social housing sector – although I wasn’t clear whether he can build housing as mayor – and return housing estates as the kind of mixed communities they once were (such as I grew up in), rather than now where you need to be homeless and jobless to be eligible for housing.

Ken explained that the only reason he signed up to the Olympic bid was to get £8bn worth of investment into the East End. He talked about how the land south of the Olympic Park to the Thames would be the next big development area with capacity for 40,000 new homes and 50,000 jobs and that the mayor should be selling this opportunity to the growing markets in China, India and Brazil.

I asked him about Trams – and whether he would revive his proposals to extend London’s Tram network beyond Croydon. To this he conjured up a beguiling image – a tram route that would follow the North Circular from Wembley arcing across the north of London to Waltham Forest.
That romance of that vision alone is almost worth my vote.

There’s more info about Ken’s campaign to be re-elected mayor here.
Do you think there’s any chance that we’ll be able to write-off the Boris years as some kind of bizarre collective halucination?


The Book Genie

I like to imagine there is a spirit that guides my fugues at times – that rewards me for surrendering to its lure. The rewards come in the shape of stumbling into unexpected corners of the city at the end of unpromising schleps. But sometimes they come in the form of books. Today I succumbed to the fugue and found these four books virtually side by side on the same charity shop shelf.


Rising in the East (1996) unlocked the door. A book of essays on East End regeneration written in a pre-Cool Britannia London – when to talk of a renaissance of the East may still have sounded optimistic or opportunistic. The first eager read turned up an essay on the importance of the North London Line Overground train at a time when it was fighting for its life. I skimmed the first few pages of this thesis as I glided eastwards from Haringey to Leyton on one of the brand new trains running on the 160- year old line. ‘Traversing the Great Divide: The North London Line and East London’ the essay is grandly titled, by Bruce Jerram and Richard Wells, and such is their passion apparent for the NLL that they produced this brilliant diagram demonstrating how it arcs West – East across the capital, or as it was viewed at the time from “a rich desirable west to a poor, dull, possibly dangerous east”. With the stations being upgraded, gleaming pre-graffiti trains and the East London Olympics at the end of the North London Line, it looks like they won their argument.


The Romance of London from 1910. The first pages pouring cold water of talk of the myth of King Lud but all the same acknowledging Tacitus’s observations that in AD61 he finds London “celebrated for the gathering of dealers and commodities”. A Roman refuting the idea that the Romans founded our city.
A guide to Camden written at the height of Britpop and an archeological examination of the relationship between town and country in Roman Britain (wonder whether urban sprawl was an issue back then?)

Walk to Stratford

Yesterday took a late afternoon wander down to Stratford under sludge grey skies

Turn off Cathall Road into Hollydown Way taking in the view across St. Patrick’s Cemetery towards the cranes of Stratford. Iain Sinclair made this journey in reverse in Lights Out For the Territory describing St. Pat’s as “that slumberland development with its forest of white statues”. The eastern gates are padlocked as they were when Sinclair passed by, so I continue.

The Olympic development looms large now from Draper’s Fields playing grounds, scene of midweek 5-a-side heroics

Wilson’s Bar hanging on for dear life – the antithesis of the supposed Olympic dream of the developers

I still can’t get my head around the idea that the Olympic Village is going to be down on Angel Lane Stratford. Will we find pole-vaulters popping over the road for a pint in the Railway Tavern.