Twilight wander through the Olympic Park

I still don’t understand the Westfield-Olympic Park retail gulag – just can’t process what it is. This sign and the plans for the new ‘east village london E20′ is making my cognitive dissonance even worse – should I be excited by the emergence of a whole new area of London rising out of the marshes just down the road? But why do feel a combination of fear, horror and anger.

I got drawn along the inspiring and imaginatively named Westfield Avenue towards the expansion of this miniature Singapore.

The new mega-ghetto is this high-rise block of student apartments. Clearly the student rental market is a more lucrative investment than when I moved to a terraced house just off the Romford Road in Stratford at the end of the 80’s when landlords were actively discouraging student tenants.

The cynical suspicion that ‘east village E20′ is being set up as a privately-controlled outpost of transient, well-off, passive consumers with MBAs rather than ASBOs is offset by this glorious view north across the top of the Velodrome to a dark smudge of distant hills.

Although there is a steady trickle of traffic, the fact the footpath is fenced off starts to make me feel as if the way isn’t formally open to pedestrians. This makes me even more determined to push on towards Hackney Marshes.

Soon there are not even bollards to separate me from the 4x4s who seem to be enjoying the smoothness of the newly laid tarmac a bit too much for comfort. A voice with a strong African accent calls out, ‘Excuse you can’t walk here’. It is a female security guard in her hut. ‘You need to go back the other way – I am worried for your welfare’. I take her careful advice. Beyond the hut there was not even a kerb to tightrope walk along, and the light was all but gone.

The park looks far from finished, and I shared a joke with the security guard that the the summer opening may take place in November but that they’ll call it ‘late summer’ somehow, like calling the new suburb ‘east village’. Whatever they call it, and whatever they build – the once mighty River Lea couldn’t care less, it’s just waiting for a chance to reclaim the marshes.

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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.

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Walk from Leytonstone to the Thames

Been meaning to do this walk for a while – heading south in a straight line from Leytonstone across Stratford and Abbey Marshes bound for the Plaistow Levels beside the river Thames.

 Leyton High Road –

 

“Local history is the cradle of true patriotism, and local patriotism is the best stimulant to efficiency and progress”

Fifty Years A Borough 1886-1936 – The Story of West Ham by Donald McDougall, 1936

 

 “There seems to be no doubt that the name comes from the Saxon, indicating the Street by the ford, or Stratford”.

 Old Stratford looks down upon the arrivistes

“It is quite likely that the area was a centre of communal life of the (pre-Roman) period and that it saw Druid ceremonial at its best”

The Greenway

East Ham and West Ham were simply known as Hamme at the time of Edward the Confessor.

Alfred the Great is said to be responsible for the creation of some of the watercourses around Stratford such as the Channelsea River which he created to drain water from the Danish ships moored in the River Lea.

Channelsea River 2
a home at Bromley-by-Bow – note the jacket hung up left of the bed

Limehouse Cut

“These streams had for many years been deteriorating, silting up, and at times giving off very offensive smells.”

another unofficial home
the marsh monster

“But before there were small clustered villages, and before the unassailable fortress stood sentinel on the bank of the river, what people lived in the forests and marshy lands? What did they do in the struggle to live?
The first great work of these unrecorded hands was to build a wall of earth all along the north bank of the river so tha a great belt of swampy land was made fertile and flourished into meadows and pastures.”
The Story of Tower Hamlets, 1967

West Ham Abbey “stood on the banks of the Channelsea River, one of the waterways created by Alfred the Great, in a very low-lying area now almost entirely covered by factories, warehouse and gasometers.”
Fifty Years a Borough

Westfield Stratford City drift (with rotting meat and Olympic village vertical slum)

Yesterday evening I got a call from artist Bob and Roberta Smith asking if I fancied exploring the new Westfield Stratford City that had just opened that day down the road from Leytonstone. I quickly grabbed my minidisc recorder and a mic and off we went.
Bob then played out the entire disc live and unedited on his Resonance fm show, Make Your Own Damn Music. This is a sample of the broadcast.

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.