While I’m on the subject, safe in the anonymity of this blog (i.e., no-one reads it) I would like to have a little rant about TfL and the Olympics before returning to my theme. My objection, and I speak as someone on the inside, is that people have been infantilized by the way in which the pedestrian traffic is controlled during the Games, and this is something which the organisation does a lot. There is a feeling that they know best, and that the travelling public are congenital idiots, which is not always true. Punters are told which way to go home, and are not allowed to behave as independent adults. West Ham station is bloody miles from the Park, and, I’m reliably informed, Stratford is so well served that it can easily handle the numbers. Plus, I have not needed to be told to stop because there’s a car coming since I was about seven years old. Thank you. Now, back to the main story…
Of course, like all ‘public art’ in this country (I use inverted commas to highlight the debate over the project during and since its launch) it had a painful birth by committee and stands now to prove itself as art that can turn a profit. Boris has said that the entry fee ‘may’ come down once the Games are over, and the restaurant starts taking in corporate parties, but time will tell on that one.
Like a lot of the gumf surrounding these bloody games, the whole commercial element is perhaps the most troubling aspect. In the park, the dominance of the main sponsors is there for all to see. Visa, McDonalds and Coke are literally everywhere, in your face, down your throat and up your ass. I was lucky enough to get a backstage pass to eat in the staff mess tent (it had a strong resonance with M*A*S*H for me) and Coca Cola products are there arrayed for all to see. Take a Sprite Light™or a Coke Zero with your lunch; have a Sainsbury’s chocolate brownie for dessert; watch the Paralympic events via the BT feed… And on it goes.
The Olympic Park resembled nothing so much as one of the big theme parks. I’ve been to Disneyland Paris and to Portaventura in the Costa Daurada, and there were strong elements of both over at Stratford. Crowd controlled spaces, concessions all around, music playing to set the mood, corporate groups led by someone holding up a paddle emblazoned with the EDF logo, and thousands of people wondering around sucking it all up and showing off their privilege by spending their £15 on going up in a lift and walking back down a set of stairs. As I stood in the queue for the water fountains, with massive McDonalds restaurants to either side of me, I couldn’t help thinking (like the good Guardian reader I am) about the impending (current in some areas, of course) global water crisis, about the food catastrophe in sub Saharan Africa, and the looming food crisis caused by climate change in the USA, and it all seemed so… sick, really.
Putting aside the very valid debates about the Paralympics and their effect on the image and daily life of disabled people in these trying times, it’s hard to see how an event such as the Olympic Games can have any relevance to these issues. How are they contributing to making the world a better place? At lunch, I spoke to a security officer, employed by G4S. He told me that he had worked 16 consecutive shifts of 16 hours, and how he had not yet been paid for them. Around us were hundreds of others in white shirts or orange or yellow tabards, overalls and hairnets – everyone ‘making the Games’ – and I was almost awe-struck by the sheer numbers of people involved, beetling away to hold it all together.